the French text in Christine de Pisan, Ditiť de Jeanne d'Arc, ed. Angus
J. Kennedy and Kenneth Varty (Oxford: Society for the Study of Medieval
Languages and Literature, 1977), trans. L. Shopkow
From the translator:
The Song of Joan
of Arc is the only popular piece written about Joan in her lifetime.
The author, Christine de Pisan, was a professional writer at the Court
of Charles VI of France (1380-1422), an unusual occupation for a woman
at that time. Her father, Tommaso, became Charles V's court physician
and astrologer in 1365, just after she was born, and she came to France
when she was three. Perhaps because her father belonged to the humanist
tradition, he insisted on educating her (a new development in
educational thought), over the objections of her mother, who thought
girls had no need of education. Christine married Etienne de Castel, a
nobleman, around 1380. Her happy marriage ended when Etienne died
suddenly in 1387, leaving her a widow with small children. Her father
had first lost favor at court and then died around 1385.
Faced with financial ruin, Christine turned to her pen to
support her household, with felicitous results. She was appointed the
official biographer of Charles V and became the first official female
court historian (her grandson Jean de Castel was later an official
court historian himself), and wrote histories, manuals of warfare,
romances, and treatises in poetry and prose, as well as many poems.
Equally important, she was one of the first defenders of
women's reputations against a tradition that portrayed women as
vice-ridden, fickle, vicious, foul, and disgusting, and which urged men
not to marry. In women's defence, Christine wrote several works
examining the position society assigned women and arguing that women
were of equal moral and social worth as men and that women were capable
of all that men could do, although God ordained for them a more
restricted (although still valuable) social role. Christine had written
about Amazons and other women of unusual attainments, as well as women
of heroic sanctity, so Joan was a natural subject for her.
In 1418, Christine retired to the monastery of Poissy, where
her daughter was a nun. All her works, except the "Song," predate her
A word of caution about the translation. Christine used an
octosyllabic line (I've used a four-stress English line) and a rather
rigid rhyme scheme (ababbcbc). Consequently, even the French is a
little forced. I've chosen to translate Christine's poem into verse,
which means sacrificing some of the precision of her language, although
some of the more startling images (the English not being able to help
themselves any more than a dead dog) come from Christine directly. This
translation offers a general account of the content of her poem, with
some of the rhythmic drive behind her work, without being a precise
rendering. Readers who want a more literal translation are advised to
consult Kenney and Varty, who include a translation and extensive notes.
I, Christine, for eleven years
Shut in an abbey all the time,
Unceasingly have shed my tears,
Enclosed there by that dreadful crime,
Since Charles-what happened is bizarre-,
The King's son-if one can dare to say-
Fled from Paris, gone afar.
Now I can laugh again today!
I deeply laugh from happiness,
Because the frozen wintertide,
Has gone away; then I confess,
I closed myself away inside.
But now I plan to change my tune
From lamentation into song,
Now that I have found radiant June-
I bore my suffering for so long!
Now it is fourteen twenty-nine,
The fair season returns anew,
The sun again begins to shine,
That for so long was not in view.
Then many folks were dressed in sable,
I too put on that dismal hue.
I've thrown off mourning, now I'm able
To see what I have long yearned to.
Thus my song has turned away,
From deepest sorrow into glee,
Since the time I had to stay
Shut in; And what I longed to see,
The glorious season they call Spring,
When everything appears like new,
Has come, thank God, and now will bring,
A shift from brown to green in hue.
Because the legal first-born child
Of France's king, who now draws near,
Who for a long time was exiled,
And suffered many a pain and fear,
Arises now as though for Prime,
And dressed in great and noble might,
Endowed with golden spurs sublime,
Comes crowned as king, as is his right.
A gala for his welcoming,
We all should make; let us rejoice
In the splendor of our king.
Come forward, great and small give voice
To greeting-no one fall behind-
Salute him with a joyful face,
And praise God who has been so kind
To him; let "Noels!" fill the place.
But now I wish to tell you how
God through his grace brought this about,
Let God grant me the gift right now
To tell it, and leave nothing out.
One by one, in order queued,
These deeds may live in memory,
For they are worthy to include
In chronicles and history!
Hear a matter marvelous,
Known everywhere, both far and wide,
How God, who is all graciousness,
Is at the last on virtue's side.
