The Ballad of Saint Joan

 

An arch of stars hung in the heavens,

The moon was turned to blood,

Fire was in the fields below,

And rivers raged in flood.

 

Smoke rose o’er the Isle of France,

The heart of Gaul aflame,

A mighty wind came roaring on,

And put her hosts to shame.

 

For in storms of bloody war there came,

A clamour for the death of France,

Arméd men with bitter swords,

With bow and mighty lance.

 

What brave and wild beasts were they?

For trees rocked to their roots and swayed,

In fury that men of England made,

And stars were blacked by clouds of blood;

Blue banners foundered in the mud,

And France was held at bay.

 

For lilies that grow in the fields of France,

Are gentle like the summer wind,

They grow upon a crowned head,

Or girt with gold on banners limned.

 

But the rose of England thrives with thorns,

And gilds the wild briar,

For striving does the rose enjoy,

And blooms with cheerful fire.

 

The ruin of Rouen and Paris beset,

Were shouts amid the throng,

For night is dark as day is light,

And night seems o’er long.

 

The Dauphin wept and cursed the skies,

What waste was his estate,

And God looked on and heard the cries,

And help came not too late.

 

What gilded flower did God send forth,

When all the world was clothed in gloom?

What lily from the field arose,

From briar and bramble, sprang what bloom?

 

Not iron-hard or ice of soul,

No knight of fierce renown,

A simple maid of little note,

Was sent to save the crown.

 

Joan of Arc was that virgin fair,

Low birth her only fame,

For she was born in Lothair’s land,

And from the byre came.

 

Her knees were bent in humble pose,

Upon the stony ground,

When saintly visions orbed bright,

With crowns and eyes of holy light,

Bade her then take up the fight,

And see the crownless crowned.

 

Three saints of God gave good command,

And stood upon the field,

Saint Margaret and Saint Catherine,

And Saint Michael with his shield.

 

“Go ye up to Chinon, Joan,

And charge the Dauphin now,

To save this land of goodly maids,

To strike before the fire fades,

To sharpen all those rusty blades,

And crown his naked brow.”

 

And Joan was brave but Joan was cold,

For who can fear deny,

When out from heav’n a trumpet calls,

A bidding from the sky?

 

“Send me not, O holy saints,

I am but poor and young,

What can I do for France’s fate,

Who from no lord has sprung?”

 

“The last is first”, Saint Margaret said,

“And ye hath God ordained,

To be the scourge of Englishmen,

And see fair France regained.”

 

So Joan of Arc travelled thence,

To see the royal seed,

And charged him with the fate of Gaul,

And warned him to pay heed.

 

That princely man listened well,

To the simple holy Joan,

And wonder seized his noble heart,

And hope sat in his throne.

 

A banner gave the king to Joan,

No sword did she require,

And armour set she on at once,

The knights of France to inspire.

 

Thus came the saint by troubled roads,

To Orleans besieged,

And saw the walls were barely stood,

Breaches held with rotting wood,

Smoke hung o’er like a hood,

Her people much aggrieved.

 

The girl of nineteen summers,

Steeled her holy heart,

She called on God Almighty,

That she might do her part.

 

The girl of nineteen summers,

Put forth her battle display,

And all the French looked on in hope,

The English in dismay.

 

“Forward men of France!” saith Joan,

“For God and king go forth,

Thy hearts be bold and burning,

Thy strength be swift returning,

For now the tide is turning,

And ye must show thy worth.”

 

With shield and shining pennant armed,

Saint Joan led on the host,

She set her standard on the walls,

And praised the Holy Ghost.

 

Day by day the English forts,

Fell to saintly Joan,

Hour by hour she showed her faith,

In her good God alone.

 

All girt in armour steely grey,

She burned with golden light,

In manly dress but fair of face,

Saint Joan shone in the night.

 

A glimmer round her head was seen,

A crown of crystal fire,

A throng of angels round her flag,

A wingéd holy choir.

