Car ou soies porteur de bulles,

Francois Villon was a great poet but also a notorious low-life character who got up to all sorts of crime and mischief. He certainly spent time in prison on several occasions and might have ended up being hanged, although I don’t think anyone is really sure about that. By the title, this ballad purports to be trying to give moral guidance to those on the wrong side of the law, although in practice, it seem to be more of a chronicle of the different types of petty crime that must have been common in a mediaeval city, at least in the first two stanzas
Ballade De bonne doctrine a ceux de mauvaise vie.
François Villon (1431–?)

CAR ou soies porteur de bulles,

Pipeur ou hasardeur de dez,

Tailleur de faulx coings, tu te brusles,

Comme ceulx qui sont eschaudez,

Traistres parjurs, de foy vuydez;

Soies larron, ravis ou pilles:

Où en va l’acquest, que cuidez?

Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.
Ryme, raille, cymballe, luttes,

Comme fol, fainctif, eshontez;

Farce, broulle, joue des fleustes;

Fais, es villes et es citez,

Farces, jeux et moralitez;

Gaigne au berlanc, au glic, aux quilles.

Aussi bien va—or escoutez—

Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.
De telz ordures te reculles;

Laboure, fauche champs et prez;

Sers et pense chevaulx et mulles;

S’aucunement tu n’es lettrez;

Assez auras, se prens en grez.

Mais se chanvre broyes ou tilles,

Ne tens ton labour qu’as ouvrez

Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.
Chausses, pourpoins esguilletez,

Robes, et toutes voz drappilles,

Ains que vous fassiez pis, portez

Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.

From <;

As implied, the first two stanzas are really a catalogue of petty crime – sellers of papal bulls, street musicians, dice players, counterfeiters, cheats at all sorts of games and pastimes. Although they risk burning in hell, according to a throw away allusion in the third line of the first stanza, in practice the only thing they care about is spending their winnings in the tavern and on the girls, as repeated at the end of each stanza and in the final section, the Envoi, which I think serves the purpose of summarising what has gone before and underlining the moral lesson of the poem.

The third stanza gives advice to the criminals and swindlers to change their ways and go and earn an honest living by working in the fields, caring for the horses and mules; and then abstain from spending their honest earnings on girls and in the taverns.

So, a taste of street life in the city in the fifteenth century. Not so different from today perhaps if you believe the gangster or mob movies that keep on popping up.

The Poetry Dude

A la entrada de un valle, en un desierto

Garcilaso de la Vega saw military service in North Africa in the 1530s, when he was present at the siege and capture of Tunis by the Spanish and Neapolitan forces. During this campaign it is quite possible that he saw a real scene, as depicted in this poem, of a dying dog in the desert. But of course, purely descriptive poetry was, I think, quite rare at this time, and so he uses the scene to build an allegory of absence and loss which generalises it to a universal experience. But I like this poem as much for the fact that it seems to be clearly based on something the poet personally witnessed, as for the more general meaning or for the elegance of the form and language.

A la entrada de un valle, en un desierto
do nadie atravesaba ni se vía,
vi que con extrañeza un can hacía
extremos de dolor con desconcierto:

ahora suelta el llanto al cielo abierto,
ora va rastreando por la vía:
camina, vuelve, para, y todavía
quedaba desmayado como muerto.

Y fue que se apartó de su presencia
su amo, y no lo hallaba, y eso siente:
mirad hasta dó llega el mal de ausencia.

Movióme a compasión ver su accidente;
díjele, lastimado: “Ten paciencia,
que yo alcanzo razón, y estoy ausente”.

From <;

The first two stanzas are an entirely visual description of a dog dying in the desert, howling, obviously in pain, dragging itself up and down the track and finally collapsing as if it were already dead. Note that Garcilaso chooses to use an archaic (or perhaps poetic?) word for dog, “can”, instead of the everyday word, “perro”.

