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François Villon. Excerpt from Le Testament.
Translation (c) Garay and Jeay
Villon's poems, written in French, date from the late fifteenth century.
Death

         I know that the poor and the rich,
         The wise and the fools, priests and laity,
         Nobles, peasants, generous and mean,
         Small and great, and fair and ugly,
         Ladies with collars tucked up,
         -Whatever their position-
         Wearing finery and fancy headgear,
         Death seizes without any exception.

         Whether it is Paris or Helen who dies,
         Whoever dies, dies in such pain
         That he loses his breath;
         His bile bursts over his heart
         Then he sweats, God knows what sweat!
         And no one soothes his distress:
         Since he has no child, brother or sister
         Who would pledge to take his place?

         Death makes him shiver and turn pale,
         His nose grow hooked, his veins tighten,
         His neck swell up, his flesh slack off,
         His joints and sinews grow and stretch.
         Woman's body, so tender,
         Smooth, soft, so precious,
         Must you expect these ills?
         Yes, or go alive to the heavens.

Ballade
translation (c) Garay and Jeay

         Tell me where and in what land
         Are Flora the beautiful Roman,
         Archipiades or Thaïs,
         Who was her first cousin,
         Echo speaking back every sound
         Made on river or on pond,
         Who was fair beyond human beauty.

         But where are last year's snows?

         Where is the very wise Heloïse
         For whom Abélard was gelded
         And then became monk at Saint-Denis?
         For her love's sake he endured this.
         Similarly, where is the queen
         Who ordered that Buridan
         Be bagged and thrown into the Seine?
         But where are last year's snows?

         Queen Blanche, as white as lilies,
         Who used to sing with siren voice,
         Bertha flat-foot, Beatrice, Alice,
         Haremburgis who held Maine,
         And Jeanne, the brave Maid from Lorraine
         Burned by the English at Rouen ...
         Where are they, where, sovereign Virgin?
         But where are last year's snows?

         Prince, don't ask this week
         Nor all this year where they are,
         Lest I bring you back to this refrain:
         But where are last year's snows?

From Villon's Testament; a portrait of an old prostitute who is now a procuress.
Translation (c) Jeay and Garay

         It seems that I hear complain
         The belle who was an amouress,
         She wishes herself a young girl again
         And speaks in such a way:
         Ah! Old age treacherous and haughty,
         Why have you brought me down so soon?
         What keeps me, what, from hitting out
         And killing myself with a blow?

         You have robbed me of that great power
         That Beauty bestowed on me,
         Over clerks, merchants and clergy;
         For then there was not a man
         Who wouldn't have given me his goods,
         Whatever his regrets might be,
         If I had let him take
         What the whores refuse.

         I refused it to many a man,
         -Which was not very clever of me-
         To one I gave it generously.
         Even if I fooled the others.
         I loved him well, upon my soul!
         But he gave me only abuse
         And he loved not me, but mine.

         However much he brought me down,
         Trampled over me, I loved him still;
         Even if he'd dragged me on my back,
         If he'd told me to kiss him,
         I would have forgotten all my pains.
         The rascal, totally perverted,
         Embraced me ... Have I got a lot more plump?
         What's left to me? Shame and sin.

         Now he is dead, more than thirty years ago,
         And I remain, old, white-haired.
         When I think, sad wretch, of the good times,
         When I gaze at my naked self
         (What I once was, what I've become)
         And I see myself so very changed,
         Poor, dried-up, skinny, thin,
         I nearly go out of my mind.

         Where has that smooth forehead gone,
         Blond hair, these arching brows,
         Widely spaced eyes, that charming look
         In which I'd catch the most clever ones,
         That fine straight nose, not big nor small,
         Those well-shaped little ears,
         That jutting chin, bright shapely face,
         And those lovely crimson lips?

         Those pretty slender shoulders,
         Those long arms and those shapely hands,
         Little breasts, fleshy hips,
         High, well-formed and properly made
         To hold the lists in amorous matches,
         Those broad loins, that sweet thing
         Seated upon thick firm thighs,
         Within its little garden?

         The forehead wrinkled, grey hair,
         The eyebrows fallen, eyes faded
         Which used to cast looks and smiles
         By which many unlucky were ensnared,
         Hooked nose, from beauty far removed,
         Ears pendulous and hairy,
         The face pale, dead and its colour gone,
         Chin creased, lips reduced to skin.

         This is human beauty's end!
         The arms short and the hands deformed,
         The shoulders? Completely hunched;
         The bosom? Shrivelled up;
         Hips in the same state as the teats;
         The sweet thing? Pooh! And the thighs,
         Are thighs no more, but thighlets,
         Flecked with spots like sausages.

         So we regret the good times past
         Among ourselves, poor old idiots,
         Crouching down on our haunches,
         All curled up in a heap like balls,
         Near a little fire of hemp branches,
         Soon lit up, soon blown out ...
         And once we were so sweet!
         Such is the sad fate of many men and women.

 

 
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