Friday, January 24, 2014

Jehanne


Jehanne




There's an angel in the fire
feathers burning, acrid, ashy black.
Where is the bird-winged host,
her  cloudy birth brothers
the holy triune fatherspiritson
to pull her out?

She keeps her shield
and sword  bright
gold light, her hose fastened tight
in the cell where they say 
the war is over, the king she crowned gone
far away as god. 

The angel in the fire weeps, she reasons,
she argues like a cardinal, while
her dark luminous eyes follow me
as I open windows to let out the stink.

The cross on her standard
won't keep away the crows
but there's no feather anywhere
of  her brother Michael, his deaf-making voice
of cathedral bells, his wings for a tabard
over her soldier's casing.

The horns of the devil
hold up the sky,
pierce the dropping night.
Her sword ignites
like a willow leaf.

Her breastplate with
the hundred dents above the heart
is all that cumbers her.
The salt stained straps cut into
flesh that was the white lily of Lorraine,
yet it will be the last
she lets go for her dress of flame. 

No sign appears, not even rain;
instead she  burns and burns
lost, half-smiling, staring at me
as if there were something I could do.



 ~December 2013, January 2014




 posted for     real toads
 Fireblossom Friday: Clothes Make The Woman
The inimitable Fireblossom has asked us to write about an article of clothing. To wit:"What I want you to do is to write a poem in which clothes play a significant part...The poem must have some item of clothing as an important component, not just something mentioned in passing." I have also written to her last challenge here, Calling All Angels, which I missed at the time, which asked for a poem about angels.






Process notes: Joan of Arc, (or Jehanne, as she referred to herself) lead a succesful campaign against the English during the Hundred Years War, till she was captured and put on trail by them for heresy. Jehanne cut her hair short and wore the armor and clothing of a male knight of her time,both as symbol and protection against rape. The most prominent "legal" pretext used by the Inquisition to execute her was based on an Old Testament text condemning women who dress in any article of male clothing to death. She was burned at the stake on May 30th, 1431. Jehanne was later exonerated, and canonized as St Joan in 1920





Images: Joan of Arc, by Odillon Redon
St Joan, by John William Waterhouse
Both paintings public domain, via wikipaintings.org

33 comments:

  1. Where to start? You have chosen to write about my favorite saint, and have brought up a question I have often pondered: if the saints are God's most loyal and shining servants, why do they nearly always seem to meet the most grisly and awful ends? Indeed, Jesus himself could not have suffered more than He did. I suppose it is the ultimate test of faith. I don't really know, and it gives me pause.

    "She argues like a Cardinal". I love that. Joan, like all who are truly called, was a threat to the entrenched and learned churchmen who wielded religious and political power at the time. She was an illiterate teenager from rural France, interrogated by the most educated--and probably corrupt--men of her place and era. Still, when offered female clothing to wear, she refused, because she had been instructed by her divine messengers to wear men's clothes.

    " Her breastplate with
    the hundred dents above the heart
    is all that cumbers her.
    The salt stained straps cut into
    flesh that was the white lily of Lorraine,
    yet it will be the last
    she lets go for her dress of flame."

    I have written, several times, about Saint Joan, but never like this. Wow, that's fine writing. So much is conveyed in those lines, so much faith, labor, courage and suffering. Finally, surrender to physical death itself. I am particularly struck by the "hundred dents above the heart". Yes. It is easy to forget that Joan was a woman under all that armor, and as a woman, must have suffered all the more keenly, and been all the more astonishingly brave to take up the task that she did, in a brutal and violent man's world. She leaves me in awe.

    Your closing stanza--and I like the alternating italicized sections--personalizes the whole thing, and bring home how alone she really was in her final moments. Even Jesus asked, "Why have you forsaken me?" And yet she endured it, and met it, with fierce dignity. She did, in fact, sign a confession shortly before she died, under duress, but she recanted almost immediately. She was human, and that makes her entire story all the more riveting and heart-breaking. Personally, I do believe that she was divinely guided.

    Thank you for adding this powerful and, in what it describes, awful poem for my challenge, Joy. It rises to its subject marvelously.

