Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, JOAN OF ARC: BOOK 2, by ROBERT SOUTHEY

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry

JOAN OF ARC: BOOK 2, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: And now, beneath the horizon westering slow
Last Line: And they betook them to their homely rest.
Subject(s): France; Heroism; Joan Of Arc (1412-1431); Missions & Missionaries; Travel; War; Heroes; Heroines; Journeys; Trips

Dunois and the Maid rest at a cottage. Their host speaks of the battle of
Azincour, and the siege of Roan.

AND now, beneath the horizon westering slow,
Had sunk the orb of day: o'er all the vale
A purple softness spread, save where the tree
Its giant shadow stretch'd, or winding stream
Mirror'd the light of heaven, still traced distinct
When twilight dimly shrouded all beside.
A grateful coolness freshen'd the calm air,
And the hoarse grasshoppers their evening song
Sung shrill and ceaseless, as the dews of night
Descended. On their way the travellers wend,
Cheering the road with converse, till far off
They mark a cottage taper's glimmering light
Gleam through the embower'd gloom: to that they turn.
An aged man came forth; his thin grey locks
Waved on the night breeze, and on his shrunk face
The characters of age were written deep.
Them, louting low with rustic courtesy,
He welcom'd in; on the white-ember'd hearth
Heapt up fresh fuel; then, with friendly care,
Spread out the homely board, and fill'd the bowl
With the red produce of the vine that arched
His evening seat; they of the plain repast
Partook, and quaff'd the pure and pleasant bowl.

