Qui plus, où est li tiers Calixte,

This poem by Francois Villon is the companion-piece, although less well-known, to the “Ballade des Dames du temps jadis”, which I posted on this blog on December 29 2014. That poem is very well-known for its refrain, “ou sont les neiges d’antan?”, and goes through a catalogue of famous women. This one sets out to achieve the same effect by recording the names and deeds of famous men, and it has a refrain we can all recognise, “Mais ou est le preux Charlemagne?”, “But where now is valiant Charlemagne?”

Let’s look at the poem as a whole.

François VILLON   (1431-?)

Ballade des Seigneurs du temps jadis

Qui plus, où est li tiers Calixte,
Dernier décédé de ce nom,
Qui quatre ans tint le papaliste,
Alphonse le roi d’Aragon,
Le gracieux duc de Bourbon,
Et Artus le duc de Bretagne,
Et Charles septième le bon ?
Mais où est le preux Charlemagne ?

Semblablement, le roi scotiste
Qui demi face ot, ce dit-on,
Vermeille comme une émastiste
Depuis le front jusqu’au menton,
Le roi de Chypre de renom,
Hélas ! et le bon roi d’Espagne
Duquel je ne sais pas le nom ?
Mais où est le preux Charlemagne ?

D’en plus parler je me désiste ;
Ce n’est que toute abusion.
Il n’est qui contre mort résiste, and
Ne qui treuve provision.
Encor fais une question :
Lancelot le roi de Behaygne,
Où est-il ? où est son tayon ?
Mais où est le preux Charlemagne ?

Où est Claquin, le bon Breton ?
Où le comte Dauphin d’Auvergne,
Et le bon feu duc d’Alençon ?
Mais où est le preux Charlemagne ?

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

Many of the names cited in this poem might have been familiar to Villon’s contemporaries, but to today’s reader would need a bit of research to pin down. It is a collection of popes, kings and noblemen from the fifteenth century and previously. I recognise prince Arthur of Brittany, the heir to the throne of England, murdered by King John to remove a potential rival. Calixte was Pope Calixtus 3rd, one of the Borgia gamily Popes. Charles 7th of France is readily identifiable; Charles 7th was king in Villon’s lifetime and presided over the recovery of French territory from England and the victories of Joan of Arc. But then I start to get lost. Intriguingly, a couple are not even named – there is a king who evidently had a birthmark down one side of his face; and there is a good king of Spain whose name the poet has forgotten (that’s pretty funny, actually). Part of the poem is moralising, despite the greatness and stature of these men, they are still subject to death, just like us all. Even the great Charlemagne is no more, just a distant memory.

The Poetry Dude


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