Sunday, April 29, 2012

Gilles de Rais

Supreme general to the sainted warrior, Jeanne,
Gilles carried her wounded body from the field of defeat.
And he could only seethe helplessly as church eunuchs
defamed and deflowered her courage, mute until her spirit
flew away on the Spring breeze like an angelic butterfly
swirling in red dust and crushed beneath stone.

They did not come, so all there was was blood.

He watched the angry flames lick white skin and char
golden hair, and wilt the lashes to her eyes, those stars that wept
for so many fallen, so many dead, so many gone
and never to return, to country life or heart. He fled
the ash to find the golden stone that could bring eternal life.

They did not come, so all there was was blood.

For months he prayed to raise the dead, body forth air,
speak with demon Barron, who promised
wealth and power over all things that fly or crawl,
to turn men to pawns and crush them beneath his boot,
to transform heath and moor to a garden of delight
that angels themselves would seek to pleasure in.

They did not come, so all there was was blood.

Still dead nor demon came and his riches were devoured
by the ceremonies and rites at the altar. "A child's heart,"
they said, "drain a child's heart over the stones"
and its blood will summon dead comrades, entreat
the devil to paste together the dream, and wash away
the memory of war and bring sleep, gentle sleep.

They did not come, so all there was was blood.

He dressed the child in the finest clothes, feasted her at table,
dazzled her young eyes with light and dirty ears with song,
until such fear that comes to any beast was allayed,
lulled to languish with full stomach and dulled wits.

They did not come, so all there was was blood.

He strung her from a hook in the wall, and spilled
his jism on her thighs to drip on the bleeding floor,
probed her guts with knife and sword, soaking the rags
with her sobs and ebbing life. And often he'd take
her down, lay her on the floor and into exposed
ripe cavity ejaculated again and again, cooing like a dove,
as her breath sighed its departing despair into his face.
Like so many before in combat, flesh became cold,
limbs contracted to stony silence, and bight eyes
glazed gray into a tortured mask that brought an insane laugh.

They did not come, so all there was was blood.

The hills and streams ran silently thruout the land,
muffled sobs for unburied loss, invisible graves
in the hearts of parents and houses crushed by want.
The Vampire was in flight above the land, they said, the smell
of blood soaking the fields of war had unleashed Hell.

They did not come, so all there was was blood.

He confessed his crimes in his home, there where the walls
echoed with sobbing ghosts, the floors stained still
with blood in marble cracks, the cesspool rank
with ashes and his hearth caked with burnt flesh and bone.

They did not come, so all there was was blood.

At trial, the parents wept over their lost children, it's said,
but also over his crimes that he recounted with contrite tongue,
a people shocked to dumb forgiveness by terror and despair
at what the twisted soul can devise when wracked by war
and wealth and desire to be what no man should be.

They did not come, so all there was was blood.

His dust lies there still, where they laid him in the churchyard
under tranquil limb and talking leaves. And now they tell a tale
of Bluebeard, a man young girls should fear, for in his secret room
the floors are awash with blood and strands of hair hang from hooks.

They did not come, so all there was was blood.

(c) copyright 2012 Charles David Miller. All rights reserved.

This is written from the poetry prompt at dVersePoets, which asks poets to write about vampires. My poem is about Gilles de Rais, a 15th century French aristocrat who fought with Jeanne d'Arc, the Catholic saint who went to war for French independence. After the defeat De Rais engaged in various magical rituals to gain immortality, epwealth, and power. In the process of carrying out these rites, he killed perhaps 200 childrem hoping to use their blood to summon demons and the dead. After he was tried and condemned for his crimes, the story metamorphosed into the story of Bluebeard. Many stories of crimes against innocents like this have involved the perpetrators being called vampires. The attraction to the original de Rais story in modern popular culture bears this out. While I understand the attraction/repulsion to the vampire motif, I think the reality behind the fantasy should not be forgotten. As Simone Weil says, fiction gives an attractive facade to evil.


