Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, JOAN D'ARC, by JOHN STERLING (1806-1844)



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JOAN D'ARC, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Many a lucid star sublime
Last Line: To her last eternal home.
Subject(s): Joan Of Arc (1412-1431)


I.

MANY a lucid star sublime
In the vault of earthly time;
Many a deed, and name, and face,
Is a lamp of heavenly grace,
And, to us that walk below,
Cheers with hope the vale of wo.
Lo! the great aerial host,
Whom our bodily eyes have lost,
To the spirit reappear
With their glory shining here;
Bearded saints from holy cell;
Warriors who for duty fell;
Thoughtful devotees, in youth
Spell-bound by a glance of Truth.
And to whom all else has been
But a thin and changeful scene;
All to whom the many shows
That the years of earth disclose,
Are but gleams, for moments given,
Of an ever-present heaven.

II.

High amid the dead who give
Better life to those that live,
See where shines the peasant Maid,
In her hallow'd mail array'd,
Whom the lord of peace and war
Sent as on a flaming car,
From her father's fold afar.
Her's the calm supernal faith,
Braving ghastliest looks of death;
For, O loveliest woodland flower
Ever bruised in stormiest hour!
Guardian saints have nerved thy soul
Battling nations to control;
And the vision-gifted eye,
That, communing with the sky,
Sank when human steps were nigh,
Now, in face of fiend and man,
Must the camp and city scan,
And outspeed the rushing van.

III.

Pause not, gentle maiden, now!
Awful hands have mark'd thy brow;
And, in lonely hours of prayer,
Mid the leafy forest air,
Boundless powers, eternal eyes,
Looks that made old prophets wise,
Have inspired thy solitude
With a rapt, heroic mood,
And have taught thy humble weakness
All the strength that dwells in meekness;
And with how devouring sway,
Right, oppress'd by long delay,
Bursts out in a judgment-day.
Thus thy heart is high and strong,
Swelling like cherubic song,
For thou art so low and small,
It must be the Lord of All
Who can thus a world appal.
Race and country, daily speech,
That makes each man dear to each,
Friends and home, and love of mother,
Grandsire's grave, and slaughter'd brother
Fields familiar, native sky,
Voices these that on thee cry
Winds pursue with vocal might,
Stars will not be dumb by night,
And the dry leaf on the ground
Has a tongue of pealing sound,
Loud from God commanding thee,
Go, and set thy nation free!

IV.

Battle's blast is fiercely blowing,
Clarions sounding, coursers bounding,
Pennons o'er the tumult flowing,
Host on host the eye astounding
Wave on wave that sea confounding,
And in headlong fury going,
Mounted kingdoms wildly dashing,
Lance to lance, and steed to steed;
Now must haughtiest champions bleed,
And a myriad swords are flashing,
Loud on shield and helmet clashing;
Ne'er had ruin nobler spoil
On this broad and bloody soil.
As the storms a forest crushing,
Oaks of thousand winters grind,
So the iron whirl is rushing,
Shouts before and groans behind.
Still amid the dead and dying,
All in shatter'd ridges lying,
Pride, revenge, and youthful daring,
And their cause and country's name,
Drive them on with sweep unsparing, --
Naught for life, and all for fame!
Still above the surge of battle
Breathes the trump its fatal gale,
And the hollow tambours rattle
Chorus to the deadly tale.
Still is Joan the first in glory,
Still she sways the maddening fight,
Kindling all the flames of story,
With an unimagined might.
Squadrons furious close around her,
Still her blade is waving free;
Sword nor lance avails to wound her
Terror of a host is she.
Heavenly guardian, maiden wonder!
Long shall France resound the day
When thou camest clad in thunder,
Blasting thy tremendous way.

V.

Yet, who closer mark'd the face
That o'erruled the battle place,
Much had marvell'd to discern
Looks more calm and soft than stern
For no flush of hot ambition
Stain'd her soul's unearthly mission.
Raging hate, and stubborn pride,
Warlike cunning, life-long tried,
Low before that presence died,
For within her sainted heart
Naught of these had formed a part.
God had will'd the land to free;
Handmaiden of God was she.
Ne'er so smooth a brow before
Battle's darkening ensign wore;
And't was still the gentle eye
Wont when evening veil'd the sky,
In the whispering shade to see
Angels haunt the lonely tree.