The third stanza brings the poet into the picture from being a mere observer, to an interpreter, speculating that the dog has lost its master and has been brought to its pitiful state by the master’s absence or neglect. Very plausible, of course, in the case of a real dog.

The final stanza evokes the compassion of the poet as an onlooker and offers a shared experience of suffering through absence – in the dog’s case, absence of its master, in the poet’s case, probably absence from his homeland and loved ones, and, by implication, the universal experience of absence and loss. In this way, a particular episode is given broad significance, relevant to all, at all times. Thus, one of the functions of a fine poem is fulfilled.

The Poetry Dude

Listen again. One Evening at the Close

Today we return to the next section of Edward Fitzgerald’s 19th century translation of the Persian classic, the Rubai’Yat of Omar Khayyam, in my opinion a wonderful work in its own right despite, or perhaps because of not being an entirely faithful translation, according to those who know about such things. Poetry is notoriously difficult to translate and I generally avoid poetry in translation, but this successfully achieves the status of being a poem I can visit and re-visit without getting tired of it.

Today’s section goes from stanza 59 to stanza 66. For the previous sections see the sequence of posts on this site on September 29th 2014, October 18th 2014, November 8th 2014, December 12th 2014 and January 20th 2015. Following this post, one more should take us to the end of the piece.

This section is somewhat unusual in that it is the only part of the poem which has its own sub-title, “The Book of Pots”, and indeed the stanzas that follow all build on the metaphor of the potter and the pots in his shop. But the overall philosophies and thoughts expressed are very consistent with the themes of the rest of the poem.

KUZA-NAMA (“Book of Pots.”)

Listen again. One Evening at the Close
Of Ramazan, ere the better Moon arose,
In that old Potter’s Shop I stood alone
With the clay Population round in Rows.

And, strange to tell, among that Earthen Lot
Some could articulate, while others not:
And suddenly one more impatient cried—
“Who *is* the Potter, pray, and who the Pot?”


Then said another—“Surely not in vain
“My Substance from the common Earth was ta’en,
“That He who subtly wrought me into Shape
“Should stamp me back to common Earth again.”

Another said—“Why, ne’er a peevish Boy,
“Would break the Bowl from which he drank in Joy;
“Shall He that *made* the Vessel in pure Love
“And Fancy, in an after Rage destroy!”

None answer’d this; but after Silence spake
A Vessel of a more ungainly Make:
“They sneer at me for learning all awry;
“What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake?”

Said one—“Folk of a surly Tapster tell
“And daub his Visage with the Smoke of Hell;
“They talk of some strict Testing of us—Pish!
“He’s a Good Fellow, and ‘t will all be well.”


Then said another with a long-drawn Sigh,
“My Clay with long oblivion is gone dry:
“But, fill me with the old familiar Juice,
“Methinks I might recover by-and-bye!”

So while the Vessels one by one were speaking,
One spied the little Crescent all were seeking:
And then they jogg’d each other, “Brother! Brother!
“Hark to the Porter’s Shoulder-knot a-creaking!”

From <;

Stanza 59 sets the scene, with the poet standing in a potter’s shop one early evening near the end of Ramadan, with the light of the moon just beginning to shine. He is surrounded by shelves full of clay pots, made by the potter who owns the shop. This must have been a familiar setting in a Persian town or city, close to the bazaar.

Then, in the next stanza, the poet notices that some of the pots can speak, so he listens. All that follows in this section is a series of philosophical, existential, mystical, religious conundrums which a human might pose in relation to the meaning of life, the role of man and God, self-determination, free will, aging, why do imperfections exist and so on and so on. But here they are expressed by the pots, and the potter would be God or destiny.

It is perhaps a way of getting readers to think about these questions in a safe way, without challenging orthodox religious views or the general consensus with regard to humanity – these are only pots after all. It is perhaps significant that none of the questions are really answered, but posed as topics which are worthy of consideration by any thinking human (or pot with consciousness).

