François Villon

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François de Montcorbier or François Des Loges (c. 1431 – after January 5, 1463) was a French thief, murderer and poet, known to history by the name he adopted, François Villon. His intensely personal poems both celebrate and bitterly deplore his own criminal life in the underclass of late-medieval Paris.



English quotations are, unless otherwise stated, taken from the translations by Anthony Bonner: The Complete Works of François Villon (New York: Bantam Books, 1960)

  • Prince, je congnois tout en somme,
    Je congnois coulourez et blesmes,
    Je congnois Mort qui tout consomme,
    Je congnois tout, fors que moy mesmes.
    • Prince, I know all, in short,
      I know pink cheeks from wan,
      I know Death all-devouring,
      I know all, save myself.
    • "Ballade des Menus Propos (Ballade of Small Talk)", line 25. (1458).
  • Freres humains qui après nous vivez,
    N'avez les cuers contre nous endurcis.
    • Brother men who after us live on,
      Harden not your hearts against us.
    • "L'Epitaphe Villon (Villon's Epitaph)", or "Ballade des Pendus (Ballade of the Hanged)", line 1. (1463).

Le Grand Testament (The Great Testament) (1461)


This, Villon's magnum opus, includes a number of shorter poems. The line-numbering used here is continuous through Le Grand Testament.

  • Bien est verté que j'ay amé
    Et ameroie voulentiers;
    Mais triste cuer, ventre affamé
    Qui n'est rassasié au tiers
    M'oste des amoureux sentiers.
    Au fort, quelqu'ung s'en recompence,
    Qui est ramply sur les chantiers!
    Car la dance vient de la pance.
    • It's true that I have loved,
      And gladly would again;
      But sad heart, and famished belly
      Not even partly satisfied
      Force me away from paths of love.
      And so, let someone else take over
      Who has tucked away more food –
      Dancing is for men of nobler girth.
    • Line 193.
  • Mes jours s'en sont allez errant.
    • My days are quickly spent.
    • Alternative translation: My days are gone a-wandering.
    • Line 217.
  • Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?
    • But where are the snows of bygone years?
    • Alternative translation: But where are the snows of yesteryear?
    • Line 336; "Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis (Ballade of the Ladies of Bygone Times)".
  • "De chiens, d'oyseaulx, d'armes, d'amous,"
    Chascun le dit a la vollee,
    "Pour une joye cent doulours."
    • "In riding to the hounds, in falconry,
      In love or war," as anyone will tell you,
      "For one brief joy a hundred woes."
    • Line 622.
  • Folles amours font le gens bestes:
    Salmon en ydolatria,
    Samson en perdit ses lunettes.
    Bien est eureux qui riens n'y a!
    • Foolish love makes beasts of men:
      It once caused Solomon to worship idols,
      And Samson to lose his eyes.
      That man is lucky who has nothing.
    • Line 629; "Double Ballade".
  • En ceste foy je vueil vivre et mourir.
    • In this faith I wish to live and die.
    • Line 882; "Ballade pour Prier Nostre Dame (Ballade as a Prayer to Our Lady)".
  • Deux estions et n’avions qu'ung cuer.
    • We were two, but only had one heart.
    • Alternative translation: We were two and had but one heart between us.
    • Line 986; "Lay".
  • Mais, quoy que soit du laboureux mestier,
    Il n'est tresor que de vivre a son aise.
    • But whatever may be said about the life of work,
      There is no treasure quite like living at one's ease.
    • Line 1501; "Ballade: Les Contrediz de Franc Gontier (Ballade: Franc Gontier Refuted)".
  • Prince, aux dames Parisiennes
    De beau parler donnez le pris;
    Quoy qu'on die d'Italiennes,
    Il n'est bon bec que de Paris.
    • Prince, give the prize for chatter
      To Parisian women; whatever
      May be said about Italians,
      There is no tongue like one from Paris.
    • Line 1539; "Ballade des Femmes de Paris (Ballade of the Women of Paris)".
  • Vente, gresle, gelle, j'ay mon pain cuit.
    Ie suis paillart, la paillarde me suit.
    Lequel vault mieulx? Chascun bien s'entresuit.
    L'ung vault l'autre; c'est a mau rat mau chat.
    Ordure amons, ordure nous assuit;
    Nous deffuyons onneur, il nous deffuit,
    En ce bordeau ou tenons nostre estat.
    • Through wind, hail or frost my living's made.
      I am a lecher, and she's a lecher with me.
      Which one of us is better? We're both alike:
      The one as worthy as the other. Bad rat, bad cat.
      We both love filth, and filth pursues us;
      We flee from honor, honor flees from us,
      In this brothel where we ply our trade.
    • Line 1621; "Ballade de la Grosse Margot (Ballade for Fat Margot)".

Quotes about Villon

  • The Large Testament is a hurly-burly of cynical and sentimental reflections about life, jesting legacies to friends and enemies, and, interspersed among these many admirable ballades, both serious and absurd. With so free a design, no thought that occurred to him would need to be dismissed without expression; and he could draw at full length the portrait of his own bedevilled soul, and of the bleak and blackguardly world which was the theatre of his exploits and sufferings. If the reader can conceive something between the slap-dash inconsequence of Byron's Don Juan and the racy humorous gravity and brief noble touches that distinguish the vernacular poems of Burns, he will have formed some idea of Villon's style. To the latter writer – except in the ballades, which are quite his own, and can be paralleled from no other language known to me – he bears a particular resemblance.
  • Villon, our sad bad glad mad brother's name.
  • There has been no greater artist in French verse, as there has been no greater poet; and the main part of the history of poetry in France is the record of a long forgetting of all that Villon found out for himself.
    • Arthur Symons Figures of Several Centuries (London: Constable, 1916) p. 40.
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