So I spent the actual night of Twelfth Night with a dilemma. There were two events I wanted to attend. The first was a parade for Joan of Arc, whose birthday is January 6th. (Interesting side note: Her decisive victory at Orleans took place on June 18th, my birthday.) The second event was the meeting of a group that will gather regularly for the next few months to read Plato’s Symposium or the “Dialogues on Love.” So hard to choose: Plato or Joan of Arc? Sitting in the Latter Library, reading and talking about ancient Greek philosophies of love? Or a torch-lit, medieval tambourine parade through the French Quarter, following a woman wearing gilded armor and riding horseback? Yeah, just another Wednesday night in New Orleans. In the end, the frigid weather drove me to the library and the Platonic ideal of Eros. My spirit follows Joan always. She’ll just have to be content with my moral support this year.
There was a lot for my brain to chew on last night, but the portion I’ll relay here is the opening scene of the Symposium. Socrates and Aristodemus walk to the party at Agathon’s house. Aristodemus turns around to look for Socrates and finds that the “truth-loving eccentric” has wandered off by himself and appears to have fallen into a trance. Socrates is listening to his “daemon”, the inner voice that spoke his own genius to him, the voice that Socrates placed as an authority higher (to him) than the gods. It was Socrates’ faith in his own daemon that eventually got him condemned to death for heresy.
This is Joan of Arc’s story as well. Her steadfast allegiance to the voices that came to her from St. Michael, St. Catherine and St. Margaret, and her refusal to allow the priests to be her intermediary in an apprehension of the divine . . . all this was the evidence the Catholic Church used to convict her of witchcraft and burn her to death.
Emily too, placed her own spiritual authority above all others. She kept her mouth shut about it, though. And kept her skin. Was she afraid? Or was she simply content to know herself without being “public — like a Frog —/ To tell one’s name — the livelong June —/ To an admiring Bog!” She certainly refused any exposure to scrutiny and had nothing approaching the public life of Joan or Socrates. Maybe she was being smart and self-contained. Maybe she knew she was holding onto a few thousand pounds of dynamite.
Makes me think again more deeply about the advice I received long ago: “Don’t be afraid to know what you know.” More than anything else this fear of knowing what you know is the thing that stops a person from hearing herself. That’s all it takes: First, a focused, intentional stillness—stop, put away the world, be still. Then a sincere willingness to listen. Allow what wishes to be spoken to have its say.
Emily has this to say today:
#579, c. 1862
I had been hungry, all the Years —
My Noon had come — to dine —
I trembling drew the Table near —
And touched the Curious Wine —
‘Twas this on Tables I had seen —
When turning, hungry, Home
I looked in Windows, for the Wealth
I could not hope — for Mine —
I did not know the ample Bread —
‘Twas so unlike the Crumb
The Birds and I, had often shared
In Nature’s — Dining Room —
The Plenty hurt me — ’twas so new —
Myself felt ill — and odd —
As Berry — of a Mountain Bush —
Transplanted — to the Road —
Nor was I hungry — so I found
That Hunger — was a way
Of Persons outside Windows —
The Entering — takes away —
This bread and wine stand on the communion table. Emily hungers for that bond through spiritual awakening. She offers a meditation on what is holy in the company of like-minded others. It’s lonely knowing what you know. The pilgrim seeks other pilgrims. The phrase I love the most here is “curious wine”. This is the wine that makes you more curious as you drink it. The wine that whets your palate for more, a deeper plunge into that embrace. The hunger for home, wherever or whoever that may be.