Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, JOAN OF ARC: BOOK 3, by ROBERT SOUTHEY



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JOAN OF ARC: BOOK 3, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Fair dawn'd the morning, and the early sun
Last Line: "we ratify thy mission. Go in peace."
Subject(s): Duty; Faith; France; Heroism; Joan Of Arc (1412-1431); Missions & Missionaries; Religion; Belief; Creed; Heroes; Heroines; Theology


Dunois and the Maid arrive at Chinon. Dunois announces the mission of Joan.
Despondency and incredulity of the King. She discovers and addresses him.
Charles convenes the Doctors of Theology. They examine the Maid.

FAIR dawn'd the morning, and the early sun
Pour'd on the latticed cot a cheerful gleam,
And up the travellers rose, and on their way
Hasten'd, their dangerous way, thro' fertile tracks
The waste of war. They pass'd the Auxerrois;
The autumnal rains had beaten to the earth
The unreap'd harvest, from the village church
No even-song bell was heard, the shepherd's dog
Prey'd on the scatter'd flock, for there was now
No hand to feed him, and upon the hearth
Where he had slumber'd at his master's feet
The rank weed flourish'd. Did they sometimes find
A welcome, he who welcomed them was one
Who lingered in the place where he was born,
For that was all that he had left to love.
They past the Yonne, they past the rapid Loire,
Still urging on their way with cautious speed,
Shunning Auxerre and Bar's embattled wall
And Romorantin's towers.
So journeying on,
Fast by a spring, that welling at his feet
With many a winding crept along the mead,
A knight they saw, who at his plain repast
Let the west wind play round his ungirt brow.
Approaching near, the Bastard recognis'd
The gallant friend of Orleans, the brave chief
Du Chastel; and, the mutual greeting pass'd,
They, on the streamlet's mossy bank reclin'd,
Paus'd on their way, the frugal fare partook,
And drank the running waters.
"Art thou bound
For the Court, Dunois?" exclaimed the aged knight;
"I deem'd thee far away, coop'd in the walls
Of Orleans; a hard siege her valiant sons
Right loyally endure!"
"I left the town,"
Dunois replied, "thinking that my prompt speed
Might seize the hostile stores, and with fresh force
Re-enter. Fastoffe's better fate prevail'd,
And from the field of shame my maddening horse
Bore me, for the barb'd arrow gored his flank.
Fatigued and faint with that day's dangerous toil,
My deep wounds bleeding, vainly with weak hand
Check'd I the powerless rein. Nor aught avail'd
When heal'd at length, defeated and alone
Again to enter Orleans. In Lorraine
I sought to raise new powers, and now, return'd
With strangest and most unexpected aid
Sent by high Heaven, I seek the Court, and thence
To that beleaguered town shall lead such force,
That the proud English in their fields of blood
Shall perish."
"I too," Tanneguy replied,
"May haply in the battle once again
Serve him my royal Master; in his cause
My youth adventur'd much, nor can my age
Find better close than in the clang of arms
To die for him whom I have liv'd to serve.
Thou art for the Court; Son of the Chief I lov'd!
Be wise by my experience. He who seeks
Court favour, ventures like the boy who leans
Over the brink of some high precipice
To reach the o'er-hanging fruit. Thou seest me here
A banish'd man, Dunois! so to appease
The proud and powerful Richemont, who, long time
Most sternly jealous of the royal ear,
With midnight murder leagues, and down the Loire,
Rolls the black carcase of his strangled foe.
Now confident of strength, at the king's feet
He stabs the king's best friends, and then demands,
As with a conqueror's imperious tone,
The post of honour. Son of that lov'd chief
Whose death my arm avenged, may thy days
Be happy; serve thy country in the field,
And in the hour of peace, amid thy friends
Dwell thou without ambition."
So he spake.
But when the Bastard told the wondrous tale,
How interposing Heaven had its high aid
Vouchsafed to France, the old man's eyes flash'd fire,
And rising from the bank, the stately steed
That grazed beside he mounts. "Farewell, Dunois,
Thou, too, the delegate of Heaven, farewell!
I go to raise the standard! we shall meet
At Orleans." O'er the plain he spurr'd his steed.

