Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Joan of Arc: a meditation

Imagine yourself as Joan of Arc -
Warrior of God,
Confidant of saints long dead -
In your final moments awaiting the spark

Which will ignite the flames
That will consume your flesh
And consign your ashes to history's bed.

Are you afraid young maid?

Is the name of Jesus on your lips
Spoken in fear
As now the flames suck air

And Death hovers near?

Or is such a concept unknown to you
Who can speak His name only in love?


You wear all personae like a glove
Perfectly fitted to the ideologies
Of those who imagine you.

Can you guess, Dear Joan, that centuries hence
People will be speaking your name?

Did your voices tell you, sweet Michael or Ann,
That you would not die in flame
But be reborn?

Those who tried to murder you
Succeeded only in midwiving a legend;
Small minds cursed with yet smaller scorn,
They were, after all, but mortal men.

Darling Joan, blessed child,
You are a living myth -
An idea

Whose time has come
And come again.

- Richard Cody, 2002 -

I am not the first to be intrigued by the mystery and myth of Joan of Arc. For example: Mark Twain paid tribute to The Maid and her story in his Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc and Carl Dreyer, one of the first of many film makers to transcribe Joan's life and death to film, recreated her last days in his 1928 masterpiece, The Passion of Joan of Arc.

There can be little doubt that this young woman who lived and fought and was murdered by fire over 500 years ago has become a potent mythological figure - one who has transcended the facts of her life to enter the imaginations of people around the globe, adapting to each individual mode of perception while remaining true to the essence that made her what she was to begin with. This, of course, is the idea at the core of my poem above and one that has been masterfully explored by Alan Moore in his ongoing "comic book" treatise on magic and reality, Promethea.

Still, an important thing to keep in mind is that behind the myth, the legend, the history, is an actual person who lived a real life and died a real death. I attempted to accentuate this also in the piece above via the opening line in which I implore the reader to imagine themselves as Joan.

And what is it about Joan that draws me to her and her story, inspiring me to spill ink and typeface on the subject?

It is the mystery surrounding the forces that motivated this young peasant woman to take up arms and lead her country to liberty at a time when women simply did nothing of the sort (as a pacifist I cannot endorse violence as a solution but, being a product of her time, Joan had little choice. And, as her famous Letter to the English illustrates, violence was not her first choice). Was she in communication with a higher power as she claimed? Not being a Christian in any conventional sense I have trouble accepting that God really cared that the French expelled the English from their borders and crowned the Dauphin.

It is the amazing courage, insight and intelligence this young and uneducated woman displayed throughout her campaigns and subsequent trials at the hands of the English and their allies.

It is the fact that this single woman (young, uneducated and at a time when women didn't even think of possessing rights as must be reiterated) changed the course of history through the sheer force of her will, charisma and, perhaps, divine sanction.

It is the outrage I feel contemplating the grisly murder of this young woman on trumped up heresy charges. It is all of these things and more that have made Joan a part of my world. It is all of these things and more that have made her immortal.