  1. A tour-de-force of narrative craft. I was both mesmerized and repelled by this horrific retelling of historical depravity.

  2. what a terrible and tragic story...what kind of monster can a man, who once fought for something good, become for the sake of power and immortality...makes me sad and angry.. a brilliant re-telling of the story charles..

  3. Charles -- this is just terrific. First, you tell the story so well - of course, I"m glad for the historical note, but you've told it in the poem--it's just that without the note it's a bit hard for us to believe. Jeanne d"Arc was one of my heroes as a kid, but clearly she had all kinds of crazed proponents and even she may have been a little crazed. Also, people forget the power that wealth could and can still buy and with that a serious kind of corruption. There is a certain delight in romanticizing all of this simply because it is colorful, I guess.

    There's a wonderful opera of Bluebeard by the way--which has been re-done recently with a sort of comic theme. Of course, it's hard to truly enjoy if one thinks of what is actually going on--But that is what we do, isn't it?

    Anyway you've written a wonderful poem here where you do not romanticize the horror but you are also very compassionate. K.

  4. You are a master. This had me enthralled by its horror and the idea that it could be true. Then you confirm its historic base. Thank you so much for the informative background. You have tremendous talent.

  5. Brilliant telling of the Bluebeard story--horrific, disturbing, but mesmerizing. The repetition of "They did not come, so all there was was blood." had a hypnotic effect that reinforced the horror. It's true that reality can be more terrifying than anything in fiction.

  6. Evil is always weakness and greed satisfied at the expense of others I think--and the more extreme, the more evil. No one is immune to the weaknesses and the greed of being human, but to embrace them instead of fight them is where evil enters the picture. Here you paint in blood the greed for immortality, to be 'what no man should be' reminiscent of the similar legends about Vlad the Impaler and the Slavic Countess(Bathory?) who bathed in the blood of children to regain youth or beauty or for immortality, as well as some sort black and bloody revenge against society fantasy--(the idea of abusing childhood innocence to combat aging and death is pretty sickly universal, down to the forms it takes sexually, and how can you harm society more than by destroying its future?) You craft a horrific tale of the backlash of idealism into disillusion, degeneracy and the unhealthy turning inward to self-centrism supported by the wealth and privilege to do so--many many parallels to all kinds of social evils. Very well done in all ways, Charles, if like so much of life, hard to look at.

  7. I have always felt Bluebeard, which has haunted me my entire life, must have been based on true horror. I am indebted to you for connecting these long dangling synapses. A.S. Byatt in her masterpiece tetrology that begins with A Virgin in the Garden deals with some of these themes, especially the dystopia that arises from idealism (as Joy so eloquently outlines) in Babel Tower. Gilles de Rais was probably the most successful serial killer of all time and I find these stories bring out the darkest side of my nature in response. Usually I am against corporal punishment and the death penalty but in these cases and war crimes I find little empathy. It is difficult to become aware of these atrocities, harder to look away, and challenging even more to see my own hatred/revulsion lurking, desiring punishment for the monster. This is a thunderous, brave, and masterful poem.

  8. Nice job Charles. I love the single line of repetition, not only frames the piece, it echoes the idea of immortality as it keeps coming back. Really enjoyed this and also the thorough note, you may be interested in a book called Vampire Forensics. It's pretty good, it details many of the stories throughout history where it was believed Vampires were at large, examining the burial sites and so forth. I found it a pretty interesting read, and from your note, sounds like you may enjoy it as well. Excellent read here. Thanks

  9. oh good lord man, this is vicious...i did not realise this was a bit of history there until the end...and on children...ugh...that burns deep...a real live vampire....a masterful telling sir, love the sing line repetition as it is the string the pulls it all together...and stings....

  10. Masterful narrative of a horrendous tale. Isn't it amazing that the monster lies in a churchyard yet no priest will bury a suicide victim.

  11. Excellent share of the tale and skin crawled from the cruelty and dark heart...Very good use of the repetitive line...I think you should share this in OLN....this deserves a standing ovation from the house ~