Francois Villon, some poetry and notes

From:  The poems of Francois Villon   (Translations) by Edward F Chaney.
This book was a private printing (1940) on behalf of the author and sold by B H Blackwell, Oxford.  (Chaney was Head Master of Manchester Central High School at time.   Notes say this was the sixth in a proposed set of eight titles but others may well be pamphlets rather than full textbooks.

Format: poem in French on left hand page, translation in prose opposite.  I have put lines into poem format though translation means lines are more varied in length than original and there are no rhyme endings.   Many books are currently available of Villon’s poetry.
The bulk of Villon can be found as ‘The Testament’, some 2023 lines.  Below are the first 32 lines only, followed by the last 28.

The Testament

I write this in my thirtieth year,
When I had drunk my cup of shame to the lees.
I am not quite mad, nor yet quite sane
In spite of the many pains experienced,
All of which I have received at the hands of Thibault d’Aussigny.
He may be a bishop and give blessings in the streets,
But I will not have him for mine!

He is not my lord nor yet my bishop;
I hold nothing from him but what lies fallow;
I owe him neither fealty nor homage and I am not his serf.
For a whole summer he fed me on a small loaf and cold water.
Liberal or not, he was very stingy towards me;
May God treat him as he treated me!

And if anyone desired to reprove me
By saying that I am cursing him, I am not.
If anyone can understand me aright,
I do not curse him at all.
This is all the evil I speak of him:
If he has been merciful to me,
May Jesus, the king of Paradise,
Be the same to his body and soul!

And if he was harsh and cruel to me,
Much more than I am telling here,
I wish that the eternal God treat him similarly!
But the Church tells and bids us to pray for our enemies!
So I will say to you: “I am wrong and sorry for it,
May whatever he did to me be remitted to God!”


The final lines:       Another Ballad

Here ends and finishes poor Villon’s will.
Come to his funeral
When you hear the bell tolling,
Dressed in bright red
For he died Love’s martyr.
This he swore to when about to quit his life.

I feel sure he does not lie
For he was scornfully dismissed
Like a scullion by his lady-love;
So that from here to Roussillon
There isn’t a bush or a shrub
Says he quite truly
But got a tatter from his skirts
When about to quit this life.

So it is that when he died
He had nought but rags;
Moreover, while he was a-dying,
Love’s dart was painfully stabbing him.
It made him feel it more sharply
Than the tongue of a shoulder-strap,
(That is something to marvel at!)
When he is about to quit this life.

Prince, noble as a hawk,
Know what he di at the end;
He drank a draught of red Morillon.
When about to quit his life.

Born c1431…..last date known 1464
Born in a poor family, father unknown, he was accepted as a pupil of Guillaume de Villon, a canon of St Benot and later went to University (Paris) where he probably adopted the name Villon.  Some dates and activities are known but he was mostly involved in assorted thievery, roguery and debauchery (with University peers) quite soon into his University years and afterwards, where his records are mostly judicial.  Condemned to hang after a brawl and stabbing a priest (Sermoise) but amended to being exiled out of Paris instead.  Later, another exile from Paris for crimes (and return to) and eventual demise in an unknown place or way.

However, his poetry survived and was published after his death, becoming well known throughout France.  (Apparently no original manuscript survives, seems to have been collected and scribed by close friends and collectors).  Next, the natural decline as tastes changed and some years of neglect.  Despite the centuries passing Villon was and is now recognised as a great French poet from the medieval period.  Its quality is retained even in translation, obviously dependent on the quality of translation.  Knowing a little of the poets life and imagining more through the description and subjects of his poetry you can glimpse the complexity of the man and the richness of his emotion and thought.  Whether he was a man of his time who could not escape his heritage or deliberately ran against the ‘intellectual’ class he could have risen into we cant really tell. ( Not me anyway from my limited knowledge).   Maybe he railed against the Paris under its rules versus the freedom and poverty of his early childhood.  Or a failed love affair which seems to run throughout much of his work?  Or always bright and always wild?  It seems the ‘underworld’ held sway.  His life can be seen as a brief rise due to influential/religious patronage and his own intellect followed by a spiral of decline caused by rejection and his own weaknesses. Rejection? of church?, law?, but perhaps overwhelmingly of love.  Possibly such rejection caused him to refuse all else that held him and society together.  Was he just self-obsessed, somewhat paranoid?
No matter, as a French poet he remains a significant figure.