"Strangers, your fare is homely," said their host
"But such it is as we poor countrymen
Earn with hard toil: in faith, ye are welcome to it!
I love a soldier! and at sight of one
My old heart feels as it were young again.
Poor and decrepit as I am, my arm
Once grasp'd the sword full firmly, and my limbs
Were strong as thine, sir warrior! God be with thee,
And send thee better fortune than old Bertram!
I would that I were young again, to meet
These haughty English in the field of fight;
Such as I was when on the fatal plain
Of Azincour I met them."
"Wert thou, then,
A sharer in that dreadful day's defeat?"
Exclaim'd the Bastard. "Didst thou know the chief
Of Orleans?"
"Know him!" the old veteran cried;
"I saw him, ere the bloody fight began,
Riding from rank to rank, his beaver up,
The long lance quivering in his mighty grasp.
Full was his eye, and fierce, yet beaming still
On all his countrymen cheerful and mild,
Winning all hearts. Looking at thee, sir knight,
Methinks I see him now; such was his eye,
So mild in peace; such was his manly brow.
Beshrew me, but I weep at the remembrance."
"Full was his eye," exclaimed the Bastard Son
Of Orleans, "yet it beamed benevolence.
I never yet saw love so dignified!
There lived not one his vassal, but adored
The good, the gallant Chief. Amid his halls
High blazed the hospitable hearth; the pilgrim
Of other countries, seeing his high towers,
Rejoiced, for he had often heard of Orleans.
He lives, my brother! bound in the hard chain,
He lives most wretched."
The big tear roll'd down
The warrior's cheeks. "But he shall live, Dunois,"
Exclaim'd the mission'd Maid; "but he shall live
To hear good tidings; hear of liberty,
Of his own liberty, by his brother's arm
Achiev'd in hard-fought battle. He shall live
Happy: the memory of his prison'd years
Shall heighten all his joys, and his grey hairs
Go to the grave in peace."
"I would fain live
To see that day," replied their aged host.
"How would my heart leap once more to behold
The gallant, generous chieftain! I fought by him
When all the hopes of victory were lost,
And down his batter'd arms the blood stream'd fast
From many a wound. Like wolves they hemm'd us in,
Fierce in unhoped-for conquest: all around
Our dead and dying countrymen lay heap'd;
Yet still he strove;—I wondered at his valour!
There was not one who on that fatal day
Fought bravelier."
"Fatal was that day to France,"
Exclaim'd the Bastard; "there Alencon died,
Valiant in vain; and he, the haughty chief,
D' Albert, who, rashly arrogant of strength,
Impetuous rushed to ruin. Brabant fell,
Vaudemont, and Marle, and Bar, and Faquenberg,
Her noblest warriors; daring in despair
Fought the fierce foe; ranks fell on ranks before them;
The prisoners of that shameful day out-summ'd
Their victors!"
"There are those," old Bertram cried,
"Who for his deeds will honour Henry's name.
That honour that a conqueror may deserve
He merits, for right valiantly he fought
On that disastrous day. Nor deem thou, Chief,
That cowardice disgraced the sons of France;
They, by their leaders' arrogance led on
With heedless fury, found all numbers vain,
All efforts fruitless there; and hadst thou seen,
Skilful as brave, how Henry's ready eye
Lost not a thicket, not a hillock's aid;
From his hersed bowmen how the arrows fled
Thick as the snow flakes, and with lightning force!
Thou wouldst have known such soldiers, such a chief,
Might never be subdued.
But when the field
Was won, and those who had escaped the carnage
Had yielded up their arms, it was most foul
To glut on the defenceless prisoners
The blunted sword of conquest. Girt around
I to their mercy had surrendered me,
When lo! I heard the dreadful groan of death.
Not as amid the fray, when man met man
And in fair combat gave the mortal blow;
Here the poor captives, weaponless and bound,
Saw their stern victors draw again the sword,
And groan'd and strove in vain to free their hands,
And bade them think upon their plighted faith,
And pray'd for mercy in the name of God,
In vain: the king had bade them massacre;
And in their helpless prisoners' naked breasts
They drove the sword. Then I expected death,
And at that moment death was terrible;
For the heat of fight was over: of my home
I thought, and of my wife and little ones,
In bitterness of heart. The gallant man,
Whose by the chance of war I had become,
Had pity, and he loos'd my hands, and said,
'Frenchman! I would have killed thee in the battle,
But my arm shrinks at murder! Get thee hence.'
It was the will of Heaven that I should live,
Childless and old, to think upon the past,
And wish that I had perish'd!"
The old man
Wept as he spake. "Ye may perhaps have heard
Of the hard siege so long by Roan endur'd.
I dwelt there, strangers; I had then a wife,
And I had children tenderly beloved,
Who I did hope should cheer me in old age
And close mine eyes. The tale of misery
Mayhap were tedious, or I could relate
Much of that dreadful siege."
The Maid replied,
Anxious of that devoted town to learn.
Thus then the veteran:
"So by Heaven preserved,
From that disastrous plain of Azincour,
I speeded homewards and abode in peace.
Henry, as wise as brave, had back to England
Led his victorious army; well aware
That France was mighty, that her warrior sons,
Impatient of a foreign victor's sway,
Might rise impetuous, and with multitudes
Tread down the invaders. Wisely he return'd,
For the proud Barons in their private broils
Wasted the strength of France. I dwelt at home,
And, with the little I possess'd content,
Lived happily. A pleasant sight it was
To see my children, as at eve I sat
Beneath the vine, come clustering round my knee,
That they might hear again the oft-told tale
Of the dangers I had past: their little eyes
Did with such anxious eagerness attend
The tale of life preserved, as made me feel
Life's value. My poor children! a hard fate
Had they! But oft and bitterly I wish
That God had to his mercy taken me
In childhood; for it is a heavy thing
To linger out old age in loneliness!
Ah me! when war the masters of mankind,
Wo to the poor man! If he sow the field,
He shall not reap the harvest; if he see
His blooming children rise around, his heart
Aches at the thought that they are multiplied
To the sword! Again from England the fierce foe
Rush'd on our ravaged coasts. In battle bold,
Savage in conquest, their victorious king
Swept like the desolating tempest round.
Dambieres submits; on Caen's subjected wall
The flag of England waved. Roan still remain'd,
Embattled Roan, bulwark of Normandy;
Nor unresisted round our massy walls
Pitched they their camp. I need not tell, sir knight,
