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 (https://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/poem-week-sons-o-son/):

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.


HIS MOTHER’S SERVICE TO OUR LADY.

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.

Three early translators of Francois Villon

Selections from Francois Villon’s first three English translators, or at least the earliest three I know of. This post began with a gripe against Robert Louis Stevenson’s opinion of Villon in his short story A Lodging for the Night (here) and essay in Familiar Studies of Men and Books (here) but took a more positive twist along the way. To keep some limit to length, I’m leaving out the French – since it’s easy enough to find elsewhere.

First up is Henry Cary – of Dante fame as a translator – who is generally given credit for introducing Villon to English speakers in an 1823 article. Here are his renderings of the Ballade des dames du temps jadis (Ballad of the Ladies of Time Long Past) and of the opening ten lines of the Ballade des pendus (Ballad of the Hanged Men).

Tell me where, or in what clime,
Is that mistress of the prime,
Roman Flora? she of Greece,
Thais? or that maid so fond,
Than, an ye shout o’er stream and pond,
Answering holdeth not here peace?
–Where are they? –Tell me, if ye know;
What is come of last year’s snow?

Where is Heloise the wise,
For whom Abelard was fain,
Mangled in such cruel wise,
To turn a monk instead of man?
Where the Queen, who into Seine
Bade them cast poor Buridan?
–Where are they? –Tell me, if ye know;
What is come of last year’s snow?

The Queen, that was as lily fiar,
Whose songs were sweet as linnets’ are,
Bertha, or she who govern’d Maine/
Alice, Beatrix, or Joan,
That good damsel of Loraine,
Whom the English burnt at Roan?
–Where are they? –Tell me, if ye know;
What is come of last year’s snow?

Prince, question by the month or year;
The burden of my song is here:
–Where are they? –Tell me, if ye know;
What is come of last year’s snow?


O brethren, ye who live when we are gone,
Let not your hearts against us harden’d be
For e’en as ye do pity us each one,
So gracious God be sure will pity ye
Here hangin g five or six of us you see ;
As to our flesh, which once too well we fed,
That now is rotten quite, and mouldered ;
And we, the bones, do turn to dust and clay
None laugh at us that are so ill bested,
But pray ye God to do our sins away.

Next are three selections by Dante Gabriel Rossetti in his 1870 Poems (I give two but all three are online here).

THE BALLAD OF DEAD LADIES.
Tell me now in what hidden way is
Lady Flora the lovely Roman?
Where’s Hipparchia, and where is Thais,
Neither of them the fairer woman?
Where is Echo, beheld of no man,
Only heard on river and mere,—
She whose beauty was more than human? . . .
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Where’s Héloise, the learned nun,
For whose sake Abeillard, I ween,
Lost manhood and put priesthood on?
(From Love he won such dule and teen!)
And where, I pray you, is the Queen
Who willed that Buridan should steer
Sewed in a sack’s mouth down the Seine? . . .
But where are the snows of yester-year?

White Queen Blanche, like a queen of lilies,
With a voice like any mermaiden,—
Bertha Broadfoot, Beatrice, Alice,
And Ermengarde the lady of Maine,—
And that good Joan whom Englishmen
At Rouen doomed and burned her there,—
Mother of God, where are they then? . . .
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Nay, never ask this week, fair lord,
Where they are gone, nor yet this year,
Except with this for an overword,—
But where are the snows of yester-year?


HIS MOTHER’S SERVICE TO OUR LADY.
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.

Next is Algernon Swinburne. His selections were more extensive and can all be found here (when the site is up). Here are his versions of the Ballade de la Grosse Margot (Ballad of Villon and Fat Madge, in his version) and of what he titles Fragment of Death (the stanzas preceding the Ballade des dames du temps jadis).

‘’Tis no sin for a man to labour in his vocation.’ -Falstaff
‘The night cometh, when no man can work.’

What though the beauty I love and serve be cheap,
Ought you to take me for a beast or fool?
All things a man could wish are in her keep;
For her I turn swashbuckler in love’s school.
When folk drop in, I take my pot and stool
And fall to drinking with no more ado.
I fetch them bread, fruit, cheese, and water, too;
I say all’s right so long as I’m well paid;
‘Look in again when your flesh troubles you,
Inside this brothel where we drive our trade.’

But soon the devil’s among us flesh and fell,
When penniless to bed comes Madge my whore;
I loathe the very sight of her like hell.
I snatch gown, girdle, surcoat, all she wore,
And tell her, these shall stand against her score.
She grips her hips with both hands, cursing God,
Swearing by Jesus’ body, bones, and blood,
That they shall not. Then I, no whit dismayed,
Cross her cracked nose with some stray shiver of wood
Inside this brothel where we drive our trade.

When all’s made up she drops me a windy word,
Bloat like a beetle puffed and poisonous:
Grins, thumps my pate, and calls me dickey-bird,
And cuffs me with a fist that’s ponderous.
We sleep like logs, being drunken both of us;
Then when we wake her womb begins to stir;
To save her seed she gets me under her
Wheezing and whining, flat as planks are laid:
And thus she spoils me for a whoremonger
Inside this brothel where we drive our trade.

