François Villon’s Ballade: A Good Lesson for Bad Men,
Ballade of Fortune & Charity

Translated by David Georgi

Ballade: A Good Lesson for Bad Men

from The Testament, lines 1692–1719

Say you sell indulgences
or cheat at cards, or dice all day,
or stamp false coins (and so get burned
with others scalded for that crime,
lying faithless traitors all),
or burgle, pilfer, or purloin:
where do you suppose your profit goes?
All to the taverns and the girls.

Rhyme or riff, play flute or cymbals
as beguiling, shameless fools do;
clown, swindle, con, do magic tricks,
or stage in every town and city
farces, dramas, morality plays;
win at poker, craps, or ninepins—
however it comes, you know it goes
all to the taverns and the girls.

Perhaps such vices make you shudder?
So work! Mow fields and meadows,
groom horses or look after mules
if you lack an education:
you’ll have enough, you’ll be content!
But after you scutch and strip your hemp,
still, don’t you take your meager share
all to the taverns and the girls?

Your hose, your clothes, your lace-up vests,
your robes and haberdashery—
before you go do worse, just take it
all to the taverns and the girls.

 

Ballade of Fortune

Fortune was the name they gave me, sages long ago,
whom you, François, scold and call a murderess—
yourself a man of no importance!
I send better than you to the plaster works
routinely; to poverty, to the quarry.
So you live in shame—is someone else to blame?
You’re not alone, so let’s hear no complaints.
Consider a while my deeds in times now past:
many brave men by my hand dead and stiff,
compared to whom, you know, you’re just a kitchen boy.
So calm yourself and quit your endless chatter!
My advice, Villon? Take it all in stride.

Great kings I’ve hurled myself against
in times gone by and now far in the past:
I killed Priam and with him all his army—
no tower or castle did him any good.
And did Hannibal hold out much longer?
In Carthage I let death overtake him,
then had Scipio Africanus snuffed out too.
Julius Caesar I sold at the Senate house,
and in Egypt left Pompey to his fate;
I drowned Jason in a tempest at sea
and once burned Rome and half the Romans with it.
My advice, Villon? Take it all in stride.

Alexander, who caused such carnage,
who’d climb the stars to see the Pleiades,
saw his body swell with venom, thanks to me.
King Alphasar I left for dead on the field,
sprawled on his banner. In my usual manner.
So I’ve done and so I shall continue;
no other cause or reason will I give.
I cursed Holofernes the idolater,
and Judith killed him while he slept,
with his own dagger, in his own pavilion.
And Absalom? I hanged him as he fled.
My advice, Villon? Take it all in stride.

So François, please heed what I have to say:
if the Lord of Paradise gave me free rein
I’d leave you without a rag on your bones.
In place of one ill turn I’d give you ten!
My advice, Villon? Take it all in stride.

 

Charity

from Bequests, lines 233–240

Item: I bequeath to the poorhouse
my hammock, made of spider webs.
To those who flop under market stalls,
trembling there with faces clenched,
wasted, hairy, chilled deep through,
their trousers short, their smocks worn thin,
frozen, beaten, wracked with flu—
a fist in the eye for each.

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