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  2. ps--oh my goodness. I apologize for the novel! ^^^

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    1. I love it when you leave a long comment, Shay, as you always have a lot to say that matters to me. When I was brushing up on my Joan facts for this, I was amazed to see she was only 19 when she was executed--which means she began her military/spiritual journey at 16. She felt so strongly that she was called to what she did--basically a holy war for her, twisty medieval politics to us--and ever single factor was stacked against her ever accomplishing anything--yet she did so much she terrified the enemy into a kangaroo court exhibition, where her body was burned, then reburned twice till there was nothing but ash, and dumped in the river, so there could be no relics, no belief she escaped. A fascinating woman. Thanks so much for your comment.

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  3. Agree with Shay--this is just great. Wonderfully realized - pictorial--vividly accurate even as metaphoric. Also one of my favorites, certainly as a child she was my great heroine - I won't now go over favorite lines here -- there are so many - but the devils horns holding up the sky, the lily straps, the last raiment of the breast plate, the dress of flames--I'm just doing from memory sorry as I don't have words right--the no sign, not even rain, of course, the beautiful end--the angel in the flames - the brother Michael makes it somehow more three dimensional too--really well done, Joy -- a great subject-- also a reminder of this huge world of subject matter outside of ourselves (I'm speaking for myself here.) Thanks. k.

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    1. Than you, k. I don't write narrative poems much--I find them awkward, but I agree, sometimes we need to look a little further than ourselves and our feelings, however rich a poetic resource they generally are. Thanks for reading when you are still no doubt feeling poorly.

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    2. You may enjoy this. From the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I think it will come out as a link.

      http://manicddaily.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/img_0910.jpg

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    3. Ha! A sustaining trunk on the shoulder is always a comfort, k. I'm sure Joan would have been happy to have the elephant and its strength to lean on during her trial.

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  4. WOW! I read this forward and then backward as if a film I could reverse and then forward again. I knew the story, but this observer! The stench, the window, the multiple levels the witness sees. Could I have stood by and watched? What else could be done!? I live life that way daily. And the witness knows that it is only the breastplate that "cumbers" her, but it is also part of her and so it is not a simple matter of changing clothes. Is it only this witness/narrator who sees the human under the flaming dress of ideas?

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  5. this is a delicious write hedge...so much good...and others have covered a lot of it...the king crowned as far away as god...was the first hook you got into me...argues like a cardinal made me smile...the stench by the window...nice touch to the senses...the hundred dents over the heart....really masterfully done...a fav. smiles.

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  6. Thanks for posting this and giving us the chance to read the words of flame....a fantastic write up...the unforgettable stare of the dark luminous eyes will haunt me forever...

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  7. This poem is a roaring paean for an abused deity -- for Joan has many substrata, many locked and throttled and burnt relics of matriarchy. So the stain was already old in the 15th century. Piety here for Jehanne here summons the full throttle of the frozen heath, not so much as curse as bell a ripened lament -- enraged, for sure, against grievances that are as old as Eve. The dialogue between the stanzas is interesting -- between mystery and narrative, or angel and woman, or past and present decibels meeting in the blasted reliquary. There's something pre- post-christian about this, affirming exactly where a man's cross was tribunal and triumphant, only for its time. Maybe the gall I pick up here emanates from certain Republican politicians who still poking through the ashes for something else to trash. You didn't post all week, I knew you were cooking, this is top-shelf stuff. A wild Brocken cathedral. Amen and amen.

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    1. Thanks, B. Much as I find the Repugnant ones' ignorance of all female/human reality irritating, I wasn't thinking of them writing this, though there is an obvious patriarchal parallel, not to mention concomitant Old Testament bunch of BS. I was thinking of angels and voices and that realm where they exist for us, to which some are native and the rest never can enter except in the abstract, as here. Joan's story is definitely a political one, though I don't know if she saw it that way--god was very real in 1413..Thanks for your insights and input, always valued.

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  8. So many have waxed eloquent in their responses. I will simply say this is an amazing piece.

    The horns of the devil
    hold up the sky,
    pierce the dropping night.
    Her sword ignites
    like a willow leaf.

    This says so much to me...surely hell controlled that day when men burned a woman who was by far their superior.

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  9. This poem deserves an essay response, but I will just stand and let my applause resound instead.

    Brilliant progression through alternating stanzas, brilliant lines (The cross on her standard
    won't keep away the crows) and an almighty clap-of-thunder conclusion. Another major work of yours, Hedge.

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  10. Magnificent. My new favorite. Earlier comment was eaten by blogger (gmail is down, too), but suffice to say, you plumb, soar, enlighten, cage with darkness, spark divinity, illume base humanity. Wonderful ~

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    1. Yes, gmail has been iffy all day. Thanks for making a second effort, M. Glad you dug it.