This is a widely noted fact,
If we consider the present case,
That God may help the hapless one,
When Fortune casts him on his face.
No one should therefore be dismayed
When evil Fortune strikes a blow,
When blame's at his door wrongly laid,
And vicious gossip lays him low!
Although Fortune destroys some men,
She sometimes shows a different side,
For God who harshly punishes sin,
Helps those who in his hope abide.
Who has yet seen something occur
So far beyond what they expected?
The whole of France should now ensure
The story be well recollected
That France (which as I said above
Was near destroyed) might rise again,
Through exhibition of God's love,
Might find success instead of pain.
If of this deed the fame were less,
The proof much less empirical,
Would anyone this feat profess?
It clearly was a miracle!
It is well worth remembering,
That the Almighty through a Maid-
This story is true!-His grace did bring
And His great grace on France was laid.
Oh what an honor for the crown
Of France, through this celestial test!
He granted it virtue's renown,
And shows how much the crown is blessed,
And that he finds more faith in God
In France's crown than anywhere;
I've read-now this is nothing new!-
In faith the Lilies never err.
And you, Charles, now the king of France,
The seventh king of that great name,
Who earlier suffered such mischance;
You thought the future held more shame.
But by God's grace, now look how Joan
Has raised your fame on high, oh see!
Your enemies before you bow--
This is a welcome novelty!-
Most quickly worked; one would have thought,
That such a deed could not be done,
That all your efforts were for nought,
That France was gone; now it is won.
Although you took tremendous harm,
You have your country back in tow,
Won back by wise Joan's mighty arm.
Thanks be to God, it happened so!
You must believe that such great grace,
Was given to you for some goal,
That God ordained the time and place
That you might play a greater role.
Some solemn deed He destined you
To carry out in space and time;
For He has chosen you to be
Of noble deeds the paradigm.
For there will be a king of France,
Who Charles, the son of Charles, will be.
Over kings his dominance
Will lie; thus runs the prophecy.
The "Flying Stag" will be his name,
Of wonderful deeds he'll be author,
(God appoints him to the same),
At last he will be emperor.
All this is profit to your soul
I pray God that you'll be that man.
Upon you may harm take no toll,
May you live long so that you can
See your descendants, and may you
And they bring gladness without cease
To France and do God's service true,
And that no war will mar your peace!
And I hope you will be fair,
A lover of law and righteousness,
And that you will surpass all others
And no pride bring you shamefulness;
Toward your people gentle and kind,
And fearing God, who's chosen you
To be his servant (you have proof
Of this), and do your duty too.
How could your thanks to God suffice,
Your fearful service be too great,
To one who saved you in a trice,
And did all France emancipate
From war; who raised you from your fall,
And through his holy providence,
Has made you worthier of all
The honors that have issued hence?
May you be praised, Oh God on high!
We all must give our thanks to you,
Who granted us the space and time,
Where such good things have now come true.
Our hands together, great and small,
Let us our thanks to God now form;
To peace through you have come we all,
And into safety from the storm!
And you, blessed Maid, can we forget,
Since God has honored you so much,
Since you have sliced apart the rope
That held us bound, with one sure touch?
Could we praise you too much at all,
When you have calmed our countryside,
Once battered down by war's cruel blast,
So that we may in peace reside?
In a good hour you were born,
Blessed be the one who made you so!
His virgin, as He made you be,In whom the Holy Ghost does blow
Its great grace; for the Holy Spirit
Such generous gifts will you afford,
That He will deny you nil;
Who else could grant a just reward?
What could one sing about the past,
About the deeds that were effected?
God granted generously to Moses,
All virtues that might be expected.
Moses led the people of God
From Egypt, without any neglect,
Miraculously. Thus you have led
Us out of evil, Maid elect!
Contemplate your person now,
You are virgin, very young,
To whom God grants the strength and power
To be both woman and champion,
Who offers France the gentle breast,
The food of peace and will correct
The wicked folk who would rebel.
'Tis more than Nature could effect!
If God worked many miracles
Through Joshua, when he began
To conquer and destroy so many
Places, still, he was a man,
Powerful and strong. But Joan
Was but a shepherdess, though she
Was braver yet than any Roman!
For God, this is simplicity!
