Ballade of the Hanged
Brother men who come after us live on,
harden not your hearts against us,
for if you have some pity on us poor men,
the sooner God will show you mercy.
You see us, five, six, strung up here:
as for our flesh, which we have fed too well,
already it has been devoured and is rotten,
and we the bones, now turn to dust and ashes.
If we dare call you brothers, you should not
be scornful, even though we have been killed
by Justice. All the same, you know
that not all men are wise and strong;
commend us, now that we are dead,
to Jesus, Son of Virgin Mary,
that His grace’s source shall not dry up for us,
and that He keeps us from thunderbolts of Hell.
We now are dead-let no one harry us,
but pray to God that He absolve us all.
The rain has washed and cleansed us,
and the sun dried and blackened us;
magpies and crows have hollowed out our eyes
and torn away our beards and eyebrows.
Never, never are we at rest,
but driven back and forth
by the wind, changing at its pleasure, we,
more pecked by birds than a tailor’s thimble.
Be not of such a brotherhood as ours,
but pray to God that He absolves us all.
Prince Jesus, master of us all,
let Hell not hold us in its sway;
we would have no debts or business there.
Men, here there is no joking,
but pray to God that He absolves us all. (tr.Anthony BonnerBantam classic,1969)
For scholars who wanted to know more of this poet in 1870 police records of the period came as a help. That he was a first rate poet there is no doubt. There are no more than three thousand lines to the whole body of his verse but a single line of it alone would suffice to his genius.
Mais ou sont les nieges d’antan?’
encapsulates in a line so deftly phrased the profundity of the ages.( William Carlos Williams). It is not in the snow freshly fallen, or the slush it has become but in the fresh virginal snow all those snow in the past is represented. The transience of human life and memory his line seems to challenge. François Villon was in and out of scrapes and a couple of times came, almost under the shadow of a gibbet. After his last encounter with death on Jan. 5,1463 he was banished from Paris ‘in view of his bad character.’ The Provost’s sentence was overturned by Parliament and nothing more is known of his subsequent life in exile. How he came to his end we shall probably never know.
Trivia: he was born in the year Jeanne d’arc was burnt at the stake.