VI.

Loud o'er Orleans' rampart swells
Music from her steeple bell,
Loud to France the triumph tells;
And the vehement trumpets blending,
With the shouts to heaven ascending,
Hail the maid whom seraphs bless,
Consecrated Championess!
Sound from heart to heart that tingles,
Echoing on without a pause;
While her name like sunshine mingles
With each breath a nation draws.
All the land, with joy on fire,
Blazes round the festal march,
Till they meet the priestly choir
Under Rheims' cathedral arch.
Ancient towers, and cloisters hoary,
Gleam and thrill above the king;
Beauteous rite and blazon'd story
On his crown their lustre fling,
With an old resurgent glory,
Laws and freedom hallowing.
Therefore, baron, count, and peer,
Priest and dame no more in fear,
All assemble wondering here;
And a sea of common men,
Feasting all with greedy ken,
Now behold, in pomp appear,
Smiling, not without a tear,
Joan, the dearest sight to see,
First of all the chivalry,
Bearing low her banner'd spear.

VII.

Dizzy with their full delight,
All disperse ere comes the night.
Charles and all his train are met,
Revelling in royal hall;
Shield and pennon o'er them set,
Many a doubtful fight recall;
And the throng'd and clanging town
For the rescued land's renown,
Keeps a sudden carnival.
Ask ye, where the while is Joan?
She within the minster lone,
To the silent altar steals,
And before it trembling kneels;
And amid the shadows dim,
Faithfully she prays to Him
Who his light in dark reveals.
Now again her home she sees,
Domremy with all its trees,
Where the ancient beech is growing,
And the haunted fount is flowing,
And the Meuse with equal sound
Breathes its quiet all around.
Won again by weeping prayer,
Lo! her loved protectors there,
Catherine mild, and Margaret fair.
Over them a light is streaming,
On their gracious foreheads beaming,
Effluence from an orb unseen,
To which heaven is but a screen;
All our human sight above,
Not beyond our human love:
And from thence she hears a voice
That can make the dead rejoice;
-- "Give not way to pride or fear,
For the end of all is near!"

VIII.

End with many tears implored!
'Tis the sound of home restored!
And as mounts the angel show,
Gliding with them she would go,
But again to stoop below,
And, return'd to green Lorraine,
Be a shepherd child again.
Now the crown of Charles is won,
Now the work of God is done,
Angel wings, away! away!
Lift her home by close of day,
And upon her mother's breast
Give her weary spirit rest.
Then, with vernal thickets nigh,
And the waters glistening by,
In smooth valleys let her keep
Undescried her quiet sheep.
This the promise to the maid
By the heavenly voice convey'd:
Oh! how differing far the doom;
Oh! how close the bloody tomb;
Thus men hear, but not discern,
What Heaven wills that they should learn;
And the time and deed alone
Make the eternal meaning known.

IX.

Wail, ye fields and woods of France
Rivers, dim your sunny glance!
All of strong, and fair, and old
That the eyes of men behold,
Mountain gray, and hermit dell,
Sun and stars unquenchable,
Founts whose kisses woo the lea,
Endless, many-flooded sea,
All that witnesses a power
To o'erawe the importunate hour,
Human works devoutly wrought
To unfold enduring thought,
Shrines that seem the reverend birth
Of an elder, holier earth,
Mourn above your altars dear,
Quaking with no godless fear!
And, thou deepest heart of man,
Home of love ere sin began,
Faith prophetic, Mercy mild,
Patriot passion undefiled,
Mourn with righteous grief the day
When was hush'd your choral lay
When the hovering guardian band
Of the liberated land,
Radiant kings, were seen to wane
And were eyeless cloud again;
When the foe, who far recoil'd,
By a maiden's presence foil'd,
Rush'd again in grim despair
From his burning, bloody lair,
And made prey of her whose word
Was so oft a living sword.

