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Thursday, 16 May 2013

POET OF THE MONTH #5: François Villon

FRANÇOIS VILLON 
(from a 1489 woodcut illustration)



BALLADE


I know flies in milk
I know the man by his clothes
I know fair weather from foul
I know the apple by the tree
I know the tree when I see the sap
I know when all is one
I know who labors and who loafs
I know everything but myself.

I know the coat by the collar
I know the monk by his cowl
I know the master by the servant
I know the nun by the veil
I know when a hustler rattles on
I know fools raised on whipped cream
I know the wine by the barrel
I know everything but myself.

I know the horse by the mule
I know their loads and their limits
I know Beatrice and Belle
I know the beads that count and add
I know nightmare and sleep
I know the Bohemians' error
I know the power of Rome
I know everything but myself.

Prince I know all things
I know the rosy-cheeked and the pale
I know Death who devours all
I know everything but myself. 

                                                             

(Precise date unknown, possibly c. 1460) 

Translated by GALWAY KINNELL (1977)
See below for original version in Old French     

                                                                                                   



The Poet:  The life of François Villon – the possible pseudonym of a student, poet and convicted murderer and thief born as either François de Montcorbier or François des Loges –– is the stuff of poetic legend.  Born in or around 1431 in Paris, Villon next surfaced as a student of that city's university, graduating from it with a master's degree in 1452.  Three years later he was involved in a street brawl –– in which a girlfriend, a fellow university graduate and two Catholic priests named Gilles and Sermaise were also involved that resulted in the latter's death from the combination of stab wounds and a fatal blow to the head allegedly administered by a stone.  

For the part he played in the death of Sermaise, Villon was banished from the city (a much bigger deal in the Middle Ages than it sounds, when to be banished was also to be rendered stateless) and forbidden to return until 1456, when he received a full pardon from the French King, Charles VII.  Before the year was over Villon was in trouble with the law again – this time for stealing five hundred gold crowns from the chapel of the Collège de Navarre.  The theft wasn't discovered until March 1457, by which time Villon had long since fled the capital and was wandering the French countryside, possibly helping to commit burglaries as a member of a gang of thieves which also included his friends Regnier de Montigny and Colin des Cayeux.  

By 1461 the poet was serving a prison term in the town of Meung-sur-Loire for an unknown crime.  It was here that he composed what would become his most famous poem, an autobiographical work titled Le Grand Testament which describes his life, his crimes and the various punishments (and regrets) he endured as a result of them.  He was released in October 1461 when Louis XI ascended the French throne and was back in Paris the following autumn, serving yet another prison sentence for theft.  He was granted bail and released, only to find himself almost immediately re-arrested for fighting in the streets.  This time he was sentenced to hang and surely would have done so had his sentence not been commuted to banishment.  He left Paris on or just after 5 January 1643 and was never heard from anywhere again.   



Click HERE to read and download more translated poetry by FRANÇOIS VILLON, including what some scholars consider to be his final and most characteristic poem Epitaphe de Villon: Ballade des Pendus [Villon's Epitaph: Ballad for Those About To Be Hung].


You might also enjoy:
POET OF THE MONTH #1: Sir Walter Ralegh 
POET OF THE MONTH #2: Marianne Moore 
POET OF THE MONTH #3: Wislawa Szymborska





BALLADE

Je congnois bien mouches en let
Je congnois a la robe l'homme
Je congnois au pommier la pomme
Je congnois l'arbre a veoir la gomme
Je congnois quant tout est de mesmes
Je congnois qui besogne ou chomme
Je congnois tout fors que moy mesmes.

Je congnois pourpoint au colet
Je congnois le moyne a la gonne
Je congnois le maistre au varlet
Je congnois au voille la nonne
Je congnois quant pipeur jargonne
Je congnois fols nourris de cresmes
Je congnois le vin a la tonne
Je congnois tout fors que moy mesmes. 

Je congnois cheval et mulet
Je congnois leur charge et leur somme
Je congnois Bietris et Belet
Je congnois get qui nombre et somme
Je congnois vision et somme
Je congnois le faulte des Boesmes
Je congnois le povoir de Romme
Je congnois tout fors que moy mesmes.

Prince, je congnois tout en somme
Je congnois colourez et blesmes
Je congnois Mort quit tout consomme
Je congnois tout fors que moy mesmes. 

(c. 1460)  
                      
 

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