They journey on their way till Chinon's towers
Rose to the distant view; imperial seat
Of Charles; for Paris, with her servile sons,
A headstrong, mutable, ferocious race,
Bow'd to the invader's yoke, since that sad hour
When Faction o'er her streets with giant stride
Strode terrible, and Murder and Revenge,
As by the midnight torches' lurid light
They mark'd their mangled victims writhe convuls'd,
Listen'd the deep death-groan. Ill-fated scene!
Thro' many a dark age drenched with innocent blood,
And one day doom'd to know the damning guilt
Of Brissot murder'd, and the blameless wife
Of Roland! Martyr'd patriots, spirits pure,
Wept by the good ye fell! Yet still survives,
Sown by your toil, and by your blood manur'd,
The imperishable seed; and now its roots
Spread, and strike deep, and soon shall it become
That Tree beneath whose shade the sons of men
Shall pitch their tents in peace.
In Paris now
Triumphed the Invader. On an infant's head
Had Bedford placed the crown of Charlemagne,
And factions nobles bow'd the subject knee
In homage to their king, their baby lord,
Their cradled mighty one!
"Belov'd of Heaven,"
So spake the Son of Orleans as they pass'd,
"Lo these the walls of Chinon, this the abode
Of Charles our monarch. Here in revelry
He of his armies vanquish'd, his fair towns
Subdued, hears careless, and prolongs the dance.
And little marvel I that to the cares
Of empire still he turns the unwilling ear;
For loss on loss, defeat upon defeat,
His strong holds taken, and his bravest chiefs
Or dead or captur'd and the hopes of youth
All blasted, have subdued the royal mind,
Undisciplin'd in Fortitude's stern school.
So may thy voice arouse his sleeping virtues!"

The mission'd maid replied, "Go thou, Dunois,
Announce my mission to the royal ear.
I on the river's winding banks the while
Would roam, collecting for high enterprise
My thoughts, troubled though firm. He who essays
Achievements of vast import, will perforce
Feel his heart heave; and in my breast I feel
Such perturbation."
On the banks of Vienne
Devious the Damsel turn'd. Through Chinon's gates
The Son of Orleans press'd with rapid step,
Seeking the king. Him from the public view
He found secluded with his blameless queen,
And her, partaker of the unlawful bed,
The lofty-minded Agnes.
"Son of Orleans!"
So as he enter'd cried the haughty fair,
"Thou art well come to witness the disgrace,
The weak, unmanly, mean despondency
Of this thy Sovereign Liege. He will retreat
To distant Dauphinè and fly the war!
Go then, unworthy of thy rank! retreat
To distant Dauphinè, and fly the war,
Recreant from battle! I will not partake
A fugitive's fate; when thou hast lost thy crown
Thou hast lost Agnes.—Dost not blush, Dunois!
To bleed in combat for a Prince like this,
Fit only, like the Merovingian race,
On a May morning deck'd with flowers, to mount
His gay-bedizened car, and ride abroad
And make the multitude a holyday.
Go, Charles—and hide thee in a woman's garb,
And these long locks will not disgrace thee then!"

"Nay, Agnes!" Charles replied, "reproach me no
I have enough of sorrow. Look around,
See this fair country ravaged by the foe,
My strong holds taken, and my bravest chiefs
Fall'n in the field, or captives far away.
Dead is the Douglas; cold thy warrior frame,
Illustrious Buchan; ye from Scotland's hills,
Not mindless of your old ally distress'd,
Rush'd to his succour: in his cause ye fought,
For him ye perish'd. Rash, impetuous Narbonne
Thy mangled corse waves to the winds of heaven.
Cold, Graville, is thy sinewy arm in death;
Fall'n is Ventadaur; silent in the grave
Rambouillet sleeps: Bretagne's unfaithful chief
Leagues with my foes, and Richemont, or in arms
Defies my weak control, or from my side,
A friend more dreaded than the enemy,
Drives my best servants with the assassin sword.
Soon must the towers of Orleans fall!—But now
These sad thoughts boot not. Welcome to our court,
Dunois! We yet can give the friendly feast,
And from the heavy cares of empire win
One hospitable day of merriment."