His poetry has depth and meanings that can sway you as you read.  Chiding, joking, lampooning and lamenting or angry, his words can point like Damacle’s sword at himself as much as his target.  All life is there, literally and vividly portrayed.

My thanks to this book as it offers original French with English prose translation and as a small bonus it has some additional notation by a student, which sort of puts it back to the beginning.

My first contact with Villon?  As a student in 1965 I was in a school production of  ‘The Other Heart’ by James Forsyth.  We had to use uncorrected proofs of the play (first performances at the Old Vic in 1952).  I was told later it was the first amateur performance but that is unconfirmed.  Me, I played the priest, Sermoise, who was knifed in a brawl and died (One  account of the time says the priest was injured but recovered and eventually forgave Villon!).   This event caused Villon’s first exile from Paris.

Villon, he was who he was, and a lasting poet.  Two more poems below, and a book of the period I have ordered to be placed in line for reading:   Three poems, or four if you take the lines above from ‘The Testament’ as two poems…….

Swinburne wrote a poem to Villon, see it in Tag.


Take pity, friends,
Please take pity on me at the very least!
In dungeon I lie, and not beneath holly or may,
In that exile to which Fortune has sent me – by God’s will.
All you girls, lovers, young folk and novices,
Dancers and tumblers with ungainly tricks,
Quick as dart, sharp as goad,
With throat sounding clear as bell,
Will you leave poor Villon thus?

Ye singers, singing as you like and without rule,
Roysterers, laughers, merry in word and deed,
Going to and fro all destitute of money,
Ye witty, feather-brained folk are all tarrying too long
For in the meantime he is dying.
Ye makers of lays, motets and rondeaux,
You will want to feed him up when he is dead!
Neither whirlwind nor lightning reaches his lair:
Thick walls shield his eyes.
Will you leave poor Villon thus?

Come and see him in this piteous plight,
Ye noble men free from tithes and fourths
Who hold your domains neither from king nor emperor
But from the God of Paradise alone.
For he has to fast Sundays and Tuesdays
As well his teeth are longer than a rake’s.
After dry bread. – not after cakes! – he swills his guts with water.
Deep down in earth he has neither table nor boards (to lie on).
Will you leave poor Villon thus?

Ye princes that I have named, young and old,
Pray get pardon with royal seal for me
And hoist me up in some basket.
Pigs do this much for each other
For, when one squeals the others swarm after.
Will you leave poor Villon thus?
The sorrows of the beautiful Armouress
(Les Regrets De La Belle Heaulmiere)

Methought I heard the lament
Of the Armouress who once was lovely.
She was wishing herself a girl again
And spoke in this wise!
‘Oh, age, so cruel and overbearing,
Why hast thou brought me low so soon?
What is to prevent me from striking and killing myself at once?
‘Thou hast robbed me of the haughty power
That my beauty ordained
Over scholars, merchants and churchmen:
For then there was no man born
But would have given me all he had –
Whatever might have been his repentance afterwards –
If I had only granted him what beggars would refuse today.

‘I refused it to many men,
Which was not very wise of me,
All for love of a sly fellow to whom I gave it utterly.
However much I cheated others, upon my soul!
I loved him well. But he did nothing but ill-treat me
And only loved me for my money.

‘However much he knocked me about
And trod me underfoot, I loved him still.
Even if he had dragged me about (by the hair)
He had but to bid me kiss him
And straightway I forgot all my ills.
This good-for-nothing miscreant had me in his arms
………..Little good has it done me!
What is left behind? Shame and sin.

‘He died thirty years agone but I am left behind,
Old and white-haired.
When I think, alas! Of the good old days
And consider what I was and what I am now;
And when I look at my naked body
And see myself so much altered,
So poor, so shrivelled, so spare, so lean,
I am nearly beside myself with rage.

‘What has become of that smooth brow,
Fair hair, arched eyebrows, nicely distanced eyes,
That pretty glance with which I caught the sharpest of men,
That beautifully shaped nose,
Those dainty little ears, noble chin, clear shapely face
And beautiful pink lips?

Those dainty little shoulders,
Tapering arms and shapely hands,
Little breasts and comely well-covered thighs,
Well fitted for playing love’s game.
Those wide hips, that queynte, set in its little garden
On big, firm thighs.

‘Grey hair and wrinkled brow,
Eyebrows gone and those dull eyes
That used to send forth smiling looks
By which many a merchant was caught.
Nose no longer straight and far from beautiful,
Ears loose and hairy, face pale,
Colourless and no longer lively,
Wrinkled chin and skinny lips.

