A Matter of Beauty

On the afternoon of 15 April 2019, I was playing with ideas of what to do with my piles of writing fragments. I wrote down “finish that old Jeanne d’Arc poem,” and then Mr. Bear came downstairs to tell me that Notre Dame was burning.

When I had impulsively walked alone into Notre Dame de Paris one April afternoon in 1985, I walked in saturated with the radical feminist critique of patriarchal religion. I knew what the Holy Roman Empire had done to the tribes of Europe, and I knew how the Inquisition centuries later had broken the country peoples. I knew details of the Church’s torture methods, and I was a good candidate neither for piety nor for awe when it came to cathedrals.

But Notre Dame de Paris had been built by pre-Inquisition Europeans who could still see the Milky Way arching over a Paris with no electric lights, who may still have been carrying a cultural memory of the ancient Queen of Heaven. Whatever they were thinking consciously, they created an exaltation of stone and the old forest of Paris, earth reaching toward sky, that sent me spiralling upward.

Beauty matters. By the morning following the fire, a billion dollars in unsolicited donations to rebuild Notre Dame had poured into the French government, and that was counting only the large contributions. Smaller gifts of money flooded in too, from everywhere.

I didn’t send money, but I did finish that old Jeanne d’Arc poem, and now I send it winging eastward across the Atlantic, along with the wish that something beautiful and new, a renaissance, begin soon for the people of France.

Jeanne d’Arc Turning


Jeanne d’Arc
turned her back
on the wars.

She said,
there is nothing more addicting
than fighting.

Jeanne d’Arc
turned her back
on resistance.

She said,
the trouble with struggle
is that it wears you down
and then you are too ready to die.

Jeanne d’Arc
turned her back
on battle.

She said,
Paris will come to me
when I dream
the full flower of France.

Jeanne d’Arc turned.

She turned
and came full
into the arms of love.

 

note: The featured image is an artist’s rendering of stars forming in the early universe (Adolf Schaller, Space Telescope Science Institute).