Arts & Culture Feminism & Women's Rights Feminism and Female Empowerment Poetry

The Burning of a Saint/ How Many Times It Takes To Burn the Fire out of a Woman: On Joan of Arc

I wonder,

What she thought of

When she was burning for the first time

Which is an odd way to put it I suppose

Because it makes the action sound almost autonomous 

Perhaps I mean,

I wonder what she thought of

When they were burning her for the first time.

Did she think, 

God, 

Save me

Or 

God, save them

Or

God, where are you now?

Or 

Did she think

God, I am coming

Back

Home

Perhaps she thought,

I am ready.

I have been for a while now.

I am

Not

Afraid.

 Perhaps she thought

 Of how the only blood she had ever tasted was her own.

 Perhaps she thought

 I have never really known peace.

 I have never really belonged wholly to myself.

Thought:

Dearest Father,

I am sorry

That these men do not know

How to respect

Something of your creation.

Thought:

I am sorry

I promise

I tried

My best.

Thought:

No amount of mercy I have ever dealt will be repaid to me in this world,

But I trust that it will be in the next.

Did she think 

Of how there might be nobler ways to go?

Did she stand tall anyways?

Back straight against the pyre.

Did she think

Is this what I have fought for?

Think 

Of how even winning a man’s war will not protect you 

From their whims or 

Their Wrath.

Comprehend the irony 

That being too man is the thing that lit the match to her demise.

Did she realize 

That even purity cannot protect you from perception. 

Realize

The difference between safety

And salvation.

Think

Is nothing

Sacred

Anymore?

~

I wonder 

What she thought of 

When she was burning for the second time

As she screamed out Christ’s name

Did the words taste of absolution and shattering mirror image

As she went up in smoke for sins that were not her own.

Did she realize,

For the first time,

Of how some things cannot be salvaged. 

Of how betrayal tastes a lot like inhaling a forest fire,

Like a sharpened stake to the back.

Remember of how she learnt early,

That no one is going to come to your rescue 

And so, 

You must save yourself

Or trust that you were not meant to be saved this time.

Did she laugh?

Realizing if hell is anywhere

It must be in the iris of a man’s fury

Or fear.

Perhaps she thought

So be it

For I will only fit in your palm

When I am ash.

Only lay at your feet

When I am cinder.

~

I wonder 

What she thought of 

When she was burning for the third time.

Did she think of her mother

Of home

Of rest

Perhaps she thought

Of how gently the flames were devouring her. 

Perhaps she thought

You cannot burn the flame.

You cannot burn a scorch mark into erasure.

You cannot fight fire with fire.

Perhaps

She thought

Burn.

Let it all

Burn.

~

Joan of Arc is an infamous character in French and Christian history. As a peasant girl living in medieval France, Joan was a devout Catholic. At just 13, she began to hear voices and believed that this was revelation from God. She believed He had spoken to her, bestowing her with a sacred mission of saving France. She took a vow of chastity and sought to fulfill her divine purpose (Joan’s vow of chastity is referenced in the above poem in the line: [E]ven purity cannot protect you from perception). As the country was in the midst of what would come to be known as The Hundred Years War, Joan faced many obstacles and much skepticism before she was able to speak with Prince Charles and convinced him to grant her a battalion to fend off The Seige of Orléans, promising he would be coronated with her aid. At 18, Joan is said to have lead troops to battle on horseback in white armour and forced the English to retreat. As a pious young woman of faith, many saw Joan as a saviour and her reputation grew. She led many more attacks emerging victorious again and again. Though it is interesting to note that Joan never participated in active combat and therefore never killed any enemies. She was more involved in strategy and building morale amongst troops, but was notably wounded at least twice (Referenced in the above poem in the line: Perhaps she thought of// Of how the only blood she had ever tasted was her own). .

Some feared Joan was becoming too powerful or revered however and in 1430, Joan was ordered to confront a Burgundian assault on Compiégne, where she was captured and taken before the English commander. She was soon after made to stand trial where she was accused of some 70 charges including witchcraft, heresy and dressing like a man. Many claim that the trial was vastly unjust as the English were humiliated and enraged that so much of their demise had been ode to a teenage girl. In an attempt to distance himself from the young heroine, The French King made no attempt to negotiate her release, effectively abandoning her (The French’s betrayal is referenced in the above poem in the lines: [E]ven winning a man’s war will not protect you// From their whims or // Their Wrath. And: [B]etrayal tastes a lot like inhaling a forest fire//Like a sharpened stake to the back). After a year in captivity, Joan was coerced into signing a confession stating that she had never received divine guidance, though some state the young woman had never even learned to read. This confession reduced her sentence from death to life in prison.

Several days later, she defied orders by again donning men’s clothes, even though she had explained her choice before, stating that when dressed in women’s clothing she feared sexual assault from guards (Referenced in the above poem in the line: Comprehend the irony// That being too man is the thing that lit the match to her demise). None the less, she was sentenced to death and on May 30, 1431, at 19, Joan was burnt at the stake and died of smoke inhalation. Officials and historians collectively agree her body was burnt three times so no one could claim she had escaped alive. Her infamy only grew after her death, however. 20 years later a new trial ordered by Charles VII cleared her name and in 1909, Joan of Arc was beatified by Pope Pius X in the Notre-Dame Cathedral. In 1920, she was canonized a saint by Pope Benedict XV.

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