Hommes faillis, bertaudés de raison,

As the title claims, this is a poem full of good advice from Francois Villon , which I would say is as relevant in the 21st century as it was in the 15th. Of course, Villon himself was probably directing his advice at his own actions, give that he was quite probably guilty of a lot of the actions which he advises against in the poem.

 

The poem’s message, its good advice, is that people should turn away from violence, crime, discord and vengeance, and instead turn towards patience, living in peace with fellow humans, and perhaps find a positive path in religion. Villon’s experience was mostly of the violent, disorderly kind, common of course at this time in the midst of the depredations of the Hundred Years War. His gift to humanity was to be able to look beyond this and set out a better way.

 

 

 

Ballade de Bon Conseil

 

François Villon

 

Hommes faillis, bertaudés de raison,

Dénaturés et hors de connoissance,

Démis du sens, comblés de déraison,

Fous abusés, pleins de déconnoissance,

Qui procurez contre votre naissance,

Vous soumettant à détestable mort

Par lâcheté, las ! que ne vous remord

L’horribleté qui à honte vous mène ?

Voyez comment maint jeunes homs est mort

Par offenser et prendre autrui demaine.

 

Chacun en soi voie sa méprison,

Ne nous vengeons, prenons en patience ;

Nous connoissons que ce monde est prison

Aux vertueux franchis d’impatience ;

Battre, rouiller pour ce n’est pas science,

Tollir, ravir, piller, meurtrir à tort.

De Dieu ne chaut, trop de verté se tort

Qui en tels faits sa jeunesse démène,

Dont à la fin ses poings doloreux tord

Par offenser et prendre autrui demaine.

 

Que vaut piper, flatter, rire en traison,

Quêter, mentir, affirmer sans fiance,

Farcer, tromper, artifier poison,

Vivre en péché, dormir en défiance

De son prouchain sans avoir confiance ?

Pour ce conclus : de bien faisons effort,

Reprenons coeur, ayons en Dieu confort,

Nous n’avons jour certain en la semaine ;

De nos maux ont nos parents le ressort

Par offenser et prendre autrui demaine.

 

Vivons en paix, exterminons discord ;

Ieunes et vieux, soyons tous d’un accord :

La loi le veut, l’apôtre le ramène

Licitement en l’épître romaine ;

Ordre nous faut, état ou aucun port.

Notons ces points ; ne laissons le vrai port

Par offenser et prendre autrui demaine.

 

From <http://tpevillon.e-monsite.com/pages/analyses-de-textes/analyse-de-texte-ballade-de-bon-conseil.html>

 

 

The poem begins with an invocation adressed to imperfect men, deprived of their reason (“bertaudes”  was a new word for me, it means either castrated or having one’s ears cut off, but here clearly it is metaphorical). It enumerates the ways in which men act unreasonably, violently and selfishly. Another telling word here is “l’horriblete”, horribleness, which according to the poet leads men into shame. The stanza ends by saying all this usually ends badly with the death of many young men.

 

The second stanza goes on in this vein, but brings in a hint of another way in the second line – “don’t take revenge, live in patience”, even if the world is set against those virtuous people who have vanquished impatience and impetuosity. The rest of the second stanza and the first half of the third stanza rail against the uselessness of violent discord , mutual distrust and crime, before in the second half of the third stanza advising that the only solution is to turn to God.

 

And the final stanza builds on this good advice, exhorting readers to live in peace and harmony with young and old, following the law and the apostles’ teachings, Do not stray from the right path by offending and attacking others.

 

I think that is still good advice.

 

The Poetry Dude

Je meurs de seuf auprés de la fontaine,

Today we return to Paris in the 1400s with another poem from Villon, a sort of Vinnie Jones of his time, but always ready to surprise and entertain us with his verse. In this poem, the poet is dying of thirst (seuf=soif) right next to a drinking fountain and goes on to list in almost every line another paradoxical contradiction of his condition. Confusing, but clever…

Je meurs de soif auprés de la fontaine

Je meurs de seuf auprés de la fontaine,
Chault comme feu et tremble dent a dent,
En mon pays suis en terre loingtaine,
Lez ung brasier frisonne tout ardent,
Nu comme ung ver, vestu en president,
Je riz en pleurs et attens sans espoir,
Confort reprens en triste desespoir,
Je m’esjoys et n’ay plasir aucun,
Puissant je suis sans force et sans pouoir,
Bien recueully, debouté de chascun.

Riens ne m’est seur que la chose incertaine,
Obsucur fors ce qui est tout evident,
Doubte ne fais fors en chose certaine,
Scïence tiens a soudain accident,
Je gaigne tout et demeure perdent,
Au point du jour diz “Dieu vous doint bon soir ! “,
Gisant envers j’ay grand paeur de chëoir,
J’ay bien de quoy et si n’en ay pas ung,
Eschoicte actens et d’omme ne suis hoir,
Bien recueully, debouté de chascun.

De rien n’ay soing, si mectz toute m’atayne
D’acquerir biens et n’y suis pretendent,
Qui mieulx me dit, c’est cil qui plus m’actaine,
Et qui plus vray, lors plus me va bourdent,
Mon ami est qui me faict entendent
D’ung cigne blanc que c’est ung corbeau noir,
Et qui me nuyst, croy qu’i m’ayde a pourvoir,
Bourde, verté, au jour d’uy m’est tout ung,
Je retiens tout, rien ne sçay concepvoir,
Bien recueully, debouté de chascun.