‘And this is the fate of human beauty!
Squat arms and wrinkled hands,
Quite round-shouldered,
Breasts all shrivelled up, hips the same,
The queynte, foh! As for the thighs,
They are no longer thighs but thighlets
Speckled like sausages!

‘Thus we regret the good old times
Among ourselves, poor, foolish old women,
Squatting down, all huddled up into a ball,
At a little hemp-twig fire,
So soon lighted and so soon burnt out;
And formerly we were so dainty!
Such is the fate of many a man and woman’


macbre poets         Danse Macabre;    Francois Villon                                      Poetry and Murder in Medieval Paris

hardback: 224 pages
Publisher: Sutton Publishing Ltd;   illustrated edition       (20 Jan. 2000)
ISBN-13: 978-0750921770         by Aubrey Burel

Blurb from book:     Francois Villon (1431-?1465) is one of the great enigmas of French medieval history: a lyric poet of beauty and depth, he was also a murderer, pimp, thief and denizen of the underworld of 15th-century Paris. This study places Villon in the context of medieval France from the death of Joan of Arc, describing the appalling condition of the country during the Hundred Years War, the time when Gilles de Rais – the original Bluebeard – was practicing his diabolical craft of child abuse and alchemy. Born into a peasant family, Villon was adopted by Canon Guillaume Villon and sent to university. The book describes a riotous and debauched student life in medieval Paris and Villon’s first steps on a life of crime when he was publicly flogged for writing a scurrilous ballade and later involved in a scuffle which ended with his killing a priest. The rest of his short life was a round of arrests, imprisonment and torture, which is contrasted with his time at the court of Charles, Duc d’Orleans at Blois, one of the most magnificent French chateaux and one of the most civilized and artistic courts in Europe. He was finally implicated in a killing of which he was probably innocent, repreived by Louis XI in a general amnesty designed to restore Paris’ dwindling population but disappeared in the winter of 1463, never to be seen again.


Algernon Charles Swinburne: Selections from Poetical Works

Selections from the Poetical Works
Algernon Charles Swinburne

Pub. Chatto & Windus, 3rd edition, 1889

swinnpic1837 -1909

Well, this is no review of the book, more brief comment on the poetry it contains, this particular book being 125 years old and o.p.

I have to admit to it being my first rush into his writings and as the collection is so old I almost hope there must be many other poems, short or long that create a better overall impression.

There is no named editor for the selection so maybe from the most popular of the day or Swinburne’s own choice, maybe his friend Theodore Watts.  From the work here you would assume that his favourite pastime was living on the coast and spending much time collating verbs, adverbs and adjectives that would slide gratefully into seemingly endless ABAB; blank versed and sea-soaked with a bit of limited descriptive nature thrown in, poetry.  I like Tennyson, Chaucer and Milton and rolling description etc. but I fear, for me, Swinburne has over-egged a rather samey pudding.  I must admit that I partially exaggerate (?) as the ballad formats do work but then I get overwhelmed by the existence of just so much.

Full marks for maintaining levels of rhythm and rhyme that would trip all but the best. However, a reader of today ( well, me) would be thankful for greater variation in subjects and formats and perhaps a little lightness of touch in a few poems.  Comments are based on this, limited, content.  I am aware that he was part of the pre-raphaelite movement and wrote large amounts over many years and covered/experimented with different poetical genres.  He was extremely successful in his early years of writing, having public acclaim and disapproval in equal measure for pushing the subjective boundaries of the day.   I get the impression that he liked long poems, alliteration, repetition and verbiage, death and the darker elements of love.  Large quantities of which seem to both over-egg and dissipate the basic themes or direction of most if his poems despite great skill with words that facilitated his rhyming.  Below are a couple of his shorter poems that benefit (in my eyes) from being more succinct.  His later poetry could be considered calmer but maybe missing the sheer exuberance (desperation?) of his Ballads and early work.

Scattered throughout his poetry are some fine lines and ideas but for me they are lost in excess.  I am not sure whether I can’t see the wood for the trees or I am trapped in a thicket and can’t escape!   Swinburne surely wrote for effect, maybe to shock, and was talented in that respect but from this selected collection his themes are limited.  If we knew the selector of the verses we might have a partial answer.  His earlier verses produced public outrage, this collection has nothing dated so no clue gained there.