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  11. this is perfection, Joy. i don't know what else to call it. you have surpassed even yourself. your brilliance is blinding!

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  12. Unusual perspective on Joan of Arc!

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  13. So many glowing comments, and I'm not sure I could add to the accolades. I simply loved it.

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    1. Thanks Teresa--I appreciate every comment, and the time you take to come by and read as well.

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  14. BRILLIANT writing, and others have said it all better than I could, exhausted a I am at the moment. But wow, Hedge. Just wonderful writing. The dress of flame. And I didnt know women could be put to death for wearing an article of men's clothing back then? Patriarchal paranoia to the max. Thanks for this. The poem and the discourse after in the comments, makes for very rich reading!

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    1. Thank you Sherry. The religious authority of the Inquisition that Joan was turned over to was basically run by her English captors, who wanted her dead. They tried to get her on heresy first, but she argued them to a standstill, same with witchcraft. So they dug up this text from Deuteronomy to nail her with on her crossdressing. I'm sure it wasn't a common thing for a woman to wear men's clothes then, but I'm also pretty sure that they would all have gotten a similar punishment if it came to the Church's attention. Thanks for your reading and support Sherry.

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  15. The way you've used the alternating stanzas is brilliant. It gives the feel of the call of response of mass.

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  16. yeah, i got in the first reading; Joan of Arc

    much love...

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    1. It wasn't a guessing game, but thanks.

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  17. Can a poem be gorgeous and heart rending at the same time? This is. You show her absolute aloneness- abandoned by God, the king, the church, the men in charge- and her (so) young flesh burned in thanks for her leadership. Her story is an amazing one and your telling of it is uniquely poignant.

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  18. As others have said, your poem is simply amazing. .. 'she keeps her shield and sword bright'.
    I once read she likely drove away the prostitutes traveling with her army .. I can imagine it.

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  19. I am not quite sure what to say that hasn’t been said already. Jehanne is brilliant and deeply moving—a truly inspired rendering of Joan’s story and passion.

    Historical reference and mystical imagery interface seamlessly to ignite her.

    “Her breastplate with
    the hundred dents above the heart”

    We cannot help but translate her to myth, but these lines remind us that she was a woman with only a layer of metal to shield her heart—which most assuredly was a target. How she must have suffered and yet she persevered.

    And finally the last stanza brings it all home – we were there as she burned. How utterly alone she was—we could not save her.

    Personal, timeless, heartbreaking.

    I was struck by your comment:

    “where her body was burned, then reburned twice till there was nothing but ash, and dumped in the river, so there could be no relics, no belief she escaped”

    We don’t need physical relics – just witness—the original testimony of the trial, a primary source serves as source material-- and of course poetry to allow her to dwell in our psyches.

    “There's an angel in the fire
    feathers burning”

    Joan burns in my imagination tonight like an afterimage thanks to you.

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    1. Thank you for the thoughtful comment, Gabrielle. Much appreciated. The English were absolutely terrified of her and her 'supernatural' ability to unite and lead the French, I think and they wanted her so obliterated there could be not even a bone to inspire or a rumor to rally around. The trial sources are just harrowing to read--how alone she was, how strong,how true to herself is what impressed me, also.

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  20. Joy Ann, I am dazzled by some of the images you have written about Joan. Being raised a Catholic, I have always been in love with the saints, especially Joan and Frances. In fact, I took Frances as my conformation name.

    Look at me now, raising a virtual zoo in my home. 3 dogs (minus one baby), a cat and a parrot. I may be crazy, but I love every single one of them with all my heart.

    Excellent writing, my friend.

    Pamela
    p.s. Did you know my husband's name is Michael? I felt a spike of pain when I saw his name.

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    1. Well, Michael was one of the best of the angels, as I recall--it was his voice that Joan heard. Take care of yourself, pamela--hugs to you and all the menagerie.

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  21. You embodied your character and topic so deeply. You have such a way with writing to images and bringing them breath with your words...this took my breath away in so many spots, your wording, images and ability to write from a time that is so different from our own so believably. Sigh...I've been schooled here, Hedge. I really love the use of the cathedral bells...you bring so many dimensions to your piece and in this instance what an audible treat. Thank you for sharing this. :)

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'Poetry is an echo asking a shadow to dance' ~Carl Sandburg