FranÁois Villon


Poems

 

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Translated by A. S. Kline ©  2004 All Rights Reserved.

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.

 

Contents


Le Testament: Ballade Des Dames Du Temps Jadis. 3

Le Testament: Les Regrets De La Belle HeaulmiŤre. 5

Le Testament: Ballade: ĎItem: Donne A Ma Povre Mereí8

Le Testament: Ballade: A Síamye. 10

Le Testament: Ballade: Pour Robert díEstouteville. 11

Le Testament: Rondeau. 12

Le Testament: Epitaph et Rondeau. 13

Ballade: Du Concours De Blois. 14

Ballade: Epistre. 16

LíEpitaphe Villon: Ballade Des Pendus. 18

Index of First Lines. 20

 


Le Testament: Ballade Des Dames Du Temps Jadis

 

Tell me where, or in what country

Is Flora, the lovely Roman,

Archipiades or ThaÔs,

Who was her nearest cousin,

Echo answering, at clap of hand,

Over the river, and the meadow,

Whose beauty was more than human?

Oh, where is last yearís snow?

Where is that wise girl Eloise,

For whom was gelded, to his great shame,

Peter Abelard, at Saint Denis,

For love of her enduring pain,

And where now is that queen again,

Who commanded them to throw

Buridan in a sack, in the Seine?

Oh, where is last yearís snow?

 

Queen Blanche of the Sirenís voice

White as a swan, and Alice, say,

Bertha Big-Foot and Beatrice,

Arembourg, ruler of Maine,

Or Jeanne díArc of Lorraine,

The English burned at Rouen? Oh,

Where are they Virgin, you who reign?

Oh, where is last yearís snow?

 

Prince, donít ask of me again

Where they are, this year or no,

I have only this last refrain:

Oh, where is last yearís snow?


Note: Dante Gabriel Rossetti took Archipiades to be Hipparchia (see Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers, Book VI 96-98) who loved Crates the Theban Cynic philosopher (368/5-288/5BC) and of whom various tales are told suggesting her beauty, and independence of mind. This would make her an exact or close contemporary of Thais, beautiful Athenian courtesan and mistress of Alexander the Great (356-323BC). Villon presumably means that they were Ďnear cousinsí in spirit.


Le Testament: Les Regrets De La Belle HeaulmiŤre

 

By chance, I heard the belle complain,

The one we called the Armouress,

Longing to be a girl again,

Talking like this, more or less:

ĎOh, old age, proud in wickedness,

Youíve battered me so, and why?

Who cares, who, for my distress,

Or whether at all your blows I die?

 

Youíve stolen away that great power

My beauty ordained for me

Over priests and clerks, my hour,

When never a man Iíd see

Would fail to offer his all in fee,

Whatever remorse heíd later show,

But what was abandoned readily,†

Beggars now scorn to know.

 

Many a man I then refused Ė

Which wasnít wise of me, no jest Ė

For love of a boy, cunning too,

To whom I gave all my largesse.

I feigned to him unwillingness,

But, by my soul, I loved him bad.

What he showed was his roughness,

Loving me only for what I had.

 

He could drag me through the dirt,

Trample me underfoot, Iíd love him,

Break my back, whateverís worse,

If only heíd ask for a kiss again,

Iíd soon forget then every pain.

A glutton, full of what he could win,

Heíd embrace me Ė with him Iíve lain.

Whatís he left me? Shame and sin.

Now heís dead, these thirty years:

And I live on, old, and grey.

When I think of those times, with tears,

What I was, what I am today,

View myself naked: turn at bay,

Seeing what I am no longer,

Poor, dry, meagre, worn away,

I almost forget myself in anger.

 

Whereís my smooth brow gone:

My arching lashes, yellow hair,

Wide-eyed glances, pretty ones,

That took in the cleverest there:

Nose not too big or small: a pair

Of delicate little ears, the chin

Dimpled: a face oval and fair,

Lovely lips with crimson skin?

