Joan of Arc - Maid of Heaven

Joan of Arc Biography Part 2

By Jules Michelet
The Maid of Orleans

As regards Jeanne's piety, we have the affecting testimony of the friend of her infancy, of her bosom friend, Hauviette, who was younger than she. by three or four years. "Over and over again," she said, " I have been at her father's, and have slept with her, in all love (co onne amitis). . . . She was a very good girl, simple and gen tle. She was fond of going to church, and to holy places. She spun, and at tended to the house, like other girls. . . . She confessed frequently. She blushed when told that she was too de vout, and went too often to church." A laborer, also summoned to give evi dence, adds, that she nursed the sick, and was charitable to the poor. "I know it well," were his words ; " I was then a child, and it was she who nursed me."

Her charity, her piety, were known to all. All saw that she was the best girl in the village. What they did not see and know was, that in her, celes tial ever absorbed worldly feelings, and suppressed their development. She had the divine gift to remain, soul and body, a child. She grew up strong and beautiful; but never knew the physical sufferings entailed on woman. They were spared her, that she might be the more devoted to religious thought and inspiration. Born under the very walls of the church, lulled in her cradle by the chimes of the bells, and nourished by legends, she was her self a legend, «. quickly passing and pure legend, from birth to death.

She was a living legend . . . but her vital spirits, exalted and concen trated, did not become the less crea tive. The young girl createdj so to speak, unconsciously, and realized her own ideas, endowing them with being, and imparting to them, out of the strength of her original vitality, such splendid and allpowerful existence, that they threw into the shade the wretched realities of this world.

If poetry mean creation, this un doubtedly, is the highest poetry. Let us trace the steps by which she soared thus high from so lowly a starting point.

Lowly in truth, but already poetic. Her village was close to the vast for ests of the Vosges. From the door of her father's house she could see the old odk wood, the wood haunted by fairies; whose favorite spot was a fountain near a large beech, called the fairies', or the ladies^ tree. On this the children used to hang garlands, and would sing around it. These antique ladies and mistresses of the woods were, it was said, no longer permitted to assemble round the fountain, barred by their sins. However, the Church was always mistrustful of the old local divinities; and to ensure their com plete expulsion, the cure annually said a mass at the fountain.

Amidst these legends and popular dreams, Jeanne was bom. But, along with these, the land presented a poetry of a far diflFerent character, savage, fierce, and, alas! but too real, - the poetry of war. War 1 all passions and emotions are included in this single word. It is not that every day brings with it assault and plunder, but it brings the fear of them - the tocsin, the awaking with a start, and, in the distant horizon, the lurid light of con flagration, ... a fearful but poetic state of things. The most prosaic of men, the lowland Scots, amidst the hazards of the border^ have become poets: in this sinister desert, which even yet looks as if it were a region accursed, ballads, wild but longlived flowers, have germed and flourished.

Jeanae had her share in these ro mantic adventures. She would see poor fugitives seek refuge in her vil lage, would assist in sheltering them, give them up her bed, and sleep her self in the loft. Once, too, her parents had been obliged to turn fugitives ; and then, when the flood of brigands had swept by, the family returned and found the village sacked, the house devastated, the church burnt.

Thus she knew what war was. Thoroughly did she understand this antiChristian state, and unfeigned was her horror of this reign of the devil, in which every man died in mortal sin. She asked herself whether God would always allow this, whether he would not prescribe a term to such miseries, whether he would not send a liberator as he had so often done for Israel - a Gideon, a Judith? . . . She knew that womam had more than once saved God's own people, and that from the beginning it had been foretold that woman should bruise the serpent. No doubt she had seen over the portal of the churches St. Margaret, together with St. Michael, trampling under foot the dragon. ... If, as all the world said, the ruin of the kingdom was a woman's work, an unnatural mother's, its redemption might well be a virgin's : and this, moreover, had been foretold in a prophecy of Merlin's ; a prophecy which, embellished and modified by the habits of each province, had become altogether Lorraine in Jeanne Dare's country. According to the prophecy current here, it was a Pucetle of the marches of Lorraine who was to save the realm ; and the prophecy had prob ably assumed this form through the recent marriage of Rene of Anjou with the heiress of the duchy of Lorraine, a marriage which, in truth, turned out very happily for the king dom of Prance.

One summer's day, a fastday, Jeanne being at noontide in her father's garden, close to the church, saw a dazzling light on that side, and heard a voice say, "Jeanne, be a good and obedient child, go often to church." The poor girl was exceedingly alarmed.

Another time she again heard the voice and saw the radiance; and, in the midst of the effulgence, noble fig ures, one of which had wings, and seemed a wise prud'homme. " Jeanne," said this figure to her, " go to the succor of the king of France, and thou shalt restore his kingdom to him." She re plied, all trembling, "Messire, I am only a poor girl ; I know not how to ride or lead menatarms." The voice replied," Go to M. de Baudricourt, captain of Vaucouleurs, and he %vill conduct thee to the king. St. Catherine and St. Marguerite will be thy aids.'' She remained stupified and in tears, as if her whole destiny had been revealed to her.

The prudehomme was no less than St. Michael, the severe archangel of judgments, and of battles. He reap peared to her, inspired her with cour age, and told her "the pity for the kingdom of Prance." Then appeared sainted women, all in white, with count less lights around, rich crowns on their heads, and their voices soft and mov ing unto tears : but Jeanne shed them much more copiously when saints and angels left her. "I longed," she said, "for the angels to take me away too."

If, in the midst of happiness like this she wept, her tears were not causeless. Bright and glorious as these visions were, a change had from that moment come over her life. She who had hitherto heard but one voice, that of her mother, of which her own was the echo, now heard the powerful voice of angels - and what sought the heavenly voices That she should quit that mother, quit her dear home. She, whom but a word put out of counte nance, was required to mix with men, to address soldiers. She was obliged to quit for the world and for war, her little garden under the shadow of the church, where she heard no ruder sounds than those of its bells, and where the birds ate out of her hand : for such was the attractive sweetness of the young saint, that animals and the fowls of the air came to her, as for merly to the fathers of the desert, in all the trust of God's peace.

Jeanne has told ns nothing of this first struggle that she had to undergo : but it is clear that it did take place, and that it was of long duration, since five years elapsed between her first vision, and her final abandonment of her home.

The two authorities, the paternal and the celestial, enjoined her two oppo site commands. The one ordered her to remain obscure, modest, and labor ing ; the other to set out and save the kingdom. The angel bade her arm her self. Her father, rough and honest peasant as he was, swore that rather than his daughter should go away with menatarms, he would drown her with his own hands. One or other, disobey she must. Beyond a doubt this was the greatest battle she was called upon to fight; those against the English were play in comparison.

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