Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, JOAN OF ARC: BOOK 9, by ROBERT SOUTHEY



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JOAN OF ARC: BOOK 9, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Far through the shadowy sky the ascending flames
Last Line: "the thunder—she shall blast her despot foes."
Subject(s): Death; England; Faith; France; Funerals; God; Heroism; Joan Of Arc (1412-1431); Missions & Missionaries; Victory; War; Dead, The; English; Belief; Creed; Burials; Heroes; Heroines


Transactions of the night. Murmurs, council and retreat of the English. Advance
of Burgundy to their assistance prevented. Burial of the dead. Their funeral
oration pronounced by the Maid.

FAR through the shadowy sky the ascending flames
Stream'd their fierce torrents, by the gales of night
Now curl'd, now flashing their long lightnings up,
That made the stars seem pale; less frequent now,
Through the red volumes the brief splendour shot,
And blacker waves roll'd o'er the darkened heaven.
Dismay'd amid the forts that yet remain'd,
The invaders saw, and clamoured for retreat,
Deeming that aided by invisible powers
The Maid went forth to conquer. Not a sound
Moved on the air, but filled them with vague dread
Of unseen dangers; if the blast arose
Sudden, through every fibre a deep fear
Crept shivering, and to their expecting minds
Silence itself was dreadful. One there was,
Who, learning wisdom in the hour of ill,
Exclaimed, "I marvel not, that the Most High
Hath hid his face from England! wherefore thus
Quitting the comforts of domestic life,
Swarm we to desolate this goodly land,
Making the drenched earth rank with human blood,
Scatter pollution on the winds of heaven?
Oh! that the sepulchre had closed its jaws
On that foul priest, that bad blood-guilty man,
Who, trembling for the church's ill-got wealth,
Bade Henry look on France, ere he had drawn
The desolating sword, and sent him forth
To slaughter! Sure he spake the will of God,
That holy hermit, who in his career
Of conquest met the king and bade him cease
The work of death, before the wrath divine
Fell heavy on his head; and soon it fell,
And sunk him to the grave; and soon that wrath
On us, alike in sin, alike shall fall:
For thousands and ten thousands, by the sword
Cut off, and sent before the eternal Judge,
With all their unrepented crimes upon them,
Cry out for vengeance! for the widow's groan,
Though here she groan unpitied or unheard,
Is heard in Heaven against us! o'er this land,
For hills of human slain, unsepulchred,
Steam pestilence, and cloud the blessed sun!
The wrath of God is on us—God has call'd
This Virgin forth, and gone before her path—
Our brethren, vainly valiant, fall beneath them,
Clogging with gore their weapons, or in the flood,
Whelm'd like the Egyptian tyrant's impious host,
Mangled and swoln, their blackened carcasses
Toss on the tossing billows! We remain,
For yet our rulers will pursue the war,
We still remain to perish by the sword,
Soon to appear before the throne of God;
Lost, guilty wretches, hireling murderers,
Uninjur'd, unprovok'd, who dared to risk
The life his goodness gave us, on the chance
Of war, and in obedience to our chiefs,
Durst disobey our God."
Then terror seized
The troops and late repentance: and they thought
The spirits of the mothers and their babes
Famish'd at Roan, sat on the clouds of night,
Circling the forts, to hail with gloomy joy
The hour of vengeance.
Nor the English chiefs
Heard their loud murmurs heedless: counselling,
They met despondent. Suffolk, now their chief,
Since conquered by the arm of Theodore,
Fell Salisbury, thus began.
"It were now vain
Lightly of this our more than mortal foe,
To speak contemptuous. She has vanquish'd us,
Aided by Hell's leagued powers, nor aught avails
Man unassisted 'gainst the powers of Hell,
To dare the conflict: were it best remain
Waiting the doubtful aid of Burgundy,
Doubtful and still delayed; or from this scene,
Scene of our shame, retreating as we may,
Yet struggle to preserve the guarded towns
Of Orleannois?"
He ceas'd, and with a sigh
Struggling with pride that heav'd his gloomy breast,
Talbot replied—"Our council little boots;
For by the numbers now made bold in fear,
The soldiers will not fight, they will not heed
Our vain resolves, heart-withered by the spells
Of this accursed sorceress soon will come
The expected host from England: even now
Perchance the tall bark scuds across the deep
That bears my son: young Talbot comes—he comes
To find his sire disgraced! but soon mine arm,
By vengeance nerved, and shame of such defeat,
Shall, from the crest-fallen courage of yon witch,
Regain its ancient glory. Near the coast
Best is it to retreat, and there expect
The coming succour."
Thus the warrior spake.
Joy ran through all the troops, as though retreat
Were safety. Silently in ordered ranks
They issue forth, favoured by the deep clouds
That mantled o'er the moon. With throbbing hearts
Fearful they speeded on: some, thinking sad
Of distant England, and, now wise too late,
Cursing in bitterness that evil hour
That led them from her shores: some in faint hope,
Calling to mind the comforts of their home.
Talbot went musing on his blasted fame,
Sullen and stern, and feeding on dark thoughts,
And meditating vengeance.
In the walls
Of Orleans, though her habitants with joy
Humbly acknowledged the high aid of heaven,
Of many a heavy ill and bitter loss
Mindful, such mingled sentiments they felt,
As one from shipwreck saved, the first warm glow
Of transport past, who contemplates himself,
Preserved alone, a solitary wretch,
Possessed of life, indeed, but reft of all
That makes man love to live. The chieftains shared
The social bowl, glad of the town relieved,
And communing of that miraculous Maid,
Who came, the saviour of the realm of France,
When vanquish'd in the frequent field of shame,
Her bravest warriors trembled.
Joan the while
Foodless and silent to the convent pass'd:
Conrade with her, and Isabel; both mute,
Yet gazing on her oft with eloquent eye,
Looking the consolation that they fear'd
To give a voice to. Now they reach'd the dome:
The glaring torches o'er the house of death
Stream'd a sad splendour. Flowers and funeral herbs
Bedeck'd the bier of Theodore: the rue,
The dark green rosemary, and the violet,
That pluck'd like him withered in its first bloom.
Dissolved in sorrow, Isabel her grief
Pour'd copious; Conrade wept: the Maid alone
Was tearless, for she stood unheedingly,
Gazing the vision'd scene of her last hour,
Absorb'd in contemplation; from her eye
Intelligence was absent; nor she seem'd
To hear, though listening to the dirge of death.
Laid in his last home now was Theodore,
And now upon the coffin thrown, the earth
Fell heavy: the Maid started—for the sound
Smote on her heart; her eye one lightning glance
Shot wild, and shuddering, upon Isabel
She hung, her pale lips trembling, and her cheek
As wan as though untenanted by life.

