You had to act, because you heard the voices
Within your head. Saint Michael came to you,
Saints Catherine and Margaret. But what choices
Did you have? You knew them to be true,
Not demons or deceit or rank delusion,
But speaking straight from God Himself. How bold
You were to listen and to act. Conviction
Had led you to an ultimate conclusion
Of capture, trial, suffering untold
As you were burned in perverse benediction.

How strange a concept that someone can die
So horrible a death for just belief
Or courage of conviction. You did try
To fight the inquiry without aid or relief,
The men who could not bear a different way
Of thinking or of acting. “You’re deceived!
Demonic! Under Satan! An apostate!
You have led the very world astray!”
All because you acted and believed,
You then became the object of such hate!

In retrospect it seems it was a crime
To be a woman, different and strong,
Living well beyond the norms of time,
Defying convention as you went along.
How threatening to patriarchal power
Was one young, teenage female. Can it be
That just because you fought with all your might
The whole counsel of men sought to devour
And destroy you? You could not be free
To live; who was the one that was not right?

So many men against one little foe!
Almost still a girl! But not so much
In influence and power. And although
You were unusual, your life would touch
Your countrymen and women, who would see
In you a budding saint, who saw and heard
The world of angels, seeking yet the voice
Of God above all others. Fervently
You tried to be obedient to His word
As you did know it, for this was your choice.

“If I am not in grace, God place me there,”
You spoke of the salvation of your soul.
“And if I am in grace, pray, keep me where
I am with Him.” You jostled up the whole
Of argument and all theology
Because you spoke the simple truth. Confound
The wise in all their own conceits! And when
You stumped them, speaking wisdom forcefully,
Enough for them to ponder all around:
A teenage girl against a horde of men.

But sadly because you would not heed or bend,
You broke the rules until it was too late;
You then were relegated to your end:
A stake and fire, this would be your fate.
By burning bodies somehow sin will cease?
Somehow it stops the greater fires of hell?
A force-based, threatening theology,
And not free will, will never, ever cease
To stop conviction, as we see too well,
When voices thus combine with zealotry.

But in the end you were not relegated
Among the damned and reprobate. We see
How now you have been wholly vindicated
By changing tides and course of history.
At first exonerated of all crime,
Then by a change of thought was glorified,
The judge’s folly thus was realized.
Made martyress by passing of the time,
And then by certain rite beatified,
Then ultimately you were canonized.

What can we glean from you, in looking back?
Can we be glad for freedom of the will
Which we do have today? Do we still lack
A greater liberty? Is thinking still
Repressed and persecuted? Can there be
No room for differences or points of view?
Are there still inquisitions? Do we spurn
What we don’t understand? Or do we see
That we can all be wrong, or not all true?
Or is this something we can never learn?

 

 

Theresa Rodriguez is the author of Jesus and Eros: Sonnets, Poems and Songs, a collection of 65 sonnets soon being released in a second edition by Shanti Arts, and her third book of poetry, entitled Longer Thoughts, which has just been released by Shanti Arts. Her work has appeared in the Journal of Religion and Intellectual Life, the Midwest Poetry Review, Leaf Magazine, Spindrift, the Shakespeare Oxford Fellowship, The Road Not Taken: A Journal of Formal Poetry, Mezzo Cammin, The Epoch Times, and the Society of Classical Poets. Her website is www.bardsinger.com.


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11 Responses

  1. Julian D. Woodruff

    A great saint and a timely tribute to her, Ms Rodriguez.
    Thank you!

    Reply
  2. Joseph S. Salemi

    A very nice tribute to the Maid of Orleans.

    One minor cavil: the charge of “heresy” brought against Joan was just a cover-story, or what intelligence services today would call “disinformation propaganda.” Nobody on either side of the dispute took it seriously. Her death was sought for political reasons by both the English and the Burgundians, and the “heresy trial” was just a sham, very much like the Moscow Purge trials of the 1930s. Compliant clergy went along with the charade, just as they generally do today in the face of governmental power.

    I’d suggest one change in the second stanza, line 7, for metrical purposes:

    Demonic! Under Satan! An apostate!

    By adding the “An” in front of “apostate” you make the meter smooth, which as the line now stands is clunky. The stresses should be:

    u X u X u X u u u X u

    You need this, because the stress on “a – POS – tate” is very strong, and makes up for the three unstressed syllables that proceed it. It gives the line eleven syllables, but that is perfectly acceptable in iambic pentameter.

    Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you for the much-appreciated history clarification and the suggestion about adding “An” to line 7 of the second stanza, Dr. Salemi. I have asked Evan to amend it.

      Reply
  3. Margaret Coats

    There are many good observations here about Saint Joan and her trial. In fact, I wonder whether this might be, in this centenary year of her canonization, just a portion of a longer work on the saint? I hope so, because the limit on the topic here, and the veneer of contemporary feminism, seem to weaken the treatment of this unique figure.

    “Living well beyond the norms of time” is a splendid line if it means Joan lived by the norms of eternity, but rather dull if it means that she lived by the norms of modernity. If she was waiting for the world to value women in the way most conventional thinking now does, we can offer her a little retrospective sympathy as a victim, but she’s no hero. This poem gives her due credit for fidelity to God and her voices, but also seems to look at her as someone who would face few problems in a present-day court of law. Still, doesn’t fidelity like Joan’s get heroic men and women into trouble today?

    I miss here what was the most remarkable feature of Joan’s trial, noticed as such even by the Pope who vindicated her in what should have been her own lifetime. That inquiry was requested by Joan’s mother, and neighbors who knew her vouched for her goodness. Joan’s uniqueness in the trial by her enemies was her supernatural astuteness. She may have been a simple girl, but the lawyers were utterly unable to trip her up in her answers. Indeed, she forced them to change their line of questioning over and over again.

    Patriarchy was not Joan’s foe. She was not a rule-breaker; she testified that at home, she loved women’s work and did it well. Not a modern feminist either, clearly. This poem beautifully quotes her wise lines about the state of her soul–a question that even theologians can stumble over. Joan had the freedom of will that God gave to Eve, but she used it far better. She was not persecuted for free thinking, but because she created practical problems for the captors who were her judges. Fair treatment of such people as Joan is not unlearnable, but it is one of those lessons every generation has to learn again.

    Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      True. Joan was never a feminist in any modern sense of the term. In fact, she would have turned from modern feminism with complete disgust.

      Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you Margaret for you kind words and thought-provoking comments! I appreciate it very much.

      Reply
  4. C.B. Anderson

    A simple, rather trivial note on diction: in the last line of stanza 5 you wrote “hoard” where “horde” should have been instead. The rest of the poem delves deeper into profound realities than anything else of yours I have read on this site.

    Reply
    • Theresa Rodriguez

      Thank you, C.B., for your correction, I appreciate it very much. I will ask Evan to amend it. And thank you very much for your encouraging comment!

      Reply
  5. Monty

    I applaud you for this mini-epic, Theresa; it’s so beautifully written in every poetic sense.

    Reply

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