But people, I have never heard
A story of equal mystery,
For all the champions who lived,
As one goes back through history,
Could not compare in prowess to Joan,
Who strives our enemies to ban;
For God who counsels her gave her
A greater heart than any man.
Gideon is world renowned;
He was a simple working man,
Yet God made him, the story goes,
An great unconquered champion,
So that he captured every prize,
But though God led him on his way
He did not work such wonders as
He worked for Joan in our own day.
Esther, Judith and Deborah,
Were women of outstanding merit,
Through them God rescued the folk
Their foes had tried to disinherit.
There were many others as well,
Who were courageous, and yet still
No one surpassed this Virgin's deeds,
Or did so many marvels fulfill.
God sent her through a miracle,
She was brought here by God's decree,
And led by an angel of God
To well defend our royalty.
Her deed was no inane illusion,
It has been authenticated
By disputation (in conclusion,
Cause by effect is demonstrated),
She was well interrogated,
When she had gained a following,
By priests and other learned men,
To see if she were tampering
With verity; and so it's sure,
That God conveyed her to the king,
But we have read in history,
That she would come to do this thing,
For Merlin, the Sibyl, and old Bede
Five hundred years and more ago,
Saw her in spirit and foretold,
That she would come ease France's woe.
They wrote it down in prophecies,
That she would come bear France's banner
In France's wars, and told about
Her deed, and well described its manner.
But by my faith, her holy life,
Shows well that she is in God's grace,
So that I more believe in her.
Whatever enemy she may face,
She always keeps God in her mind,
She calls upon him, him she serves
With all her heart in word and deed,
Her love for Him never ebbs or swerves.
Oh! How evident this was
At Orleans, during the siege
And when her strength had first appeared.
No miracle, as I believe,
Was ever clearer, for God helped
His own so much, our foe could not
Assist himself more than a dead
Dog could; he died upon the spot.
Aha!! What honor for the female
Sex! God shows how he loves it,
When the nobles-great, but wretched-
Who earlier the realm had quit,
By one woman were fortified,
No men could do this deed, but more:
The traitors were repaid in kind!
No one would credit this before.
A girl of only sixteen years
(Does this not outdo Nature's skill?)
Who lightly heavy weapons bears,
Of strong and hard food takes her fill,
And thus is like it. And God's foes
Before her swiftly fleeing run,
She did this in the public eye.
There tarried not a single one.
She frees France from its enemies,
Recovering citadels and castles.
No army ever did so much,
Not even a hundred thousand vassals!
And of our brave and able folk,
She is the chief and first commander.
Got makes it so; not even Hector
Nor Achilles could withstand her.
Oh you the proven fighting men
Who show yourselves as good and true
Who carry out the deeds of war
Some mention must be made of you.
In every country you'll hear praise,
Your courage be on every tongue
Without fail above all else
Your praises will be loudly sung.
You who bare your flesh and life,
In justice's name, to such harsh pain,
And you who dare to put yourself
At risk against so many a bane,
Be constant, for I swear that you
Will win renown or heaven some day!
For one who fights for righteousness,
Will conquer paradise, I say.
So, lower your trumpets, Englishmen,
Your hunt will never find success!
Your tricks will not avail in France!
Your king's check-mated now in chess!
Earlier you did not fear
When you first proved so dangerous.
But you were not yet on the road
Where God slays the vainglorious.
Then you thought that France was won,
That France was caught inside your snare.
It happened otherwise, false mob!
Go off and beat your drums elsewhere,
If you do not desire to taste
Death, like your companions,
Whose bodies wolves may well devour,
Where fallen they lie amongst the ruins.
Through Joan the English will be beaten;
They will not ever rise again.
God thus commands who hears the cries
Of people whom they caused such pain!
The blood of those who died cries out
Against the English without cease.
The Lord will end their suffering;
He'll smite the sinners and grant us peace.
The Christian faith and Holy Church,
Will both be set to rights through her,
She will destroy the evil-doers,
To whom one sometimes does refer,
The heretics of filthy life.
For prophecy, which her foresaw,
Said that she would not mercy show
To those who soil the Holy Law.
She will assault the Saracens
In conquering the Holy Land.
God save Charles! She'll lead him there.
Before he dies, he will command
To journey there. This is the place
He ought to win. And here should she
Expire. Here both shall glory win!
And thus completed may things be!
