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Medieval Sourcebook:
François Villon: Ballades


Ballade to Our Lady

WRITTEN FOR HIS MOTHER

Dame du ciel, regents terrienne,
Emperiere des infemaux palus....

Lady of Heaven and earth, and therewithal
Crowned Empress of the nether clefts of Hell,-

I, thy poor Christian, on thy name do call,
Commending me to thee, with thee to dwell,
Albeit in nought I be commendable.

But all mine undeserving may not mar
Such mercies as thy sovereign mercies are;
Without the which (as true words testify)
No soul can reach thy Heaven so fair and far.
Even in this faith I choose to live and die.
Unto thy Son say thou that I am His,
And to me graceless make Him gracious.
Said Mary of Egypt lacked not of that bliss,
Nor yet the sorrowful clerk Theopbilus,
Whose bitter sins were set aside even thus
Though to the Fiend his bounden service was.
Oh help me, lest in vain for me should pass
(Sweet Virgin that shalt have no loss thereby!)
The blessed Host and sacring of the Mass
Even in this faith I choose to live and die.

A pitiful poor woman, shrunk and old,
I am, and nothing learn'd in letter-lore.
Within my parish-cloister I behold
A painted Heaven where harps and lutes adore,
And eke an Hell whose damned folk seethe full sore:
One bringeth fear, the other joy to me.
That joy, great Goddess, make thou mine to be,-
Thou of whom all must ask it even as I;
And that which faith desires, that let it see.
For in this faith I choose to live and die.


O excellent Virgin Princess! thou didst bear
King Jesus, the most excellent comforter,
Who even of this our weakness craved a share
And for our sake stooped to us from on high,
Offering to death His young life sweet and fair.
Such as He is, Our Lord, I Him declare,
And in this faith I choose to live and die.

From Villon, "Ballade to Our Lady," Dante Gabriel Rossetti, trans., in Poems (Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1870), pp. 178- 179.

Epitaph in the Form of a Ballade

Freres humains qui apres nous vivez,
N'ayez les coeurs contre nous endurcis ...

Men, brother men, that after us yet live,
Let not your hearts too hard against us be;
For if some pity of us poor men ye give,
The sooner God shall take of you pity.
Here are we five or six strung up, you see,
And here the flesh that all too well we fed
Bit by bit eaten and rotten, rent and shred,
And we the bones grow dust and ash withal;
Let no man laugh at us discomforted,
But pray to God that he forgive us all.
If we call on you, brothers, to forgive,


Ye should not hold our prayer in scorn, though we
Were slain by law; ye know that all alive
Have not wit always to walk righteously;
Make therefore intercession heartily
With him that of a virgin's womb was bred,
That his grace be not as a dr-y well-head
For us, nor let hell's thunder on us fall;
We are dead, let no man harry or vex us dead,
But pray to God that he forgive us all.


The rain has washed and laundered us all five,
And the sun dried and blackened; yea, perdie,
Ravens and pies with beaks that rend and rive
Have dug our eyes out, and plucked off for fee
Our beards and eyebrows; never we are free,
Not once, to rest; but here and there still sped,
Driven at its wild will by the wind's change led,
More pecked of birds than fruits on garden-wall;
Men, for God's love, let no gibe here be said,
But pray to God that he forgive us all.
Prince Jesus, that of all art lord and head,
Keep us, that hell be not our bitter bed;
We have nought to do in such a master's hall.
Be not ye therefore of our fellowhead,
But pray to God that he forgive us all.

From Villon, "Epitaph in the Form of a Ballade," Algernon Charles Swinburne trans., in Poems and Ballads. Second Series (London: Chatto and Windus, 1891), pp. 222-224.


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(c)Paul Halsall Mar 1996
halsall@murray.fordham.edu