Friday, January 13, 2012

Choosing Counsel

January 2012 marks the 600th anniversary of the birth of Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc). In her honor, I took a piece of text from her trial to make a poem.

I didn't change any of the words. My hope was to give a little impression of what the trial was like: a peasant teenager, alone, versus a hostile group of educated men who were used to having their authority be unquestioned.

To set the scene:

France and England have been at war for decades. Jeanne, a general for France, is being tried by English-backed French clergy. She had been captured in battle and sold to the English, who turned her over to their allies. Her jailers insist that she admit her guilt and repent. Here, they offer to let her choose any of them to be her lawyer.

The Trial Begins
from The Trial of Jeanne D'Arc

Then the Promoter took oath before us
touching the accusation.

When this was done
we told Jeanne that all the assessors
were ecclesiastical and learned men,
experienced in canon and civil law,
who wished and intended
to proceed with her
in all piety and meekness,
as they had always been disposed,
seeking not vengeance
or corporal punishment,
but her instruction and
her return to the ways
of truth and salvation.

And, since she was not learned
and literate enough
in such arduous matters,
we suggested
that she should choose one
or many of those present,
and if she would not choose,
we would give her some to counsel her
touching what she should do and reply,
provided that in herself
she wished to answer truthfully.
And we required her
to swear
to speak the truth.

To which Jeanne answered:
for admonishing me
of my salvation and our faith,
I thank you and also all the company.

As for the counsel you offer me,
I thank you for that too;
I have no intention
of departing from the counsel of Our Lord.

And the oath you wish me to take
I will willingly swear,
to answer truthfully
on everything which concerns your trial."
And she took oath so,
with her hands on the holy scriptures.


Tara at A Teaching Life is our Poetry Friday host today.


Katya said...

I like how your poem came out, Tabatha. It slows you down and forces you to focus on the words of the trial.

I taught a poetry class to middle schoolers one summer. As an exercise, I gave them the text of a poem and had them break up the lines. Then we looked at all the versions and tried to figure out which we liked best and which was the original.

jama said...

What a wonderful idea! Loved this history lesson in poetic form. 600 years!

Linda at teacherdance said...

Lovely way to have us give thoughts to this great woman. I don't think I knew it was so long ago. To think that we are still honoring someone for her strength that many years ago. I too liked that your poem slowed us down to really 'see' the story.

Robyn Hood Black said...

A very powerful found poem, Tabatha - amazing how you've brought her voice and the strength of her character to life in such a fresh way! Well done, and thanks for shining a spotlight on this anniversary!

david elzey said...

a few years back when the trask translation of joan of arc: in her own words came out - only her responses from the trials, no questions - it struck me how lyrical it was. perhaps what truly made her dangerous was that she wasn't merely a crusader, but a poet.

nicely done.

Tabatha said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, everyone! I think you may be onto something, Dave. Maybe poets make our most inspiring leaders.

Jeannine Atkins said...

I felt the sadness here, even as I was again amazed by the bravery. Agree with David, of course it's not just swords.

Andi Sibley said...

For a simple peasant girl she really shines with wit and wisdom, doesn't she? I love how you have framed her words of power.

Myra Garces-Bacsal from GatheringBooks said...

I was educated in a Catholic school when I was a young girl, and we learned about Joan of Arc - but I don't think I am aware of this aspect of her life that you just shared here. Very lyrically done, indeed, as most of the earlier comments noted. :)

Mary Lee said...


600 years, and the peasant girl's words live on.