 

The fine slender shoulder-blades:

The long arms, with tapering hands:

My small breasts: the hips well made

Full and firm, and sweetly planned,

All Loveís tournaments to withstand:

The broad flanks: the nest of hair,

With plump thighs firmly spanned,

Inside its little garden there?

 

Now wrinkled forehead, hair gone grey:

Sparse eyelashes: eyes so dim,

That laughed and flashed once every way,

And reeled their roaming victims in:

Nose bent from beauty, ears thin,

Hanging down like moss, a face,

Pallid, dead and bleak, the chin

Furrowed, a skinny-lipped disgrace.

 

This is the end of human beauty:

Shrivelled arms, hands warped like feet:

The shoulders hunched up utterly:

BreastsÖ.what? In full retreat,

Same with the hips, as with the teats:

Little nest, hah! See the thighs,

Not thighs, thighbones, poor manís meat,

Blotched like sausages, and dried.

 

Thatís how the bon temps we regret

Among us, poor old idiots,

Squatting on our haunches, set

All in a heap like woollen lots

Round a hemp fire men forgot,

Soon kindled, and soon dust,

Once so lovely, that cocotteÖ

So it goes for all of us.

 


Le Testament: Ballade: ĎItem: Donne A Ma Povre Mereí

 

Item

 

This I give to my poor mother

As a prayer now, to our Mistress

Ė She who bore bitter pain for me,

God knows, and also much sadness Ė

Iíve no other castle or fortress,

That my body and soul can summon,

When Iím faced with lifeís distress,

Nor has my mother, poor woman:

 

Ballade

 

ĎLady of Heaven, earthly queen,

Empress of the infernal regions,

Receive me, a humble Christian,

To live among the chosen ones,

Though Iím worth less than anyone.

Your grace, my Lady and Mistress

Is greater than my sinfulness,

Grace without which, I tell no lie,

None deserve their blessedness.

In this faith let me live and die.

 

Say to your Son that I am His.

Through Him all my sins are lost:

Forgive me, as Mary Egypt was,

Or, so they say, Theophilus,

Who by your grace was still blameless,

Though he vowed the Devil a guest.

Protect me always from like excess,

Virgin, who bore, without a cry,

Christ whom we celebrate at Mass.

In this faith let me live and die.


I am a woman, poor and old,

I can neither read nor spell.

At Mass in church, here, I behold,

A painted Heaven, with harps: a Hell,

Where the damned are boiled, as well.

One gives me joy: one strikes me cold,

Grant me the joy, Great Goddess,

On whom all sinners must rely,

Fill me with faith and no slackness.

In this faith let me live and die.

 

V† irgin, you bore, O High Princess,

I†† ssue, whose kingdom is endless,

L† ord, who took on a littleness

L† ike ours: to save us left the sky,

O ffering his lovely youth to death.

N† ow, such is our Lord: such we confess:

In this faith let me live and die.


            Le Testament: Ballade: A Síamye

 

F alse beauty that costs me so dear,

R ough indeed, a hypocrite sweetness,

A mor, like iron on the teeth and harder,

N amed only to achieve my sure distress,

C harm thatís murderous, poor heartís death,

O covert pride that sends men to ruin,

I mplacable eyes, wonít true redress

S uccour a poor man, without crushing?

 

M uch better elsewhere to search for

A id: it would have been more to my honour:

R etreat I must, and fly with dishonour,

T hough none else then would have cast a lure.

H elp me, help me, you greater and lesser!

E nd then? With not even one blow landing?

Or will Pity, in line with all I ask here,

Succour a poor man, without crushing?

 

That time will come that will surely wither

Your bright flower, it will wilt and yellow,

Then if I can grin, Iíll call on laughter,

But, yet, that would be foolish though:

Youíll be pale and ugly: and Iíll be old,

Drink deep then, while the streamís still flowing:

And donít bring trouble on all men so,

Succour a poor man, without crushing.

