The Prayer, Made in Ballat Form Bi Villon For His Mither

I spent some time last month looking at the history of Francois Villon translations (see Three early translators of Francois Villon) and just recently got a (partial) copy of the most curious effort I discovered, a volume titled Seeven poem o Maister Francis Villon, made owre intil scots bi Tom Scott. Here first is a brief biography of Scott borrowed from a TLS poem of the week (

Tom Scott (1918–1995) was part of a generation of gifted Scottish poets, born in or around the First World War, which included W. S. Graham, George Mackay Brown, Sorley MacLean and Edwin Morgan, and encompassed four linguistic traditions: English, standard Scottish English, Lallans and Gaelic. Scott was brought up during the Great Depression; his formal education came late, although he was already publishing poems in the London literary press during the Second World War. But it was in the 1950s that Scott found his real voice in Lallans or “synthetic Scots”’, the English that evolved north of the border in the late medieval and early sixteenth century, and which was then the inspiration for the twentieth century Scottish Literary Renaissance spearheaded by Hugh MacDiarmid. Scott was much influenced by the makar William Dunbar, while the opening up of his poetic sensibility to Scotland’s continental connections in earlier centuries helped to complete his transformation as a poet. His translations of François Villon are one of the greatest fruits of this fusion, as are his visionary long poems The Ship and Brand the Builder.

And here is his rendering of Villon’s imagined prayer of his mother’s, followed for comparison by Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s version of the same. Plus some help with the dialect from an online Scots dictionary.

The Prayer, Made in Ballat Form Bi Villon For His Mither

Heivenly Leddy, earthly sovereign,
Empress o the ill-reekin bogs o hell,
Receive ye me, your humble christian,
Whase dearest wish is wi your saunts tae dwell,
Though no for aucht o worth she’s duin hersel.
Mistress o ma saul, sich Grace as Thine
Can faur ootweigh the gretest sin o mine;
Waantin that Grace, nae saul, ye will agree,
Can e’er win through tae Heiven, as I weill ken.
In this sweet faith I’ll willin live an dee.

Tell yir Son tae coont me as his ain,
That aa ma sins he micht forgie as weill,
Juist as yon Egyptian’s were forgien,
Or Theophil’s, the scriever chiel wha fell
Intil the horny fingers o the deil,
Fair lost, until ye itercedit syne.
Sae, pit in a word for this auld quean
Virgin Mithor o the Son that we
Aa celebrate at Mass as the Divine.
In this sweet faith, I’ll willin live an dee.

Aye, weill I ken I’m juist a puir carlin
Wha’s nevir larnt tae scrieve her name, or spell.
In oor bit pairish kirk though, I hae seen
Picters o Heiven, whaur angels hairp, an swell
The luth …. an o the Pit whaur sinners byle.
Yin turned me seick, the tither weill again.
Whan I am daid, lat Heiven alane be mine
Goddess, tae whase airms aa sinners flee.
Trim you ma lamp o draid, au lat it shine,
For in this faith I’d willin live an dee.

Virgin wha bore, maist worthy sovereign,
Iesu, wha has owre us eternal reign,
Lord of Lords, wha took oor waikness on,
Leain Heiven for aa oor sins tae dree,
Offerin his bricht youth tae daith an pain.
Nae ither Lord hae we, I’ll aye maintain;
In this sweet faith I’ll willin live an dee.


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.
Sad Mary of Egypt lacked not of that bliss,
Nor yet the sorrowful clerk Theophilus,
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.

Whenever I finally get a full copy I’d like to have it scanned, OCR’d and put up on the internet archive since Scott’s work is too good to disappear altogether for failure to reprint.

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 )

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s