Forget, then, all heroic men,
For she alone should take the crown,
Her deeds suffice to show that God
Has handed her more valor down
Than all those who are often named,
And she has not yet finished here!
I think God granted her all this,
So through her deeds peace will appear!
For it is her smallest task
To overthrow the English reign,
For she aspires to much more:
That the faith shall never wane.
As for the English, if one laughs
Or weeps, we are now shut of them.
They will be completely conquered.
The future will sing their requiem!
As for you, ignoble rebels,
Who followed where the English led,
Would you not now be better off,
If you had done what's right instead
Of falling into English serfdom?
Your sufferings may yet multiply,
Watch out! (For you have suffered greatly)
And remember, you will die!
Do you not see, you purblind people,
That in this God shows his hand?
Only the witless do not know this,
For it is by his command,
That the Maid has come to France;
To the death fights La Pucelle-
You have no force to stand against her-
Against God would you rebel?
Was the king not consecrated,
Whom she led there by the hand?
She had foes, but no deed greater
Happened in the Holy Land.
Notwithstanding all opponents,
Welcomed by the noble class,
Charles the king was well received there,
He was crowned and then heard mass.
In the greatest triumph and power
At Reims Charles was crowned the king
In one thousand and four hundred,
Twenty-nine, all flourishing,
There were knights and many barons
On the seventeenth of July.
After being consecrated,
Four or five more days went by.
And the little Maid stayed by him.
When he turned to leave again,
Not a city, not a castle,
Not a tiny village of men,
Held out; whether they loved or hated,
Were assured or glowered in fright,
Few attacked; they all surrendered.
Thus did they all fear his might!
It is true some folk resisted
Out of folly, but few could.
In the end God wrested payment
From them for not being good.
Vain were their struggles. They all paid,
Whether they wanted to or not,
For no resistance did not die
Upon the Maid's steadfast onslaught.
Although they made a great assembly,
So the king might be waylaid,
And attacked him in an ambush,
No one required a doctor's aid
thereafter; for the rebels all
Were dead and taken, I hear tell,
And one by one as suited each
Were sent to heaven or to hell.
I don't know (for they aren't here)
If Paris yet will bend its knee,
If the Maid will wait for this;
But if it is her enemy,
I do not doubt she will attack it,
As she has done other factions.
If they dare resist an hour,
Harm will follow from their actions.
For complain who will, the king
Will enter Paris without fail!
The Maid has promised it to him.
Paris, will Burgundy avail
You against him? It cannot be,
Do not forget Burgundy's foes.
Your guardian has no more power.
Your pride will fall under his blows!
Paris, oh!, so badly counselled!
Madmen lacking confidence!
Do you prefer to be exiled,
Than come to good terms with your prince?
Indeed, your dense perversity
Will kill you if you don't take care!
Better take to supplication.
Ask for mercy. Paris, beware!
I mention evil men, though there
Are many good ones, I don't doubt,
Whom those who dare reject the king
Displease, but these dare not speak out,
I promise you. But these good men,
Do not deserve to perish when
The city comes under attack,
And loses many a denizen.
And all you other rebel cities,
People who have scorned your lord,
Men and women who reject him,
And to another lend your sword,
May his wrath against you weaken,
When you for forgiveness sue.
If he defeats your towns by force,
Will you not lose his largesse too?
So he won't be forced to murder
Nor to slice more flesh in war,
He holds back as long as he dares;
He does not desire gore.
But at last, if they will not
Surrender that which is his right,
He will still behave with justice,
If he wins it back by might.
Alas! The king is so forgiving
He would pardon everyone!
And the Maid, who follows God,
Demands of him that this be done.
Thus you should like loyal Frenchmen,
No more hold yourselves aloof!
If you give yourselves to him,
You will not suffer more reproof.
Thus I pray God grant you courage,
All of you who face him thus,
And when this cruel storm is over,
Gone these wars so arduous,
That you will live out your days
In peace, under your sovereign king,
And that to you he'll ever be,
A lord gracious in everything. Amen.
This poem was written by Christine,
Complete the last day of July,
In fourteen hundred twenty-nine.
About it I will prophesy,
That some will find themselves put out
About its contents, for the one
Whose face and eyes look ever downward
Cannot ever see the sun.
Thus ends a beautiful poem by Christine.