The Chief replied: "So may thy future years
Pass from misfortune free, as all these ills
Shall vanish like a vision of the night!
To thee, to France I come the messenger
Of aid from Heaven. The delegated Maid
With me, whom Providence all-wise decrees
The saviour of the realm;—a holy Maid,
Bearing strange promise of miraculous things;
One whom it were not possible to hear
And disbelieve."
Astonish'd by his speech
Stood Charles. "At one of meaner estimation
I should have smil'd, Dunois. Thy well-known worth,
The loyalty of all thy noble house,
Compel me even to this, a most strange tale,
To lend a serious ear. A woman sent
From Heaven, the Saviour of this wasted realm,
One whom it were not possible to hear
And disbelieve! Dunois, ill now beseems
Ought wild and hazardous; the throne of France
Totters upon destruction. Is my person
Known to this woman?"
"She has liv'd retir'd,"
The Bastard answer'd, "ignorant of courts,
And little heeding, till the spirit of God
Rous'd her to this great work."
To him the king:
"If, then, she knows me not, abide thou here,
And hither, by a speedy messenger,
Summon the Maiden. On the throne, meantime,
I the while mingling with the menial throng,
Some courtier shall be seated. If this Maid
Be by the holy spirit of God inspir'd,
That holy spirit will gift her with the power
To pierce deception. But if, strange of mind,
Enthusiast fancy fire her wilder'd brain,
Thus proved, she to obscurity again
May guiltlessly retire. Our English foes
Might well exult to see the sons of France
Led by a frenzied female." So he said;
And, with a doubtful hope, the son of Orleans
Dispatched a speedy messenger, to seek
Beside the banks of Vienne, the mission'd Maid.

Soon is the court convened; the jewell'd crown
Shines on a menial's head. Amid the throng
The monarch stands, and anxious for the event,
His heart beats high. She comes, the inspired Maid!
And as the Bastard led her to the throne,
Quick glancing o'er the mimic Majesty,
Fix'd full her eye one Charles.
"Thou art the King.
I come the avenging delegate of Heaven,
Wielding the wrathful weapon, from whose death,
Their stern arts palsied by the arm of God,
Far, far from Orleans shall the English wolves
Speed their disastrous flight. Monarch of France!
Spread the good tidings through thy ravaged realm!
The Maid is come, the mission'd Maid, whose hand
Shall in the consecrated walls of Rheims
Crown thee the anointed king."
In wonder mute
The courtiers heard. The astonish'd king exclaim'd,
"This is indeed the agency of Heaven!
Hard, Maiden, were I of belief," he cried,
"Did I not now, with full and confirm'd faith,
Thee the redeemer of this ravaged realm
Believe. Not doubting, therefore, the strange will
Of the all-wise Providence, delay I now
Instant to marshal the brave sons of France
Beneath thy banners; but to satisfy
Those who at distance from this most clear proof
May hear and disbelieve, or yield at best
A cold assent. These fully to confirm,
And more to manifest thy holy power,
Forthwith with all due speed I shall convene
The Doctors of Theology, wise men,
And skilful in the mysteries of Heaven.
By these thy mission studied and approved,
As needs it must, their sanction to all minds
Shall bring conviction, and the firm belief
Lead on thy favour'd troops to mightiest deeds,
Surpassing human credibility."

Well pleas'd the Maiden heard. Her the king leads
From the disbanding throng, meantime to dwell
With Mary. Watchful for her lord's return
She sat with Agnes; Agnes, proud of heart,
Majestically fair, whose large full eye
Or flashing anger, or with scornful scowl,
Deform'd her beauteous features. Yet with her,
The lawless idol of the monarch's heart,
Mary, obedient to her husband's will,
Dwelt peaceful, from the proudly-generous mind
Of Agnes winning friendship. Soon the Maid
Lov'd the mild queen, and sojourning with her,
Expects the solemn summons.
Through the realm
Meantime the king's convoking voice was heard,
And from their palaces and monasteries
Swarm'd forth the doctors, men acute and deep,
Grown grey in study; priests and bishops haste
To Chinon: teachers wise and with high names,
Seraphic, Subtile, or Irrefragable,
By their admiring pupils dignified.