 

Then at last the leaguer broke,

The English left the field,

And Joan held fast the gate of France,

For France would never yield.

 

To Reims the host of Frenchmen came,

By Maid of Orléans led,

Beneath the spire the Dauphin took,

The crown upon his head.

 

“Rejoice all men”, the good king said,

“Give thanks to God above,

And forget ye not, o men of France,

This maiden that thee love.”

 

“Men have fought for winters without an end,

And done no good at all,

But comes a maid from out Lorraine,

With fiery heart within her frame,

Wisdom beyond her little years,

Nobler still than noble peers,

And ne’r shall France now fall.”

 

Sunbeams kissed the face of France,

The moon was clear as glass,

The stars shone out like diadems,

And flowers filled the grass.

 

For the king was come in victory,

And Joan was at his side,

The saintly maid was his great hope,

And hope did she betide.

 

But Joan pressed on with mighty strength,

To face the foe again,

For France was full with armies still,

And full with warlike men.

 

With banner and shield she went to war,

The saintly lily bloom,

And pierced the foe with holy cries,

And spoke their sudden doom.

 

But Burgundy did roughly fight,

That maid of good renown,

They took her in a chain of iron,

Out to the foeman’s town.

 

For ten thousand golden pieces,

They gave that saint of God,

To evil men who hated,

The very ground she trod.

 

A court was called in Rouen old,

And cowed by English arms,

The bishops and the noblemen,

Denounced her harmless harms.

 

Joan stood fast as on a rock,

And held against their lies,

But none would seek for justice,

No none would good reprise.

 

“Are ye in the grace of God?”,

A coward bishop asked,

“Answer us, thou Frankish witch,

Or sunrise be thy last.”

 

“If not in grace I do now live,

May God grant that I may be,

And if I am in grace indeed,

God grant I never flee.”

 

The court was silent as the stones,

That in the graveyard sit,

For how could simple peasantry,

Give answers like to this?

 

But oft the tradesman weighs the scales,

And courts are some the same,

And thus the court a verdict gave,

To man’s eternal shame.

 

Saint Joan was to a pillar tied,

And wood was piled round,

Of death the verdict grimly spoke,

Her guilt they lying found.

 

Fierce fire leapt about poor Joan,

But beaming broad she smiled,

For three saints spoke within the flames,

And their words were mild.

 

“Fear not,” said Michael, “for thou art blessed”,

Thy soul shall soar on high,

The author of all things shall greet thee,

Thy hour of life is nigh.”

 

“Thy work is done and France is saved”,

Saint Catherine said to Joan,

“Go ye now to just reward,

Before the Maker’s throne.”

 

“Lift up thy heart to God on high”,

Saint Margaret said at length,

“And be not feared of coming death,

For Christ is all thy strength.”

 

Three words cried Joan for lord and love,

“Jesu!” in speechless pain,

“Jesu!” she cried amid the smoke,

And “Jesu!” she cried again.

 

The wood burned up with hellish haste,

The blaze climbed all the higher,

And hungry tongues gorged on her flesh,

And so did Joan expire.

 

Thus was come an earthly end,

To the honest, Godly maid,

Spotless, good and honest Joan,

In ashy bed was laid.

 

A wind blew in from out the west,

And lilies filled the air,

A sunny glance broke through the clouds,

And trumpets sounded fair.

 

The saintly smoke passed into heaven,

Like incense in the nave,

The answered prayer of noble France,

The saviour that God gave.

 

What crimes have Englishmen now done,

In all our tempest days,

That vie with heathen crimes as these,

Who killed the holy maid?

 

No redress can England offer now,

Who killed Saint Joan the Good,

Nor till the judgement come on us,

Can wash us of this blood.

 

Saint Joan of Arc looks down on France,

Her prayers are true as shields,

Her snow-white banner held aloft,

With lilies on its field.

(Dedicated to Saint Joan of Arc, whose feast day falls on the 30th May)Facebooktwitter




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