May 30, 2004
Poem: "For All," by Gary Snyder, from The Gary Snyder Reader. © Counterpoint Press. Reprinted with permission.
Ah to be alive
on a mid-September morn
fording a stream
barefoot, pants rolled up,
holding boots, pack on,
sunshine, ice in the shallows,
Rustle and shimmer of icy creek waters
stones turn underfoot, small and hard as toes
cold nose dripping
creek music, heart music,
smell of sun on gravel.
I pledge allegiance
I pledge allegiance to the soil
of Turtle Island,
and to the beings who thereon dwell
under the sun
With joyful interpenetration for all.
Literary and Historical Notes:
It's the birthday of filmmaker Howard Hawks, born in Goshen, Indiana (1896). He's best known for directing westerns such as Red River (1948) and Rio Bravo (1959), but he also made the science fiction movie The Thing (1951), the gangster movie Scarface (1932), the screwball comedy His Girl Friday (1940), and the detective movie The Big Sleep (1946).
He was a friend of Ernest Hemingway, and he became known for shooting movies in the same clear and simple way that Hemingway wrote sentences. He almost always shot scenes at eye level, because, he said, "That's the way a man sees it." He never used camera tricks and he rarely even moved the camera. When asked about his style as a filmmaker, he said, "I just aim . . . at the actors."
It's the birthday of Harlem renaissance poet Countee Cullen, born in Louisville, Kentucky (1903). He published several poetry collections in the 1920s, including Color (1925), Copper Sun (1927) and The Black Christ and Other Poems (1929). At the height of his career, he was one of the most well known and most quoted poets in the United States, second only to Edna St. Vincent Millay. Most of his poems are collected in My Soul's High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen (1991).
It was on this day in 1431 that Joan of Arc was burned at the stake for heresy in Rouen, France. She was an ordinary French peasant girl, living during the Hundred Years War between France and England. When she was still a teenager, she heard the voice of God telling her to join the battle and help defeat the English army. She performed a series of apparent miracles and persuaded the French army to let her command a group of soldiers. At the battle of Orleans, she led the revitalized French army, bearing a flag with Jesusí name written across it, and the English were defeated. She continued fighting battles until May 23, 1430, when she was captured by enemy soldiers. They turned her over to the church to be tried as a heretic, idolater, and sorcerer. Her enemies believed that the only way they could have lost in battle to a woman was if she had been using witchcraft.
Her trial lasted for months. Every day she was brought into the interrogation room, where she was the only woman among judges, priests, soldiers, and guards. The judges hoped to trick her into saying something that would incriminate her as a witch or an idolater, so they asked endless questions about all aspects of her life, in no particular order. They were especially interested in her childhood, and because the transcripts of the trial were recorded, we now know more about her early life than any other common person of her time.
She testified that she had learned from her mother how to pray and how to clean the house, and that she was an excellent sewer and spinner. She talked about the games she played as a child, the songs she sang and the way she and other children danced around a particular tree in their town. She pointed out that she preferred singing to dancing. She said that she'd always loved the sound of bells ringing in her town, and she was greatly upset whenever the bell wasn't rung on schedule. She said that many of the people in her village believed in fairies, and that her godmother claimed to have seen a fairy once, but she doubted it.
Joan testified that she first started hearing divine voices when she as thirteen, while working in her father's garden. When God commanded her to join the battle against the English, she told her parents she was going to help her cousin deliver a baby. The judges asked her if she felt guilty for leaving her parents like that, and she said, "Since God commanded it, had I had a hundred fathers and a hundred mothers, had I been born a king's daughter, I should have departed."
When she wasnít being interrogated, she spent her time in prison chained to a wooden block. After months of questioning, she was told that if she didnít sign a confession, she would be put to death. She finally signed it, but a few days later she renounced the confession, and on this day in 1431, she was burned at the stake. She was nineteen years old.
She was mostly forgotten for about 400 years, and then she was revived as a patriotic figure during the French revolution. In 1920 she was canonized as a saint by Pope Benedict the Fifteenth. She is the only person ever burned at the stake for heresy who later became a saint. The file on her at the Vatican is still sealed. She's been the subject of more than twenty movies, as well as plays by writers such as Voltaire and George Bernard Shaw. More than 20,000 books have been written about her.
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