...gonna kick the darkness 'till it bleeds daylight... musings of a hungarian in texas

©2003 by Annamaria Kovacs. All contents of this blog are the property of the author. Use with written permission only.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Francois Villon

Lately, I am re-reading some poetry (some sung, some in books), and I recall just how fond I was in my freshman year of Francois Villon, the 15th century poet of Paris. Here is a brief and succinct summary of his life in case anyone is interested--he certainly was a fascinating figure.
I read his poems in Hungarian first--some really fine poets of my mother tongue worked on the translations and at one point a Hungarian folk band released an LP (you know, those black Bakelite disks back in the Stone Age...) :-) , even, setting his verses to music--easy, that since through most of the Middle Ages poems were sung without exception, and Villon himself called his poems ballads, following that form rather strictly.

So now that I dug up some English translations as well, here are some samples of his work--I absolutely admire his smooth flow of words and the images he could paint with them:

Ballade: Du Concours De Blois

I’m dying of thirst beside the fountain,
Hot as fire, and with chattering teeth:
In my own land, I’m in a far domain:
Near the flame, I shiver beyond belief:
Bare as a worm, dressed in a furry sheathe,
I smile in tears, wait without expectation:
Taking my comfort in sad desperation:
I rejoice, without pleasures, never a one:
Strong I am, without power or persuasion,
Welcomed gladly, and spurned by everyone.

Nothing is sure for me but what’s uncertain:
Obscure, whatever is plainly clear to see:
I’ve no doubt, except of everything certain:
Science is what happens accidentally:
I win it all, yet a loser I’m bound to be:
Saying: ‘God give you good even!’ at dawn,
I greatly fear I’m falling, when lying down:
I’ve plenty, yet I’ve not one possession,
I wait to inherit, yet I’m no heir I own,
Welcomed gladly, and spurned by everyone.

I never take care, yet I’ve taken great pain
To acquire some goods, but have none by me:
Who’s nice to me is one I hate: it’s plain,
And who speaks truth deals with me most falsely:
He’s my friend who can make me believe
A white swan is the blackest crow I’ve known:
Who thinks he’s power to help me, does me harm:
Lies, truth, to me are all one under the sun:
I remember all, have the wisdom of a stone,
Welcomed gladly, and spurned by everyone.

Merciful Prince, may it please you that I’ve shown
There’s much I know, yet without sense or reason:
I’m partial, yet I hold with all men, in common.
What more can I do? Redeem what I’ve in pawn,
Welcomed gladly, and spurned by everyone.
--Translated by Tony Kline


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.

--Trans. by Galway Kinnell


At 9:50 PM, Blogger DiVerse said...

Hi Annamaria,
I totally agree, Villon for me is the greatest poet ever. Considering what he lived through and the manner in wich he writes most things octosyllabic (have you ever tried it) he gets greatest poet ever in my book.


Aussie Rob


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