X.

Woful end, and conflict long!
Stress of agonizing wrong!
In the black and stifling cell,
Watch'd by many a sentinel,
Not a saint is with her now,
Beaming light from locks and brow;
No melodious angel calls
Through the huge unshaken walls;
But the brutal sworder jeers,
Making merry at her tears,
And the priests her faith assail
Till it fears, but cannot fail.
So the hopeful cheer she wore
Like a robe of state before --
Branch, and leaf, and summer flower
Perish from her hour by hour.
But the firm sustaining root
Dies not with the feathery shoot.
So survives her soul -- but oh!
Fierce the closing gust of wo,
When beneath the eyes of day
Thousands gather round her way,
And a host in steel array;
When the captive, wan and lowly,
Walks beside her jailer slowly,
Till before the expectant pile
Weak she stands, with saddest smile;
And her steady tones reply
To the cowl'd tormentor's lie --
"God commanded me to go,
And I went, as well ye know,
To destroy my country's foe!"
While she clasps the saving rood
Fiercer swells the murderers' mood.
Till, through rising smoke and flame
Comes no sound but Jesu's name
Jesu -- Jesu -- oft renew'd,
Oft by stifling pain subdued.
Soon that cry is heard no more,
And the people, mute before,
Groan to heaven, for all is o'er.

XI.

Word untrue! That All can ne'er
Have its close and destiny here.
All that can be o'er on earth
Is the shifting cloudland's birth;
Dream and shadow, mist and error,
Joy unblest, and nightmare terror --
Passions blent in ghostly play,
Twinkling of a gusty day --
Glittering sights that vaguely roll,
Catch the eye, but mock the soul --
Griefs and hopes ill understood,
Tyrants of man's weaker mood,
Folly's loved, portentous brood --
These, and all the aims they cherish,
In their native tomb may perish.
Phantoms shapeless, huge, and wild,
That beset the graybeard child --
Loud usurpers, fierce and mean,
Ruling an unstable scene;
Blinding hate, and gnawing lust,
Lies that cheat our wiser trust,
These may cleave to formless dust;
But the earth, oppress'd so long
By the heavy steps of wrong,
Sends an awful voice on high
With a keen accusing cry,
And appeals to him whose lore
Tells -- the All can ne'er be o'er.

XII.

Faithful maiden, gentle heart!
Thus our thoughts of grief depart;
Vanishes the place of death;
Sounds no more thy painful breath;
O'er the unbloody stream of Meuse
Melt the silent evening dews,
And along the banks of Loire
Rides no more the arm'd destroyer.
But thy native waters flow
Through a land unnamed below,
And thy woods their verdure wave
In the vale beyond the grave,
Where the deep-dyed western sky
Looks on all with tranquil eye,
And on distant dateless hills
Each high peak with radiance fills.
There amid the oak-tree shadow,
And o'er all the beech crown'd meadow,
Those for whom the earth must mourn
In their peaceful joy sojourn.
Join'd with fame's selected few,
Those whom rumor never knew,
But no less to conscience true:
Each grave prophet, soul sublime,
Pyramids of elder time;
Bards with hidden fire possess'd,
Flashing from a wo-worn breast;
Builders of man's better lot,
Whom their hour acknowledged not,
Now with strength appeased and pure
Feel whate'er they loved is sure.
These and such as these the train,
Sanctified by former pain.
Mid those softest yellow rays
Sphered afar from mortal praise;
Peasant, matron, monarch, child,
Saint undaunted, hero mild,
Sage whom pride has ne'er beguiled;
And with them the champion maid
Dwells in that serenest glade;
Danger, toil, and grief no more
Fret her life's unearthly shore;
Gentle sounds that will not cease,
Breathe but peace, and ever peace;
While above the immortal trees,
Michael and his host she sees
Clad in diamond panoplies;
And more near, in tenderer light,
Honoured Catherine, Margaret bright,
Agnes whom her loosened hair
Robes like woven amber air --
Sisters of her childhood come
To her last eternal home.





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