The final lines of stanza 66, bring us back to the fact that the potter is still busy making more pots – life and the human condition go on, irrespective of our puny efforts to make sense of it, and perhaps this is the real teaching here.

The Poetry Dude

Sur la côte du Texas

Today’s poem is quite a well-known piece by Guillaume Apollinaire, with a very personal inspiration, as it was written after he split up from one of his lover’s and she moved to the USA. The title “Annie” is the girl’s name.

Guillaume Apollinaire ((1880 – 1918)
(from Alcools, 1913; first published Sept. 1912)


Sur la côte du Texas
Entre Mobile et Galveston il y a
Un grand jardin tout plein de roses
Il contient aussi une villa
Qui est une grande rose

Une femme se promène souvent
Dans le jardin toute seule
Et quand je passe sur la route bordée de tilleuls
Nous nous regardons

Comme cette femme est mennonite
Ses rosiers et ses vêtements n’ont pas de boutons
Il en manque deux à mon veston
La dame et moi suivons presque le même rite

From <;

This is a short poem, with no obviously consistent structure. There are three stanzas of various lengths, and the lines are also of various lengths. Each stanza has some rhymes, but they are not organized in the same way; the first stanza rhymes the second and fourth lines, and the third and fifth lines. The second stanza rhymes the first and fourth line, and the second and third; the third stanza rhymes the first and fourth lines and then the second and third. Does this irregularity distract from the quality of the poem? Not really, for me I find it focusses attention more on the content and the individual words spoken.

The first couple of lines give a geographical reference – on the coast of Texas, between Mobile and Galveston. Mobile is of course in Alabama, and there is also Louisiana between Alabama and Texas – but there is plenty of Texas coast between Galveston and the border with Louisiana which validates the reference – although New Orleans would have been a closer reference point than Mobile. Then the remainder of the stanza describes a rose garden with a villa, which is also like a rose, or perhaps covered in pink stucco. This is Apollinaire describing, or more likely imagining, the place where his former lover, Annie, has come to live.

The second stanza describes a woman walking alone in this garden, and exchanging glances with the poet when he passes by. This must be purely imaginary, as I don’t think Apollinaire ever visited Texas. Instead it is an expression of how much he misses Annie.

The final stanza becomes even more bizarre as he characterizes the woman as a Mennonite – this is a religion which is somewhat like the Amish. Her clothing has no buttons, like the poet’s, and so the final line creates a connection between them. This is very strange, as I don’t think Annie was a Mennonite, and so there is now a clear distance between the subject of the poem and its title. Perhaps he was trying to emphasise his acceptance of their separation by making the woman in the poem as different as possible from his lover.

To ponder….

The Poetry Dude

Mignongne, levés-vous, vous estes paresseuse, 

Today’s poem is a light-hearted, happy piece from Ronsard, somewhat in the spirit of his near-contemporary, Clement Marot. It is intended to bring a smile to the reader/listener and it does so. It is a sonnet addressed by the poet to his lover, scolding her for staying in bed late on a beautiful morning (presumably after an energetic night between the sheets, perhaps…). Anybody who is a “morning person”, living with an “evening person” will recognise these sentiments, but here they are only meant to tease, not provoke.

The spelling is retained in the sixteenth century format, but I don’t think that should pose any difficulty, particulary if the sonnet is read out loud.

Mignongne, levés-vous, vous estes paresseuse,
Jà la gaye alouette au ciel a fredonné,
Et jà le rossignol frisquement jargonné,
Dessus l’espine assis, sa complainte amoureuse.

Debout donq ! allon voir l’herbelette perleuse,
Et vostre beau rosier de boutons couronné,
Et voz œillets aimés auxquels avés donné
Hyer au soir de l’eau d’une main si songneuse.

Hyer en vous couchant vous me fistes promesse
D’estre plus tost que moi ce matin éveillée,
Mais le someil vous tient encor toute sillée :

Ian, je vous punirai du péché de paresse,
Je vois baiser cent fois vostre œil, vostre tétin,
Afin de vous aprendre à vous lever matin.

