Monday, September 25, 2017

François Villon

François Villon (1431—1463) is a French poet — the best known of the middle ages — who was also a thief, a brawler, and a murderer. His most famous work is The Testament (1461) which he wrote while imprisoned for some unknown crime. He was familiar enough with Christian concepts to write the following (rather tongue-in-cheek) lines about the Bishop whose prison he was in,

-------But since the Church says we should pray
-------For those who hate us, I am leaving
-------To Him who said, "I shall repay,"
-------The last, eternal reckoning.
It is true that Villon often expresses regrets for his wasted life, and repents of his sins, but his repentance doesn't appear to bring any change in his behaviour.

Was he ever able to embrace Christian discipline, to truly turn and follow God? His circumstances at the time of the following poem suggests, he hadn't yet, but perhaps this was that moment. I pray to the God who exists outside of time that Villon may have truly found salvation.

His work has been translated by many, including Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Richard Wilbur, although the translator of the following poem is unknown. "Ballad of the Gibbet" is an epitaph for himself and those with him, who expected they were about to be hanged. It is believed to have been written in late 1462, when Villon was in the Châtelet prison under sentence of death.

Ballad of the Gibbet

Brothers and men that shall after us be,
Let not your hearts be hard to us:
For pitying this our misery
Ye shall find God the more piteous.
Look on us six that are hanging thus,
And for the flesh that so much we cherished
How it is eaten of birds and perished,
And ashes and dust fill our bones' place,
Mock not at us that so feeble be,
But pray God pardon us out of His grace.

Listen, we pray you, and look not in scorn,
Though justly, in sooth, we are cast to die;
Ye wot no man so wise is born
That keeps his wisdom constantly.
Be ye then merciful, and cry
To Mary's Son that is piteous,
That His mercy take no stain from us,
Saving us out of the fiery place.
We are but dead, let no soul deny
To pray God succour us of His grace.

The rain out of heaven has washed us clean,
The sun has scorched us black and bare,
Ravens and rooks have pecked at our eyne,
And feathered their nests with our beards and hair.
Round are we tossed, and here and there,
This way and that, at the wild wind's will,
Never a moment my body is still;
Birds they are busy about my face.
Live not as we, nor fare as we fare;
Pray God pardon us out of His grace.


Prince Jesus, Master of all, to thee
We pray Hell gain no mastery,
That we come never anear that place;
And ye men, make no mockery,
Pray God pardon us out of His grace.

This post was suggested by my friend Burl Horniachek.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.