Blow, hail or freeze, I’ve bread here baked rent free!
Whoring’s my trade, and my whore pleases me;
Bad cat, bad rat; we’re just the same if weighed.
We that love filth, filth follows us, you see;
Honour flies from us, as from her we flee
Inside this brothel where we drive our trade.

I bequeath likewise to fat Madge
This little song to learn and study;
By god’s head she’s a sweet fat fadge,
Devout and soft of flesh and ruddy;
I love her with my soul and body,
So doth she me, sweet dainty thing.
If you fall in with such a lady,
Read it, and give it her to sing.


FRAGMENT OF DEATH.
AND Paris be it or Helen dying,
Who dies soever, dies with pain.
He that lacks breath and wind for sighing,
His gall bursts on his heart; and then
He sweats, God knows what sweat! again,
No man may ease him of his grief;
Child, brother, sister, none were fain
To bail him thence for his relief.

Death makes him shudder, swoon, wax pale,
Nose bend, veins stretch, and breath surrender,
Neck swell, flesh soften, joints that fail
Crack their strained nerves and arteries slender.
O Woman’s body found so tender,
Smooth, sweet, so precious to men’s eyes,
Must thou too bear such count to render?
Yes; or pass quick into the skies.

It’s necessary…—What is?—To feel remorse

Suiting the mood of the last few days here’s an abridgment of Francois Villon’s dialogue with his heart.  The poem – as many of his – seems variously titled in different editions so I’m just leaving the most generic.

Who’s that I hear?—It’s me—Who?—Your heart
Hanging on by the thinnest thread
I lose all my strength, substance, and fluid
When I see you withdrawn this way all alone
Like a whipped cur sulking in the corner
Is it due to your mad hedonism?—
What’s it to you?—I have to suffer for it—
Leave me alone—Why?—I’ll think about it—
When will you do that?—When I’ve grown up—
I’ve nothing more to tell you—I’ll survive without it—

What’s your idea?—To be a good man—
You’re thirty, for a mule that’s a lifetime
You call that childhood?—No—Madness
Must have hold of you ….

Want to live?—God give me the strength—
It’s necessary…—What is?—To feel remorse
Lots of reading—What kind?—Read for knowledge
Leave fools alone—I’ll take your advice—
Or will you forget?—I’ve got it fixed in mind—
Now act before things go from bad to worse
I’ve nothing more to tell you—I’ll survive without it.

Qu’est ce que j’oi? – Ce suis-je ! – Qui ? – Ton cœur,
Qui ne tient mais qu’à un petit filet :
Force n’ai plus, substance ne liqueur,
Quand je te vois retrait ainsi seulet
Com pauvre chien tapi en reculet.
Pour quoi est-ce ? – Pour ta folle plaisance. –
Que t’en chaut-il ? – J’en ai la déplaisance. –
Laisse m’en paix. – Pour quoi ? – J’y penserai. –
Quand sera ce ? – Quand serai hors d’enfance. –
Plus ne t’en dis. – Et je m’en passerai.
Que penses-tu ? – Etre homme de valeur.
Tu as trente ans – C’est l’âge d’un mulet ;
Est-ce enfance ? – Nenni. – C’est donc foleur
Qui te saisit ?
…..

Veux-tu vivre ? – Dieu m’en doint la puissance ! –
Il le faut… – Quoi ? – Remords de conscience,
Lire sans fin. – En quoi ? – Lire en science,
Laisser les fous ! – Bien j’y aviserai. –
Or le retiens ! – J’en ai bien souvenance. –
N’attends pas tant que tourne à déplaisance.
Plus ne t’en dis – Et je m’en passerai.

my secretary Fremin the dimwit

Stanza 47 of Francois Villon’s Testament, in Galway Kinnell’s translation.  I simply like the idea of calling – if only in my head – anyone who works for me Fremin the dimwit.  That said, I do wonder if estourdys here is not in the sense of drunk rather than scatter-brained.

This lecture was given them by one
who in her time was beautiful and good
well-spoken or not, for what it’s worth
I’ve had her words taken down
By my secretary Fremin the dimwit
Who’s as bright as I’ll ever be
If he gets it all wrong I’ll curse him
The master’s known by the clerk

Ceste leçon icy leur baille
La belle et bonne de jadis;
Bien dit ou mal, vaille que vaille,
Enregistrer j’ay faict ces ditz
Par mon clerc Fremin l’estourdys,
Aussi rassis que je pense estre…
S’il me desment, je le mauldys:
Selon le clerc est deu le maistre.

Neither fully fool nor fully wise

The opening three lines of Francois Villon’s Le (Grand) Testament.

En l’an trentiesme de mon eage,
Que toutes mes hontes j’eu beues,
Ne du tout fol, ne du tout sage.

In the thirtieth year of my life,
now that I’ve drunk down all my shames,
neither fully fool nor fully wise.

I turn 32 today and can for the last time round myself down to this over Dante’s nel mezzo of 35.