Tant gratte chèvre que mal gît,

Francois Villon presents this poem as a ballad of proverbs, but I’m not so sure of that. They don’t quite have the look and feel of statements of folk wisdom handed down through the generations. Firstly, the form is quite structured, rather than the messy results you would get if you just strung unrelated proverbs together, like Sancho Panza. Secondly, the format of each saying is identical right through the poem – “Tant….que…”, as long as this happens, that is the result. So I think our ingenious poet probably made a lot of these up, which is OK of course, as he is the creator of the poem. But then, of course, it is the title that becomes a bit bothersome.

Anyway, here are the proverbs…

François VILLON   (1431-?)

Ballade des proverbes
Tant gratte chèvre que mal gît,
Tant va le pot à l’eau qu’il brise,
Tant chauffe-on le fer qu’il rougit,
Tant le maille-on qu’il se débrise,
Tant vaut l’homme comme on le prise,
Tant s’élogne-il qu’il n’en souvient,
Tant mauvais est qu’on le déprise,
Tant crie-l’on Noël qu’il vient.

Tant parle-on qu’on se contredit,
Tant vaut bon bruit que grâce acquise,
Tant promet-on qu’on s’en dédit,
Tant prie-on que chose est acquise,
Tant plus est chère et plus est quise,
Tant la quiert-on qu’on y parvient,
Tant plus commune et moins requise,
Tant crie-l’on Noël qu’il vient.

Tant aime-on chien qu’on le nourrit,
Tant court chanson qu’elle est apprise,
Tant garde-on fruit qu’il se pourrit,
Tant bat-on place qu’elle est prise,
Tant tarde-on que faut l’entreprise,
Tant se hâte-on que mal advient,
Tant embrasse-on que chet la prise,
Tant crie-l’on Noël qu’il vient.

Tant raille-on que plus on n’en rit,
Tant dépent-on qu’on n’a chemise,
Tant est-on franc que tout y frit,
Tant vaut “Tiens !” que chose promise,
Tant aime-on Dieu qu’on fuit l’Eglise,
Tant donne-on qu’emprunter convient,
Tant tourne vent qu’il chet en bise,
Tant crie-l’on Noël qu’il vient.

Prince, tant vit fol qu’il s’avise,
Tant va-il qu’après il revient,
Tant le mate-on qu’il se ravise,
Tant crie-l’on Noël qu’il vient.

From <http://poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/francois_villon/ballade_des_proverbes.html&gt;

Quite a few of these have the ring of truth about them, except for the one which is repeated at the end of each stanza – “As long as you cry out for Christmas, it will come”. Well, I think many children will remember thinking that Christmas would never come, even if they clamoured for it every day.

And there is one here which is quite daring, considering the time in which it was written – “Tant aime-on Dieu qu’on fuit l’Eglise,”, I wonder if that was yet another transgression which got Villon into trouble.

There are a number of gems, here, so it is quite unfair to pick favourites, but I’m going to go for “Tant parle-on qu’on se contredit,”, which is a trap I most likely fall into many times on this blog.

The Poetry Dude


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