Then in the priest arose the earnest hope,
That weary of the world and sick with woe,
The Maid might dwell with them a vestal vowed.
"Ah, damsel!" slow he spake, and cross'd his breast,
"Ah, damsel! favoured as thou art of Heaven,
Let not thy soul beneath its sorrow sink
Despondent; Heaven by sorrow disciplines
The froward heart, and chastens whom it loves;
Therefore, companion of thy way of life,
Affliction thee shall wean from this vain world,
Where happiness provokes the traveller's chase,
And like the midnight meteor of the marsh,
Allures his long and perilous pursuit,
Then leaves him dark and comfortless. O Maid!
Fix thou thine eyes upon that heavenly dawn
Beyond the night of life! thy race is run,
Thou hast delivered Orleans: now perfect
Thyself; accomplish all, and be the child
Of God. Amid these sacred haunts the groan
Of woe is never heard; these hallowed roofs
Re-echo only to the pealing quire,
The chanted mass, and Virgin's holy hymn,
Celestial sounds! secluded here, the soul
Receives a foretaste of her joys to come!
This is the abode of piety and peace:
Oh! be their inmate, Maiden! come to rest,
Die to the world, and live espous'd to Heaven!"

Then Conrade answered, "Father! Heaven has doom'd
This Maid to active virtue."
"Active!" cried
The astonish'd priest; "thou dost not know the toils
This holy warfare asks; thou dost not know
How powerful the attacks that Satan makes
By sinful nature aided! dost thou deem
It is an easy task from the fond breast
To root affection out? to burst the cords
That grapple to society the heart
Of social man? to rouse the unwilling spirit,
That, rebel to devotion, faintly pours
The cold lip-worship of the wearying prayer?
To fear and tremble at him, yet to love
A God of Terrors? Maid, beloved of heaven!
Come to this sacred trial! share with us
The day of penance and the night of prayer!
Humble thyself! feel thine own worthlessness,
A reptile worm! before thy birth condemn'd
To all the horrors of thy Maker's wrath,
The lot of fallen mankind! oh hither come!
Humble thyself in ashes, so thy name
Shall live amid the blessed host of saints,
And unborn pilgrims at thy hallowed shrine
Pour forth their pious offerings."
"Hear me, priest!"
Exclaim'd the awakened Maid; "amid these tombs,
Cold as their clayey tenants, know, my heart
Must never grow to stone! chill thou thyself,
And break thy midnight rest, and tell thy beads,
And labour through thy still repeated prayer;
Fear thou thy God of Terrors; spurn the gifts
He gave, and sepulchre thyself alive!
But far more valued is the vine that bends
Beneath its swelling clusters, than the dark
And joyless ivy, round the cloister's wall
Wreathing its barren arms. For me I know
Mine own worth, priest! that I have well perform'd
My duty, and untrembling shall appear
Before the just tribunal of that God,
Whom grateful Love has taught me to adore!"