The doctors met; from cloister gloom recluse,
Or from the haunts luxurious of the abode
Episcopal, they met, and sought the place
Of judgment. Very ancient was the dome,
The floor with many a monumental stone
O'erspread, and brass-ensculptur'd effigy
Of holy abbots honour'd in their day,
Now to the grave gone down. The branching arms
Of many a ponderous pillar met aloft,
Wreath'd on the roof emboss'd. The windows gleam'd
Awful and dim their many-colour'd light,
Through the rich robes of eremites and saints,
Trees, mountains, castles, ships, sun, moon, and stars—
Splendid confusion! the pure wave beneath
Reflects and trembles in the purpling beam.
On the altar burns that mystic lamp whose flame
May not be quenched.
Circling round the vase
They bow the knee, uttering the half-heard prayer;
Mysterious power communicating thus
To the hallowed water, deem'd a mightier spell
O'er the fierce fiends of Satan's fallen crew,
Than e'er the hell-hags taught in Thessaly,
Or they who, sitting on the rifled grave,
Dim seen by the blue tomb-fire's lurid light,
Partake the Vampire's banquet.
This perform'd,
The Maid is summon'd. Round the holy vase
Mark'd with the mystic tonsure, and enrob'd
In sacred vests, a venerable train,
They stand. The delegated Maid obeys
Their summons. As she came, a loveliest blush
O'er her fair cheek suffus'd, such as became
One mindful still of maiden modesty,
Though of her own worth conscious. Thro' the aisle
The cold wind moaning, as it pass'd along
Waved her dark flowing locks. Before the train,
In reverend silence waiting their sage will,
With half-averted eye she stood composed.
So have I seen the simple snow-drop rise
Amid the russet leaves that hide the earth
In early spring, so seen its gentle bend
Of modest loveliness amid the waste
Of desolation.
By the maiden's side
The Son of Orleans stood, prepar'd to vouch
That when on Charles the Maiden's eye had fix'd,
As led by power miraculous, no fraud,
No juggling artifice of secret sign
Dissembled inspiration. As he stood
Steadily viewing the mysterious rites,
Thus to the attentive Maid the Arch-Priest spake
Severe.
"Woman, if any fiend of hell
Lurk in thy bosom, so to prompt the vaunt
Of inspiration, and to mock the power
Of God and holy church, thus by the virtue
Of water hallowed in the name of God
That damned spirit adjure I to depart
From his possessed prey."
Slowly he spake,
And sprinkled water on the virgin's face.
Indignant at the unworthy charge, the Maid
Felt her cheek flush, but soon, the transient glow
Fading, she answered meek:
"Most holy sires,
Ye reverend fathers of the Christian church,
Most catholic! before your view I stand
A poor, weak woman. Of the grace vouchsafed
How far unworthy, conscious: yet though mean,
Guiltless of fraud, and chosen by highest Heaven
The minister of aid. Strange voices heard,
The dark and shadowing visions of the night,
And feelings that I may not dare to doubt—
These portents make me conscious of the God
Within me; he who gifted my purged eye
To know the monarch 'mid the menial throng,
Unseen before. Thus much it boots to say.
The life of simple virgin ill deserves
To call your minds from studies wise and deep,
Not to be fathom'd by the weaker sense
Of man profane."
"Thou speakest," said the Priest,
"Of dark and shadowing visions of the night.
Canst thou remember, Maid! what vision first
Seem'd more than Fancy's shaping? from such tale,
Minutely told with accurate circumstance,
Best judgment might be formed."
The Maid replied:
"Amid the mountain valleys I had driven
My father's flock. The eve was drawing on,
When, by the sudden storm surprised, I sought
A chapel's neighbouring shelter; ruined now;
But I remember when its vesper bell
Was heard among the hills, a pleasant sound,
That made me pause upon my homeward road,
Awaking in me comfortable thoughts
Of holiness. The unsparing soldiery
Had sack'd the hamlet near, and none was left
Duly at sacred seasons to attend
St. Agnes' chapel. In the desolate pile
I drove my flock, with no irreverent thoughts,
Nor mindless that the place on which I trod
Was holy ground. It was a fearful night!
Devoutly to the virgin saint I pray'd,
Then heap'd the wither'd leaves that the autumn wind
Had drifted in, and laid me down upon them,
And sure I think I slept. But so it was
That, in the dead of night, Saint Agnes stood
Before mine eyes, such and so beautiful
As when, amid the house of wickedness,
The power whom with such fervent love she served
Veiled her with glory. And she seem'd to point
To the moss-grown altar, and the crucifix
Half hid by the long grass;—and then I thought
I could have withered armies with a look,
For from the present saint such divine power
I felt infused—'twas but a dream, perhaps.
And yet methought that when a louder peal
Burst o'er the roof, and all was left again
Utterly dark, each bodily sense was clear
And sensible to every circumstance
Of time and place."
Attentive to her words
Thus the Priest answered:
"Brethren, ye have heard
The woman's tale. Beseems us now to ask
Whether of holy church a duteous child
Before our court appears, so not unlike
Heaven might vouchsafe its gracious miracle;
Or silly heretic, whose erring thoughts,
Monstrous and vain, perchance might stray beyond
All reason, and conceit strange dreams and signs
Impossible. Say, woman, from thy youth
Hast thou, as rightly mother church demands,
Confess'd to the holy priest each secret sin,
That by the grace vouchsafed to him from Heaven,
He might absolve thee?"
"Father," she replied,
"The forms of worship in mine earlier years
Waked my young mind to artificial awe,
And made me fear my God. Warm with the glow
Of health and exercise, whene'er I pass'd
The threshold of the house of prayer, I felt
A cold damp chill me; I beheld the flame
That with a pale and feeble glimmering
Dimmed the noonlight; I heard the solemn mass,
And with strange feelings and mysterious dread
Telling my beads, gave to the mystic prayers
Devoutest meaning. Often when I saw
The pictured flames writhe round a penanced soul,
Have I retired, and knelt before the cross
And wept for grace, and trembled and believed
A God of Terrors. But in riper years,
When as my soul grew strong in solitude,
I saw the eternal energy pervade
The boundless range of nature, with the sun
Pour life and radiance from his flamy path,
And on the lowliest flowret of the field
The kindly dew-drops shed. And then I felt
That He who form'd this goodly frame of things
Must needs be good, and with a Father's name
I call'd on Him, and from my burthen'd heart
Pour'd out the yearnings of unmingled love.
Methinks it is not strange, then, that I fled
The house of prayer, and made the lonely grove
My temple, at the foot of some old oak
Watching the little tribes that had their world
Within its mossy bark; or laid me down
Beside the rivulet, whose murmuring
Was silence to my soul, and mark'd the swarm
Whose light-edged shadows on the bedded sand
Mirror'd their mazy sports; the insect hum,
The flow of waters, and the song of birds
Making most holy music to mine ear:
Oh! was it strange, if for such scenes as these,
Such deep devoutness, such intense delight
Of quiet adoration, I forsook
The house of worship? strange, that when I felt
That God had made my spirit quick to feel
And love whate'er was beautiful and good,
And from ought evil and deform'd to shrink
Even as with instinct;—father! was it strange
That in my heart I had no thought of sin
And did not need forgiveness?"
As she spake,
The doctors stood astonish'd, and some while
They listen'd still in wonder. But at length
A priest replied:
"Woman, thou seemst to scorn
The ordinances of the holy church,
And, if I rightly understand thy words,
Thou sayest that solitude and nature taught
Thy feelings of religion, and that now
Masses and absolutions and the use
Of mystic wafer, are to thee unknown.
How, then, could Nature teach thee true religion,
Deprived of these? Nature can teach to sin,
But 'tis the priest alone can teach remorse,
Can bid St. Peter ope the gates of heaven,
And from the penal fires of purgatory
Absolve the soul. Could Nature teach thee this?
Or tell thee that St. Peter holds the keys,
And that his successor's unbounded power
Extends o'er either world? Although thy life
Of sin were free, if of this holy truth
Ignorant, thy soul in liquid flames must rue
Transgression."
Thus he spake; the applauding look
Went round. Nor dubious to reply the Maid
Was silent.
"Fathers of the holy church,
If on these points abstruse a simple maid
Like me, should err, impute not you the crime
To self-will'd reason, vaunting its own strength
Above the eternal wisdom. True it is
That for long time I have not heard the sound
Of mass high-chanted, nor with trembling lips
Partook the mystic wafer: yet the bird
That to the matin ray prelusive pour'd
His joyous song, methought did warble forth
Sweeter thanksgiving to religion's ear
In his wild melody of happiness,
Than ever rung along the high-arched roofs
Of man. Yet never from the bending vine
Pluck'd I its ripen'd clusters thanklessly,
Of that good God unmindful, who bestow'd
The bloodless banquet. Ye have told me, sirs,
That Nature only teaches man to sin!
If it be sin to seek the wounded lamb,
To bind its wounds, and bathe them with my tears,
This is what Nature taught! No, fathers! no,
It is not Nature that can teach to sin:
Nature is all benevolence, all love,
All beauty! In the greenwood's simple shade
There is no vice that to the indignant cheek
Bids the red current rush; no misery there;
No wretched mother, that with pallid face
And famine-fall'n, hangs o'er her hungry babes
With such a look, so wan, so wo-begone,
As shall one day, with damning eloquence,
Against the mighty plead! Nature teach sin!
Oh blasphemy against the Holy One,
Who made us in the image of Himself,
Who made us all for happiness and love—
Infinite happiness, infinite love,
Partakers of his own eternity."