Prince clement, or vous plaise sçavoir
Que j’entens moult et n’ay sens ne sçavoir;
Parcïal suis, a toutes loys commun.
Que sais je plus ? Quoy ! les gaiges ravoir,

From <http://www.alalettre.com/villon-oeuvres-quelques-poemes.php#Je%20plains%20le%20temps%20de%20ma%20jeunesse&gt;

Each of the first three stanzas finishes up with the line that he is given a good welcome and rejected by everyone. This sums up all the contradictions which precedes the line in each stanza, and may reflect the turmoil in Villon’s own life as well as being a display of the poet’s inventive wordplay and wit.

Some of the lines I particularly like…

“I laugh in tears and wait with no hope” (line 6 – that could be from a Samuel Beckett play)
“Nothing is sure except uncertainty” (line 11 – straight from a capital investment guide)
“My friend is he who tells me a white swan is a black crow” (lines 25 and 26)

The final four lines are addressed to the mercy of the Prince and declare that the poet supports all the laws. This indeed is a paradox, knowing what we do about Villon’s life. I think the final line is asking the Prince for the return of money paid as a fine or perhaps as a bond for good behaviour. I hope he got it, if only as a reward for the entertainment value of the poem.

The Poetry Dude

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

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

Car, ou soit ly sains appostolles

In which Francois Villon, writing his poems in the mid-1400s, looks back to an earlier time by composing his ballad in old French (mimicking the style and spelling of 150 years or so previously), and looks forward to a later time by giving a shout-out to one of the most popular movies of the twentieth century, Gone with the Wind.

Apart from all that time travelling, this is a poem about the inevitability of death, whoever you are, rich or poor, saint or sinner, king or peasant. Cheerful stuff.

 
François VILLON   (1431-?)

 
Ballade en vieil langage françois

 
Car, ou soit ly sains appostolles
D’aubes vestuz, d’amys coeffez,
Qui ne seint fors saintes estolles
Dont par le col prent ly mauffez
De mal talant tous eschauffez,
Aussi bien meurt que filz servans,
De ceste vie cy brassez :
Autant en emporte ly vens.

Voire, ou soit de Constantinobles
L’emperieres au poing dorez,
Ou de France le roy tres nobles,
Sur tous autres roys decorez,
Qui pour luy grant Dieux adorez
Batist esglises et couvens,
S’en son temps il fut honnorez,
Autant en emporte ly vens.

Ou soit de Vienne et Grenobles
Ly Dauphin, le preux, ly senez,
Ou de Digons, Salins et Dolles
Ly sires filz le plus esnez,
Ou autant de leurs gens prenez,
Heraux, trompectes, poursuivans,
Ont ilz bien boutez soubz le nez ?
Autant en emporte ly vens.

Prince a mort sont tous destinez,
Et tous autres qui sont vivans :
S’ils en sont courciez n’atinez,
Autant en emporte ly vens.

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

The implication is eat, drink and be merry, as per Fitzgerald’s Rubai’yat; or patience and shuffle the cards as in Don Quijote. But Villon doesn’t say this. I guess an alternative reading of “Autant en emporte ly vens”, apart from the movie title, could be easy come, easy go.

The Poetry Dude

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.
ENVOI
Chausses, pourpoins esguilletez,

Robes, et toutes voz drappilles,

Ains que vous fassiez pis, portez

Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.

 
From <http://www.bartleby.com/244/37.html&gt;

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

Quoy qu’on tient belles langagieres,

Today’s poem goes back to the 1400s, but the theme is universal. Francois Villon is the author, and in this poem he writes in praise of the women of Paris, superior in all respects to women from another place he cares to mention. Compare with the song from the Beach Boys, “California Girls”, or the Beatles “Back in the USSR”

 
Ballade des femmes de Paris
François Villon (1431-1463)

Quoy qu’on tient belles langagieres
Florentines, Veniciennes,
Assez pour estre messaigieres,
Et mesmement les anciennes;
Mais, soient Lombardes, Rommaines,
Genevoises, a mes perilz,
Piemontoises, Savoysiennes,
Il n’est bon bec que de Paris.

De tres beau parler tiennent chaires,
Ce dit-on, les Napolitaines,
Et que sont bonnes cacquetoeres
Allemanses et Bruciennes;
Soient Grecques, Egyptiennes,
De Hongrie ou d’autre pays,
Espaignolles ou Castellannes,
Il n’est bon bec que de Paris.

Brettes, Suysses, n’y scavent gueres,
Ne Gasconnes et Tholouzaines;
Du Petit-Pont deux harangeres
Les concluront, et les Lorraines,
Anglesches ou Callaisiennes,
(Ay je beaucoup de lieux compris?)
Picardes, de Valenciennes;
Il n’est bon bec que de Paris.

Prince, aux dames parisiennes
De bien parler donnez le prix;
Quoy qu’on die d’Italiennes,
Il n’est bon bec que de Paris.

From <http://poemasenfrances.blogspot.com/2004/05/franois-villon-ballade-des-femmes-de.html&gt;

The first stanza evokes the sparkling verbal skills of ladies from Florence, Venice, Lombardy, Rome, Genoa, Piedmont and Savoy – but concludes that Paris women re the only ones who can really talk – “il n’est bon bec que de Paris”.

The second stanza talks of the conversation abilities of the women from Naples, Germany, Bruges, Greece, Egypt, Hungary, Spain and Castille but concludes that the best talkers are in Paris.

The third stanza goes on to list places where women can’t talk well – Brittany, Switzerland, Gascony, Toulouse, Lorraine, England, Calais, Picardy, Valenciennes – only in Paris will you find women who can really talk.

The final stanza implores the Price to give the prize for fine speech to Parisian ladies, whatever he might have heard of Italian ladies, because only in Paris can good talk be heard.

The Poetry Dude