Severe she spake, for sorrow in her heart
Had wrought unwonted sternness. From the dome
They past in silence; when, with hasty steps,
Sent by the assembled chieftains, one they met
Seeking the mission'd Virgin, as alarm'd,
The herald of ill tidings.
"Holy Maid!"
He cried, "they ask thy counsel. Burgundy
Comes in the cause of England, and his troops,
Scarce three leagues from our walls, a fearful power,
Rest tented for the night."
"Say to the chiefs,
At morn I will be with them," she replied.
"Meantime their welfare well shall occupy
My nightly thoughts."
So saying, on she past,
Thoughtful and silent. A brief while she mus'd,
Brief, but sufficing to impel the soul,
As with a strange and irresistible force,
To loftiest daring. "Conrade!" she exclaim'd,
"I pray thee meet me at the eastern gate
With a swift steed prepared: for I must hence."

Her voice was calm; nor Conrade through the gloom
Saw the faint flush that witness'd on her cheek
High thoughts conceived. She to her home repair'd,
And with a light and unplumed casquetel
She helm'd her head; hung from her neck the shield.
And forth she went.
Her Conrade by the wall
Awaited. "May I, Maiden, seek unblamed
Whither this midnight journey? may I share
The peril?" cried the warrior. She rejoin'd,
"This, Conrade, may not be. Alone I go.
That impulse of the soul that comes from God
Hath summon'd me. Of this remain assured,
If ought of patriot enterprise required
Associate firmness, thou shouldst be the man,
Best—last—and only friend!"
So up she sprung
And left him. He beheld the warden close
The gate, and listened to her courser's tramp,
Till soon upon his ear the far-off sound
Fell faintly, and was lost.
Swift o'er the vale
Sped the good courser; eagerly the Maid
Gave the loose rein, and now her speed attain'd
The dark encampment. Through the sleeping ranks
Onward she past. The trampling of the steed
Or mingled with the soldier's busy dreams,
Or with vague terrors fill'd his startled sense,
Prompting the secret prayer.
So on she past
To where in loftier shade arose the tent
Of Burgundy: light leaping from her seat
She entered.
On the earth the chieftain slept.
His mantle scarf around him; armed all,
Save that his shield hung near him, and his helm:
And by his side, in warrior readiness,
The sheathed falchion lay. Profound he slept,
Nor heard the speeding courser's sounding hoof,
Nor entering footstep. "Burgundy," she cried,
"What, Burgundy! awake!" He started up
And caught the gleam of arms, and to his sword
Reach'd the quick hand. But soon his upward glance
Thrill'd him, for full upon her face the lamp
Stream'd its deep glare, and in her solemn look
Was most unearthly meaning. Pale she was,
But in her eye a saintly lustre beam'd,
And that most calm and holiest confidence
That guilt knows never. "Burgundy, thou seest
The Maid of Orleans!"
As she spake, a voice
Exclaim'd, "Die, sorceress!" and a knight rush'd in
Whose name by her illustrated yet lives,
Franquet of Arras. With uplifted arm
Furious he came; her buckler broke the blow,
And forth she flash'd her sword, and with a stroke
Swift that no eye could ward it, and of strength
No mail might blunt, smote on his neck, his neck
Unfenced, for he in haste aroused had cast
An armet on; resistless there she smote
And to the earth prone fell the headless trunk
Of Franquet.
Then on Burgundy she fix'd
Her eye severe. "Go, chief, and thank thy God
That he with lighter judgments visits thee
Than fell on Sisera, or by Judith's hand
He wrought upon the Assyrian! thank thy God
That when his vengeance smote the ruffian sons
Of England, equalled though thou wert in guilt,
Thee he has spared to work by penitence
And better deeds atonement."
Thus she spake,
Then issued forth, and bounding on her steed
Sped o'er the plain. Dark on the upland bank
The hedge-row trees distinct and colourless
Rose o'er the grey horizon, and the Loire
Form'd in its winding way islands of light
Amid the shadowy vale, when now she reach'd
The walls of Orleans.
From the eastern clouds
The sun came forth, as to the assembled chiefs
The Maiden past. Her bending thitherwards
The Bastard met. "New perils threaten us,"
He cried, "new toils await us; Burgundy_____"

"Fear not for Burgundy!" the Maid exclaim'd,
"Him will the Lord direct. Our earliest scouts
Shall tell his homeward march. What of the troops
Of England?"
"They," the son of Orleans cried,
"By darkness favour'd, fled: yet not by flight
Shall England's robber sons escape the arm
Of retribution. Even now our troops,
By battle unfatigued, unsatisfied
With conquest, clamour to pursue the foe."