Some 39 poems (including several chunky extracts from his epics) and I found few that stood out as memorable for me.  I liked the idea behind ‘The Sunbows‘ but got, well, disinterested, I suppose, by the time I got to the end.  My failure may be as a ‘modern’ reader who has spent too much time on more concise poems, but I am not wholly convinced by that thought.  I suppose I should find a recently selected collection rather than one that is one hundred and twenty five years old.  However I would read it in hope rather than expectation of finding much to savour.

I did quite like ‘A Forsaken Garden‘ and also ‘A Child’s Laughter‘ but they were a respite to the length of most others.  One or two ‘Cradle Songs‘ nearly got there but the stand-alone poem was ‘Iseult at Tintagel(from Tristram of Lyonesse) which I found very interesting in subject and handling though still suffering from Swinburne’s usual overflow. Maybe I have just forgotten how to read and appreciate Ballads and Epic poetry.

I have found some shorter Swinburne poems that I prefer.  He was fond of  ‘Rondel’, a form he took from the French and a sample is shown below. The few I have found I like more.  If you to look at his poetry more widely he did break ‘new ground’ in content for the period and suffered disapproval in many quarters for it.  Swinburne was part of the pre-raphaelite movement and maybe Christina Rosetti might be a stand-in for a muse (?) but skimming over his life offers only more questions and I don’t feel inclined to search out any serious biographies, sorry!  He has gained more respect again in recent years as his subjects suffer less criticism and appreciation of his metrical innovation has been noted, perhaps despite his facility for excess and using old, excessively coloured wrappers!  But this specific collection has not gained me as a friend or regular reader.  I will have to take the advice of others before I venture much further with Algernon Charles Swinburne.
The other side of my coin might be that I am just feeling too old to read many epics or ballads of epic length when there is a welter of other poetry in various formats out there, neglected or otherwise.
0What’s that?  Kid in a candy store?  Yes, I have dipped in this bag and found it not really to my liking so will have to try another dip.                                 See also Useful links Tag


A Forsaken Garden
In a coign of the cliff between lowland and highland,
At the sea-down’s edge between windward and lee,
Walled round with rocks as an inland island,
The ghost of a garden fronts the sea.
A girdle of brushwood and thorn encloses
The steep square slope of the blossomless bed
Where the weeds that grew green from the graves of its roses
Now lie dead.

The fields fall southward, abrupt and broken,
To the low last edge of the long lone land.
If a step should sound or a word be spoken,
Would a ghost not rise at the strange guest’s hand?
So long have the grey bare walks lain guestless,
Through branches and briars if a man make way,
He shall find no life but the sea-wind’s, restless
Night and day.

The dense hard passage is blind and stifled
That crawls by a track none turn to climb
To the strait waste place that the years have rifled
Of all but the thorns that are touched not of time.
The thorns he spares when the rose is taken;
The rocks are left when he wastes the plain.
The wind that wanders, the weeds wind-shaken,
These remain.

Not a flower to be pressed of the foot that falls not;
As the heart of a dead man the seed-plots are dry;
From the thicket of thorns whence the nightingale calls not,
Could she call, there were never a rose to reply.
Over the meadows that blossom and wither
Rings but the note of a sea-bird’s song;
Only the sun and the rain come hither
All year long.

The sun burns sere and the rain dishevels
One gaunt bleak blossom of scentless breath.
Only the wind here hovers and revels
In a round where life seems barren as death.
Here there was laughing of old, there was weeping,
Haply, of lovers none ever will know,
Whose eyes went seaward a hundred sleeping
Years ago.

Heart handfast in heart as they stood, “Look thither,”
Did he whisper? “look forth from the flowers to the sea;
For the foam-flowers endure when the rose-blossoms wither,
And men that love lightly may die—but we?”
And the same wind sang and the same waves whitened,
And or ever the garden’s last petals were shed,
In the lips that had whispered, the eyes that had lightened,
Love was dead.

Or they loved their life through, and then went whither?
And were one to the endÑbut what end who knows?
Love deep as the sea as a rose must wither,
As the rose-red seaweed that mocks the rose.
Shall the dead take thought for the dead to love them ?
What love was ever as deep as a grave ?
They are loveless now as the grass above them
Or the wave.

All are at one now, roses and lovers,
Not known of the cliffs and the fields and the sea.
Not a breath of the time that has been hovers
In the air now soft with a summer to be.
Not a breath shall there sweeten the seasons hereafter
Of the flowers or the lovers that laugh now or weep,
When as they that are free now of weeping and laughter
We shall sleep.

