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SAINT JOAN, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography


In Louise Gluck's "Saint Joan," the intricacies of human mortality and faith intersect through the poet's narrative of a childhood vision. The poem delves into the tumultuous landscape of the inner self, delineating the deep psychological recesses where fear, disillusionment, and hope coexist. This complex interiority is personified by figures like Joan of Arc ("Joan") and Lazarus, symbolizing not just historical or biblical resonances, but the oscillation between death and rebirth that marks human existence.

The poem opens with a moment of precocious certainty: "When I was seven, I had a vision:?I believed I would die." This vision bears an existential weight, evoking Joan of Arc's prophetic vision "to save France." It's a peculiar kind of agony, a premonition of an untimely demise juxtaposed with the heroine who met her end to serve a higher purpose. In the child's eyes, their death would rob them of their life's potential: "cheated of a whole childhood, of the great dreams of my heart."

What makes the poem so emotionally potent is that this anticipated death never arrives: "And then I lived." These four words shake the core of the poem, acting as a fulcrum upon which the entire narrative pivots. If the poem initially aligns the speaker with Joan, it then reframes them as Lazarus-the biblical figure resurrected by Jesus. The speaker's life becomes an existential paradox, as they navigate the world as someone who "should have been burning" but is, nevertheless, alive.

The poem labels this dichotomy as the "Monologue of childhood, of adolescence." It indicates a prolonged state of being-perhaps a sense of 'living-on-borrowed-time.' The tension in this liminal state comes alive in the lines "Nights I lay in my bed, waiting to be found out. / And the voices returned, but the world / refused to withdraw." The world continues unabated, refusing to align with the inner turmoil of the speaker, whose anticipation of death lingers like a haunting refrain.

Towards the end of the poem, Gluck's voice becomes declarative, and the lines take on a tone of defiance. "I gave you your chance. / I listened to you, I believed in you. / I will not let you have me again." These lines repudiate the power of that childhood vision, of that fear that once dominated the speaker. It's an assertion of will over existential uncertainty-a declaration that life, with all its perplexities, will continue on its terms.

"Saint Joan" is not merely an elegy for lost innocence or a confrontation with mortality; it's a deeply poignant exploration of the boundaries between belief and reality, between the imagined and the lived. The speaker's journey from a fatalistic vision to an embrace of life reflects the undulating nature of human experience-marked by moments of despair, anticipation, and ultimately, resilience. The poem serves as a remarkable testament to the complexity of our emotional and spiritual landscapes, and how they continually shape and reshape us, long into the reaches of our lives.


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