The delegated damsel thus replied:
"So let them fly, Dunois! but other toils
Than those of battle, these our hallowed troops
Await. Look yonder to that carnaged plain!
Behoves us there to delve the general grave.
Then, chieftain, for pursuit, when we have paid
The rites of burial to our fellow men,
And hymned our gratitude to that All-just
Who gave the conquest. Thou, meantime, dispatch
Tidings to Chinon: bid the king set forth,
That, crowning him before assembled France,
In Rheims delivered from the enemy,
I may accomplish all."
So said the Maid.
Then to the gate moved on. The assembled troops
Beheld their coming chief, and smote their shields,
Clamouring their admiration; for they thought
That she would lead them to the instant war.
She waved her hand, and silence still'd the host.
Then thus the mission'd Maid, "Fellows in arms!
We must not speed to joyful victory,
Whilst our unburied comrades, on yon plain,
Allure the carrion bird. Give we this day
To our dead friends!"
Nor did she speak in vain;
For as she spake, the thirst of battle dies
In every breast, such awe and love pervade
The listening troops. They o'er the corse-strewn plain
Speed to their sad employment: some dig deep
The house of death; some bear the lifeless load;
One little troop search carefully around,
If haply they might find surviving yet
Some wounded wretches. As they labour thus,
They mark far off the iron-blaze of arms;
See distant standards waving on the air,
And hear the clarion's clang. Then spake the Maid
To Conrade, and she bade him speed to view
The coming army; or to meet their march
With friendly greeting, or if foes they came
With such array of battle as short space
Allowed: the warrior sped across the plain,
And soon beheld the bannered lilies wave.

Their chief was Richemont: he, when as he heard
What rites employed the Virgin, straightway bade
His troops assist in burial; they, though grieved
At late arrival, and the expected day
Of conquest past, yet give their willing aid:
They dig the general grave, and thither bear
English or French alike commingled now,
And heap the mound of death.
Amid the plain
There was a little eminence, of old
Piled o'er some honoured chieftain's narrow house.
His praise the song had ceased to celebrate,
And many an unknown age had the long grass
Waved o'er the nameless mound, though barren now
Beneath the frequent tread of multitudes.
There, elevate, the martial Maiden stood,
Her brow unhelmed, and floating on the wind
Her long dark locks. The silent troops around
Stood thickly throng'd, as o'er the fertile field
Billows the ripen'd corn. The passing breeze
Bore not a murmur from the numerous host,
Such deep attention held them. She began.

"Glory to those who in their country's cause
Fall in the field of battle! Citizens,
I stand not here to mourn these gallant men,
Our comrades, nor with vain and idle phrase
Of pity and compassion, to console
The friends who loved them. They, indeed, who fall
Beneath oppression's banner, merit well
Our pity; may the God of peace and love
Be merciful to those blood-guilty men
Who came to desolate the realm of France,
To make us bow the knee, and crouch like slaves,
Before a tyrant's footstool! Give to these,
And to their wives and orphan little-ones
That on their distant father vainly cry
For bread, give these your pity. Wretched men,
Forced or inveigled from their homes, or driven
By need and hunger to the trade of blood;
Or, if with free and willing mind they came,
Most wretched—for before the eternal throne
They stand, as hireling murderers arraign'd.
But our dead comrades for their freedom fought;
No arts they needed, nor the specious bribes
Of promise, to allure them to this fight,
This holy warfare! them their parents sent,
And as they raised their streaming eyes to heaven,
Bade them go forth, and from the ruffian's sword
Save their grey hairs: these men their wives sent forth,
Fix'd their last kisses on their armed hands,
And bade them in the battle think they fought
For them and for their babes. Thus rous'd to rage
By every milder feeling, they rush'd forth,
They fought, they conquer'd. To this high-rear'd mound
The men of Orleans shall in after days
Bring their young boys, and tell them of the deeds
Our gallant friends achieved, and bid them learn
Like them to love their country, and like them,
Should wild oppression pour again its tide
Of desolation, to step forth and stem
Fearless, the furious torrent. Men of France!
Mourn not for these our comrades; boldly they
Fought the good fight, and that eternal One,
Who bade the angels harbinger his word
With 'Peace on earth,' rewards them. We survive,
Honouring their memories to avenge their fall
On England's ruffian hordes; in vain her chiefs
Madly will drain her wealth, and waste her blood,
To conquer this vast realm! for, easier were it
To hurl the rooted mountain from its base,
Than force the yoke of slavery upon men
Determin'd to be free: yes,—let them rage,
And drain their country's wealth, and waste her blood,
And pour their hireling thousands on our coasts,
Sublime amid the storm shall France arise,
And like the rock amid surrounding waves,
Repel the rushing ocean—she shall wield
The thunder—she shall blast her despot foes."





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