Here death may deal not again for ever;
Here change may come not till all change end.
From the graves they have made they shall rise up never,
Who have left nought living to ravage and rend.
Earth, stones, and thorns of the wild ground growing,
While the sun and the rain live, these shall be;
Till a last wind’s breath upon all these blowing
Roll the sea.

Till the slow sea rise and the sheer cliff crumble,
Till terrace and meadow the deep gulfs drink,
Till the strength of the waves of the high tides humble
The fields that lessen, the rocks that shrink,
Here now in his triumph where all things falter,
Stretched out on the spoils that his own hand spread,
As a god self-slain on his own strange altar,
Death lies dead.


These many years since we began to be,
What have the gods done with us? what with me,
What with my love? they have shown me fates and fears,
Harsh springs, and fountains bitterer than the sea,
Grief a fixed star, and joy a vane that veers,
These many years.

With her, my love, with her have they done well?
But who shall answer for her? who shall tell
Sweet things or sad, such things as no man hears?
May no tears fall, if no tears ever fell,
From eyes more dear to me than starriest spheres
These many years!

But if tears ever touched, for any grief,
Those eyelids folded like a white-rose leaf,
Deep double shells wherethrough the eye-flower peers,
Let them weep once more only, sweet and brief,
Brief tears and bright, for one who gave her tears
These many years.

Three Poems by Algernon Charles Swinburne

A Ballad Of François Villon, Prince Of All Ballad-Makers

Bird of the bitter bright grey golden morn
Scarce risen upon the dusk of dolorous years,
First of us all and sweetest singer born
Whose far shrill note the world of new men hears
Cleave the cold shuddering shade as twilight clears;
When song new-born put off the old world’s attire
And felt its tune on her changed lips expire,
Writ foremost on the roll of them that came
Fresh girt for service of the latter lyre,
Villon, our sad bad glad mad brother’s name!
Alas the joy, the sorrow, and the scorn,
That clothed thy life with hopes and sins and fears,
And gave thee stones for bread and tares for corn
And plume-plucked gaol-birds for thy starveling peers
Till death clipt close their flight with shameful shears;
Till shifts came short and loves were hard to hire,
When lilt of song nor twitch of twangling wire
Could buy thee bread or kisses; when light fame
Spurned like a ball and haled through brake and briar,
Villon, our sad bad glad mad brother’s name!
Poor splendid wings so frayed and soiled and torn!
Poor kind wild eyes so dashed with light quick tears!
Poor perfect voice, most blithe when most forlorn,
That rings athwart the sea whence no man steers
Like joy-bells crossed with death-bells in our ears!
What far delight has cooled the fierce desire
That like some ravenous bird was strong to tire
On that frail flesh and soul consumed with flame,
But left more sweet than roses to respire,
Villon, our sad bad glad mad brother’s name?
Prince of sweet songs made out of tears and fire,
A harlot was thy nurse, a God thy sire;
Shame soiled thy song, and song assoiled thy shame.
But from thy feet now death has washed the mire,
Love reads out first at head of all our quire,
Villon, our sad bad glad mad brother’s name.

Lying asleep between the strokes of night
I saw my love lean over my sad bed,
Pale as the duskiest lily’s leaf or head,
Smooth-skinned and dark, with bare throat made to bite,
Too wan for blushing and too warm for white,
But perfect-coloured without white or red.
And her lips opened amorously, and said—
I wist not what, saving one word—Delight.
And all her face was honey to my mouth,
And all her body pasture to mine eyes;
The long lithe arms and hotter hands than fire,
The quivering flanks, hair smelling of the south,
The bright light feet, the splendid supple thighs
And glittering eyelids of my soul’s desire.


A Cameo
There was a graven image of Desire
Painted with red blood on a ground of gold
Passing between the young men and the old,
And by him Pain, whose body shone like fire,
And Pleasure with gaunt hands that grasped their hire.
Of his left wrist, with fingers clenched and cold,
The insatiable Satiety kept hold,
Walking with feet unshod that pashed the mire.
The senses and the sorrows and the sins,
And the strange loves that suck the breasts of Hate
Till lips and teeth bite in their sharp indenture,
Followed like beasts with flap of wings and fins.
Death stood aloof behind a gaping grate,
Upon whose lock was written Peradventure.