From <;

The opening word, mignonne, occurs fairly frequently in both Ronsard and Marot’s poems and indicates that the poem is addressed to a beautiful young lady, which could be either the poet’s lover or just a young acquaintance. The first line says get up, you are lazy, and you can imagine the poet standing over a bed with a sleepy girl in it. The first stanza goes on to begin to describe some of the pleasures of the morning which the girl is missing – the early morning birdsong of the skylark and the nightingale.

The second stanza repeats the call to get up and accompany the poet out into the garden to see the dew on the lawn and the budding roses and carnations. This indicates an expectation of continuing amorous pursuits.

The third stanza, again still written conversationally, reminds the girl that she had promised to wake up before the poet this morning, and yet she is still asleep.

And so the final stanza brings the solution – the poet will kiss her one hundred times, all over her body, to wake her up and teach her to get up in the morning. We can imagine what that would lead to…

It would be great to think that Ronsard actually wrote this sonnet while waiting for his girl to wake up, and then read it over her sleepy head. That would be a winning strategy, I’m sure…

The Poetry Dude

Los arqueros oscuros

This is a mysterious, enigmatic and atmospheric poem by Federico Garcia Lorca, inspired by the great city of Sevilla, in his native Andalusia in southern Spain. The city is crossed by the river Guadalquivir, a historically important river, which was the origin of much of Spain’s trade with the Americas in the 1500s and 1600s. In this poem, the city and the river seem to be under the spell of some kind of threat, as the archers approach, presumably by boat.


Los arqueros oscuros
a Sevilla se acercan.

Guadalquivir abierto.

Anchos sombreros grises,
largas capas lentas.

¡Ay, Guadalquivir!

Vienen de los remotos
países de la pena.

Guadalquivir abierto.

Y van a un laberinto.
Amor, cristal y piedra.

¡Ay, Guadalquivir!

From <;

The poem is short and simple, made up of two line verses followed by a one line exclamation or rather lamentation about the river Guadalquivir. Some mysterious archers are approaching the city of Seville dressed in large hats and capes, hiding their identity and intent. They are coming up the river from remote places of sorrow, presumably to bring sorrow to Sevilla, using the river Guadalquivir as their conduit. They will arrive at the city itself, a maze of love, glass and stone, presumably a reference to the architectural wonders of the place. The outcome is unstated but implied throughout by the suggestions of menace, unease and despair.

Sevilla is still a beautiful city, I recommend a visit, but Lorca himself did not survive to a great age, as he was shot by General Franco’s troops near the start of the Spanish Civil War. For him, the archers arrived.

The Poetry Dude

Why should I blame her that she filled my days

Here is a nice poem from WB Yeats which takes inspiration from the classics, referring directly back to the tales of Helen of Troy, as told by Homer and Virgil two or three thousand years previously. I love the way poetic traditions and ideas get linked up across the ages and across the centuries in this way. The poem takes the form of a soliloquy (did I spell that right) where the poet is questioning himself about a turbulent lover, who at the same time makes his life a misery while her great beauty inspires him. A thorny dilemma indeed…

No Second Troy


Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this,
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?

From <;

The first five lines set out the question, why should the poet blame this woman for her many defects and the turbulent impact she has on himself and others around her. There follow other questions, indicating the poet’s quandary as he works out his attitude towards this beautiful but disturbing woman. In fact he sees her beauty as unnatural or supernatural such that she would not be constrained by the normal rules of behaviour. Indeed she is a second Helen of Troy, whose beauty led to the destruction of a great city. And yet the final question, “Was there another Troy for her to burn?” has already been answered in the title of the poem, “No Second Troy”. We are left to infer that the poet will continue to suffer at the hands of this woman, but that he will not be prevented from continuing to love her.

The Poetry Dude