Solemn and slow the reverend priest replied:
"Much, woman, do I doubt that all-wise Heaven
Would thus vouchsafe its gracious miracles
On one fore-doom'd to misery; for so doom'd
Is that deluded one, who, of the mass
Unheeding, and the church's saving power,
Deems Nature sinless. Therefore, mark me well,
Brethren, I would propose this woman try
The holy ordeal. Let her, bound and stript,
Lest haply in her clothes should be conceal'd
Some holy relic so profaned, be cast
In the deep pond; there if she float, no doubt
Some fiend upholds, but if she instant sink,
Sure sign is that that Providence displays
Her free from witchcraft. This done, let her walk
Blinded and bare o'er ploughshares heated red,
And o'er these past, her naked arm plunge deep
In scalding water. If from these she pass
Unhurt, to holy father of the church,
Most blessed Pope, we then refer the cause
For judgment: and this chief, the Son of Orleans,
Who comes to vouch the royal person known
By her miraculous power, shall pass with her
The sacred trial."
"Grace of God!" exclaim'd
The astonish'd Bastard; "plunge me in the pool,
O'er red-hot ploughshares make me dance, to please
Your dotard fancies! Fathers of the church,
Where is your gravity? What! elder-like,
This fairer than Susannah would you eye?
Ye call for ordeals; and I too demand
The noblest ordeal, on the English host
In victory to prove the mission sent
From favouring Heaven. To the Pope refer
For judgment! Know ye not that France even now
Stands tottering on destruction!"
Starting wild,
With a strange look, the mission'd Maid exclaim'd,
"The sword of God is here! the grave shall speak
To manifest me!"
Even as she spake,
A pale blue flame rose from the trophied tomb
Beside her. A deep silence through the dome
Dwelt awful: sudden from that house of death
The clash of arms was heard, as though within
The shrouded warrior shook his mailed limbs.

"Hear ye!" the damsel cried; "these are the arms
That shall flash terror o'er the hostile host—
These, in the presence of our lord the king,
And the assembled people, I shall take
From this the sepulchre, where many an age
Incorruptible they have lain conceal'd,
Destined for me, the delegate of Heaven."

Recovering from amaze, the priest replied:
"Thou art indeed the delegate of Heaven!
What thou hast said surely thou shalt perform!
We ratify thy mission. Go in peace."





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