François Villon

This is the “résumé” of the 15th century French poet Francois Villon:

Shortly after getting a master’s degree he decides to take a walk on the wild side and things start going downhill. First he kills a priest during a fight (he claims self-defense and gets away with it). He then steals money (with a gang of his) from the Collège de Navarre. He goes to prison afterwards (it is not clear on what accounts) but is released by the King (Louis XI). He is arrested again later, and has to promise to return the money he has previously stolen from the College to be released. He is arrested one more time (!) during a street fight. The French start getting impatient and decide to hang him, but they pardon him if he will just get the hell out of there. He kind of he summarizes all that has happened (and is yet to happen) in these lines (from his poem The Testament):

I am a sinner I know very well
And yet God doesn’t want me to die

So basically he was more of a badass than Caravaggio.
Once in exile we lose track of Villon, who probably died poor and miserable. For being an early Renaissance poet he is so direct, intense and modern it is remarkable. Actually some parts of his Ballad:

I die of thirst beside the fountain
I’m hot as fire, I’m shaking tooth on tooth
In my own country I’m in a distant land
Beside the blaze I’m shivering in flames
Naked as a worm, dressed like a president
I laugh in tears and wait without hope
I cheer up in sad despair
I’m joyful and no pleasure’s anywhere
I’m powerful and lack all force and strength
Warmly welcomed, always tuned away

remind me slightly of that emo masterpiece by Baudelaire “L’Héautontimorouménos” (Self-tormentor), especially the lines:

I am the knife and the wound it deals,/ I am the slap and the cheek,/ I am the wheel and the broken limbs, / hangman and victim both!
I am the vampire at my own veins,/one of the great lost horde/doomed for the rest of my time, and beyond,/’to laugh – but smile no more

  • (from Les Fleurs Du Mal: The Complete Text of The Flowers of Evil by Charles P Baudelaire, translated by Richard Howard )

And to end this post, a Ballade by Villon:

I know flies in milk
I know the man by his clothes
I know fair weather from foul
I know the apple by the tree
I know the tree when I see the sap
I know when all is one
I know who labors and who loafs
I know everything but myself.


I know the coat by the collar
I know the monk by the cowl
I know the master by the servant
I know the nun by the veil
I know when a hustler rattles on
I know fools raised on whipped cream
I know the wine by the barrel
I know everything but myself.


I know the horse and the mule
I know their loads and their limits
I know Beatrice and Belle
I know the beads that count and add
I know nightmare and sleep
I know the Bohemians’ error
I know the power of Rome
I know everything but myself.


Prince I know all things
I know the rosy-cheeked and the pale
I know death who devours all
I know everything but myself.


  • Note1: The Bohemian’s errors refers to the Hussites; Beatrice to Dante’s Beatrice, and Belle I have no clue.
  • Note2:I took those poems from The Poems of Francois Villon, translated by Galway Kinnell

Here and here are other poems of his.

And don’t forget about me*

*I found the lyrics of this cover (the original is by Bulat Okudzhava) here, though there is another translation at the YouTube site where I took the video from. Since I don’t know any Russian I have no idea as to which translation is closer to the original. I love the lyrics

The Prayer of Francois Villon
As long as the world’s still turning,
As long as the air’s still sweet,
Lord, won’t you give to all of us
Whatever it is we need.
Give a mind to the wise one,
A shield to the enemy,
Give some gold to the happy man,
And don’t forget about me.
As long as the world’s still turning,
Lord, if it be your will,
Give to the hungry for power
A kingdom to rule his fill.
Give some rest to the generous
Under a shady tree,
Wash the stain from the face of Cain,
And don’t forget about me.
I know that your powers are wondrous,
I believe that your ways are wise,
The way that a fallen soldier
Believes he’s in paradise,
The way every breathing being
Believes in your gentle word,
The way, in our utter oblivion,
We keep on believing, oh Lord.
My all-wise, my all-merciful,
My sweet Lord of sea-green eyes,
As long as the world’s still turning
To its eternal surprise,
As long as it still has plenty of
Fire and destiny,
Give a little to everyone,
And don’t forget about me.


7 thoughts on “François Villon

  1. I would never have had the opportunity to hear this without your post…it was moving and powerful…love to hear people sing with words that have meaning…even if I cannot understand…the emotion says it all…thank you…

    • Cool you liked it! I agree with you, even when I cannot follow the lyrics it still sounds awesome, and even more so when you have an idea of what they are about.

      • I am sure there can be many interpretations to this song, but for me, personally, it is about belief – everyone needs something to believe in… I used to listed to this song all the time and I thanked you for reminding me of it!

      • That is an interesting way to look at it. I had a very different interpretation, I see the guy as a playful Job, but still he is sort of complaining about his luck to God. To me he is almost asking “really God? Can’t you just make it a little easier for us? Why can’t you just give us what we need? Why does it have to be this difficult?” In a playful way of course, but it does not strike me as a song about “believing”, it is rather closer to being disappointed at how complicated things are. Anyway, just my interpretation!

      • oh! quite a different, but nice, take indeed! 🙂
        I guess I somehow linked it to belief because even if one says “really God? Can’t you just make it a little easire for us?”, it still implies (in a way) that the person believes there is God… in any case, this is a beautiful song and thanks again for posting it and sharing your thoghts! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s