 

Amorous Prince, the greatest lover,

I want no evil thatís of your doing,

But, by God, all noble hearts must offer

To succour a poor man, without crushing.

 


Le Testament: Ballade: Pour Robert díEstouteville

 

A t dawn of day, when falcon shakes his wing,

M ainly from pleasure, and from noble usage,

B lackbirds too shake theirs then as they sing,

R eceiving their mates, mingling their plumage,

O, as the desires it lights in me now rage,

I íd offer you, joyously, what befits the lover.

S ee how Love has written this very page:

E ven for this end are we come together.

 

D oubtless, as my heartís lady youíll have being,

E ntirely now, till death consumes my age.

L aurel, so sweet, for my cause now fighting,

O live, so noble, removing all bitter foliage,

R eason does not wish me unused to owing,

E ven as Iím to agree with this wish, forever,

Duty to you, but rather grow used to serving:

Even for this end are we come together.

 

And, whatís more, when sorrowís beating

Down on me, through Fateís incessant rage,

Your sweet glance its malice is assuaging,

Nor more or less than wind blows smoke away.

As, in your field, I plant I lose no grain,

For the harvest resembles me, and ever

God orders me to plough, and sow again:

Even for this end are we come together.

 

Princess, listen to this I now maintain:

That my heart and yours will not dissever:

So much I presume of you, and claim:

Even for this end are we come together.

 

Note: The ballade was written for Robert to present to his wife Ambroise de Lorť, as though composed by him.

 


Le Testament: Rondeau

 

Death, I cry out at your harshness,

That stole my girl away from me,

Yet youíre not satisfied I see

Until I languish in distress.

 

Since then Iíve lost all liveliness:

What harm alive, to you, was she?

Death, I cry out at your harshness,

That stole my girl away from me.

 

Two we were, with one heart blessed:

If heartís dead, yes, then I foresee,

Iíll die, or I must lifeless be,

Like those statues made of lead.

 

 


Le Testament: Epitaph et Rondeau

 

Epitaph

 

Here there lies, and sleeps in the grave,

One whom Love killed with his scorn,

A poor little scholar in every way,

He was named FranÁois Villon.

He never reaped a morsel of corn:

Willed all away, as all men know:

Bed, table, and basket all are gone.

Gallants, now sing his song below:

 

Rondeau

 

Oh, grant him now eternal peace,

Lord, and everlasting light,

He wasnít worth a candle bright,

Nor even a sprig of parsley.

Of eyebrows, hair, and beard heís free,

A turnip scraped with a spade, all right:

Oh, grant him now eternal peace.

 

Exiled with strict severity,

Rapped behind with a spade, despite

It all he cried: ĎAppeal, for me!í

Ė      Which wasnít the height of subtlety.

Oh, grant him now eternal peace.

 


Ballade: Du Concours De Blois

 

Iím dying of thirst beside the fountain,

Hot as fire, and with chattering teeth:

In my own land, Iím in a far domain:

Near the flame, I shiver beyond belief:

Bare as a worm, dressed in a furry sheathe,

I smile in tears, wait without expectation:

Taking my comfort in sad desperation:

I rejoice, without pleasures, never a one:

Strong I am, without power or persuasion,

Welcomed gladly, and spurned by everyone.

 

Nothing is sure for me but whatís uncertain:

Obscure, whatever is plainly clear to see:

Iíve no doubt, except of everything certain:

Science is what happens accidentally:

I win it all, yet a loser Iím bound to be:

Saying: ĎGod give you good even!í at dawn,

I greatly fear Iím falling, when lying down:

Iíve plenty, yet Iíve not one possession,

I wait to inherit, yet Iím no heir I own,

Welcomed gladly, and spurned by everyone.

