François Villon: Ballad of Ladies of Yore (From French)

In translating this widely-translated poem I have tried to bring to light a different side of it, to convey some of the obscene undertones present in Villon's word choices throughout the poem.

Ballad of the Ladies of Yore
By François Villon
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear me recite the original in Middle French

So, tell me where on lands or seas
Has Flora gone, the Roman belle,
And Thais and Archipiades,
Great twins of beauty as stories tell.
And Echo who by brook and dell
Answered the rising cock come dawn,
And wove a more than mortal spell?
Well, where could last year’s snows have gone?

And where is learned Heloise
For whom Pete Abelard once fell

So hard he came to Saint Denis’
Where his cut was a eunuch's cell?
And where’s that dowager quaintrelle
Who bagged her plaything Buridan 

Then sent him down the Seine to Hell?
Well, where could last year’s snows have gone?

That lily quean whose tune could tease
Sires even Sirens couldn't swell?
Broad Bertha, Alice, Beatrice
And Erenburg who banged Maine's bell
That Maid of Orléans that fell
To English torches at Rouen?
Where are they? Where, Queen Virgin, tell?
Well, where could last year’s snows have gone?

Prince, ask no longer where they dwell.
For as the days and years draw on,
I’ve this and naught but this to tell:
Well, where could last year’s snows have gone?

The Original:

Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis

Dictes moy où, n’en quel pays,

Est Flora, la belle Romaine
Archipiada, ne Thaïs,
Qui fut sa cousine germaine;
Echo, parlant quand bruyt on maine
Dessus rivière ou sus estan,
Qui beauté eut trop plus qu’humaine?
Mais où sont les neiges d’antan !

Où est la très sage Heloïs,

Pour qui fut chastré et puis moyne
Pierre Esbaillart à Sainct-Denys?
Pour son amour eut cest essoyne.

Semblablement, où est la royne

Qui commanda que Burridan
Fust jetté en ung sac en Seine?
Mais où sont les neiges d’antan!

La royne Blanche comme ung lys,
Qui chantoit à voix de sereine;
Berthe au grand pied, Bietris, Allys;
Harembourges, qui tint le Mayne,
Et Jehanne, la bonne Lorraine,
Qu’Anglois bruslèrent à Rouen;
Où sont-ilz, Vierge souveraine?

Mais où sont les neiges d’antan !

Prince, n’enquerrez de sepmaine

Où elles sont, ne de cest an,

Qu’à ce refrain ne vous remaine:
Mais où sont les neiges d’anten?

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful and haunting words.


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