How oft and boldly on the invading host
We burst with fierce assault impetuous forth,
For many were the warrior sons of Roan.
O'er all that gallant citizen was famed,
For virtuous hardihood pre-eminent,
Blanchard. He, gathering round his countrymen,
With his own courage kindling every breast,
Had bade them vow before Almighty God
Never to yield them to the usurping foe
While yet their arms could lift the spear, while yet
Life was, to think of every pledge that man
Most values. To the God of Hosts we vow'd;
And we had baffled the besieging power,
But our cold-hearted foeman drew around
His strong entrenchments. From the watch-tower's top
In vain with fearful hearts along the Seine
We strain'd the eye, and every distant wave
That in the sunbeam glitter'd, fondly thought
The white sail of supply. Ah me! no more
Rose on our aching sight the food-fraught bark;
For guarded was the Seine, and our stern foe
Had made a league with Famine. How my heart
Sunk in me when at night I carried home
The scanty pittance of to-morrow's meal!
You know not, strangers! what it is to see
The asking eye of hunger!
"Still we strove,
Expecting aid; nor longer force to force,
Valour to valour in the fight oppos'd,
But to the exasperate patience of the foe,
Desperate endurance. Though with Christian zeal
Ursino would have pour'd the balm of peace
Into our wounds, Ambition's ear, best pleas'd
With the War's clamour and the groan of Death,
Was deaf to prayer. Day after day fled on;
We heard no voice of comfort. From the walls
Could we behold the savage Irish Kernes,
Ruffians half-clothed, half-human, half-baptised,
Come with their spoil, mingling their hideous shouts
With the moan of weary flocks, and the piteous low
Of kine sore-laden, in the mirthful camp
Scattering abundance; while the loathliest food
We prized above all price, while in our streets
The dying groan of hunger, and the scream
Of famishing infants echoed, and we heard,
With the strange selfishness of misery,
We heard and heeded not.
Thou wouldst have deem'd
Roan must have fallen an easy sacrifice,
Young warrior! hadst thou seen our meagre limbs,
And pale and shrunken cheeks, and hollow eyes;
Yet still we struggled nobly! Blanchard still
Spake of the savage fury of the foe,
Of Harfleur's wretched race, cast on the world
Houseless and destitute, while that fierce king
Knelt at the altar, and with impious prayer
Gave God the glory, even while the blood
That he had shed was reeking up to Heaven.
He bade us think what mercy they had found
Who yielded on the plain of Azincour,
And what the gallant sons of Caen, by him,
In cold blood murder'd. Then, his scanty food
Sharing with the most wretched, he would bid us
Bear with our miseries cheerly.
Thus distress'd
Lest all should perish thus, our chiefs decreed
Women and children, the infirm and old,
All who were useless in the work of war,
Should forth and find their fortunes. Age, that makes
The joys and sorrows of the distant years
Like a half-remembered dream, yet on my heart
Leaves deep impress'd the horrors of that hour.
Then as our widow wives clung round our necks,
And the deep sob of anguish interrupted
The prayer of parting, even the pious priest,
As he implored his God to strengthen us,
And told us we should meet again in heaven,
He groan'd and curs'd in bitterness of heart
That merciless man. The wretched crowd pass'd on:
My wife—my children—thro' the gates they pass'd,
Then the gates clos'd.—Would I were in my grave,
That I might lose remembrance.
What is man,
That he can hear the groan of wretchedness
And feel no fleshly pang! Why did the All-Good
Create these warrior scourges of mankind,
These who delight in slaughter? I did think
There was not on this earth a heart so hard
Could hear a famish'd woman cry for bread,
And know no pity. As the outcast train
Drew near, the English monarch bade his troops
Force back the miserable multitude.
They drove them to the walls—it was the depth
Of winter—we had no relief to grant.
The aged ones groan'd to our foe in vain;
The mother pleaded for her dying child,
And they felt no remorse!"
The mission'd Maid
Starts from her seat—"The old and the infirm,
The mother and her babes!—and yet no lightning
Blasted this man!"
"Ay, lady," Bertram cried;
"And when we sent the herald to implore
His mercy on the helpless, he relax'd
His stern face into savage merriment,
Scoffing their agonies. On the high wall
I stood and mark'd the miserable outcasts,
And every moment thought that Henry's heart,
Hard as it was, must feel. All night I stood—
Their deep groans sounded on the midnight gale;
Fainter they grew, for the cold wintry wind
Blew bleak; fainter they grew, and at the last
All was still, save that ever and anon
Some mother shriek'd o'er her expiring child
The shriek of frenzying anguish.
From that hour
On all the busy turmoil of the world
I gaz'd with strange indifference; bearing want
With the sick patience of a mind worn out.
Nor when the traitor yielded up our town,
Ought heeded I as through our ruin'd streets,
Through putrid heaps of famish'd carcases,
Pass'd the long pomp of triumph. One keen pang
I felt, when by that bloody king's command
The gallant Blanchard died. Calmly he died,
And as he bow'd beneath the axe, thank'd God
That he had done his duty.
I survive,
A solitary, friendless, wretched one,
Knowing no joy save in the faith I feel
That I shall soon be gather'd to my sires,
And soon repose there, where the wicked cease
From troubling, and the weary are at rest."

"And happy," cried the delegated Maid,
"And happy they, who in that holy faith
Bow meekly to the rod! A little while
Shall they endure the proud man's contumely,
The hard wrongs of the great. A little while,
Though shelterless they feel the wintry wind,
The wind shall whistle o'er their turf-grown grave,
And all beneath be peace. But wo to those,
Wo to the mighty ones, who send abroad
Their train'd assassins, and who give to Fury
The flaming firebrand; these indeed shall live
The heroes of the wandering minstrel's song;
But they have their reward: the innocent blood
Steams up to Heaven against them.—God shall hear
The widow's groan."
"I saw him," Bertram cried,
"Henry of Azincour, this conqueror-king,
Go to his grave. The long procession past
Slowly from town to town, and when I heard
The deep-toned dirge, and saw the banners wave
A pompous shade, and the high torches glare
In the mid-day sun a dim and gloomy light,
I thought what he had been on earth who now
Was gone to his account, and blest my God
I was not such as he!"
So spake the old man,
And they betook them to their homely rest.

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