 

I never take care, yet Iíve taken great pain

To acquire some goods, but have none by me:

Whoís nice to me is one I hate: itís plain,

And who speaks truth deals with me most falsely:

Heís my friend who can make me believe

A white swan is the blackest crow Iíve known:

Who thinks heís power to help me, does me harm:

Lies, truth, to me are all one under the sun:

I remember all, have the wisdom of a stone,

Welcomed gladly, and spurned by everyone.

 


Merciful Prince, may it please you that Iíve shown

Thereís much I know, yet without sense or reason:

Iím partial, yet I hold with all men, in common.

What more can I do? Redeem what Iíve in pawn,

Welcomed gladly, and spurned by everyone.

 


Ballade: Epistre

 

Have pity now, have pity now on me,

If you at least would, friends of mine.

Iím in the depths, not holly or may,

In exile, where Iíve been consigned

By Fortune, as God too has designed.

Girls, lovers, youngsters, fresh to hand,

Dancers, tumblers that leap like lambs,

Agile as arrows, like shots from a cannon,

Throats tinkling, clear as bells on rams,

Will you leave him here, your poor old Villon?

 

Singers, singing in lawless freedom,

Jokers, pleasant in word and deed,

Run free of false gold, alloy, come,

Men of wit Ė somewhat deaf indeed Ė

Hurry, be quick now, heís dying poor man.

Makers of lays, motets and rondeaux,

Will you bring him warmth when heís down below?

No lightning or storm reach where heís gone.

With these thick walls theyíve blinded him so.

Will you leave him here, your poor old Villon?

 

Come see him here, in his piteous plight,

Noblemen, free of tax and tithe,

Holding nothing by king or emperorís right,

But by grace of the God of Paradise.

Sundays and Tuesdays he fasts and sighs,

His teeth are as sharp as the ratsí below,

After dry bread, and no gateaux,

Water for soup that floats his guts along.

With no table or chair, heís lying low.

Will you leave him here, your poor old Villon?


Princes of note, old, new, donít fail:

Beg the kingís pardon for me, and seal,

And a basket to raise me, Iíll sit upon:

So pigs behave, to each other, they say,

When one pig squeals, all rush that way.

Will you leave him here, your poor old Villon?

 


LíEpitaphe Villon: Ballade Des Pendus

 

My brothers who live after us,

Donít harden you hearts against us too,

If you have mercy now on us,

God may have mercy upon you.

Five, six, you see us, hung out to view.

When the flesh that nourished us well

Is eaten piecemeal, ah, see it swell,

And we, the bones, are dust and gall,

Let no one make fun of our ill,

But pray that God absolves us all.

 

No need, if we cry out to you, brothers,

To show disdain, if weíre in suspense

For justiceís sake. How few of the others,

Are men equipped with common sense.

Pray for us, now beyond violence,

To the Son of the Virgin Mary,

So of grace to us sheís not chary,

Shields us from Hellís lightning fall.

Weíre dead: the souls let no man harry,

But pray that God absolves us all.

 

The rain has soaked us, washed us: skies

Of hot suns blacken us, scorch us: crows

And magpies have gouged out our eyes,

Plucked at our beards, and our eyebrows.

Thereís never a momentís rest allowed:

Now here, now there, the changing breeze

Swings us, as it wishes, ceaselessly,

Beaks pricking us more than a cobblerís awl.

So donít you join our fraternity,

But pray that God absolves us all.


Prince Jesus, who has all sovereignty,

Preserve us from Hellís mastery.

Weíve no business down there at all.

Men, youíve no time for mockery.

But pray to God to absolve us all.

 


Index of First Lines

 

Tell me where, or in what country. 3

By chance, I heard the belle complain,5

This I give to my poor mother8

F alse beauty that costs me so dear,10

A t dawn of day, when the falcon shakes his wing,11

Death, I cry out at your harshness,12

Here there lies, and sleeps in the grave,13

Iím dying of thirst beside the fountain,14

Have pity now, have pity now on me,16

My brothers who live after us,18