Verse > Anthologies > T. R. Smith, ed. > Poetica Erotica: A Collection of Rare and Curious Amatory Verse
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T. R. Smith, comp.  Poetica Erotica: Rare and Curious Amatory Verse.  1921–22.
 
The Complaint of the Fair Helm-maker Grown Old
By François Villon (1431–1463?)
 
(Translated by John Payne)

I.
METHOUGHT I heard the fair complain
  —The fair that erst was helm-maker—
And wish herself a girl again.
  After this fashion did I hear:
  “Alack! old age, felon and drear,        5
Why hast so early laid me low?
  What hinders but I stay me here
And so at one stroke end my woe?
 
II.
“Thou hast undone the mighty thrall
  In which my beauty held for me        10
Clerks, merchants, churchmen, one and all:
  For never man my face might see,
  But would have given his all for fee,—
Without a thought of his abuse,—
  So I should yield him at his gree        15
What churls for nothing now refuse.
 
III.
“I did to many me deny
  (Therein I showed but little guile)
For love of one right false and sly,
  Whom without stint I loved erewhile.        20
  Whomever else I might bewile,
I loved him well, sorry or glad:
  But he to me was harsh and vile
And loved me but for what I had.
 
IV.
“Ill as he used me, and howe’er
        25
  Unkind, I loved him none the less:
Even had he made me faggots bear,
  One kiss from him or one caress,
  And I forgot my every stress.
The rogue! ’twas ever thus the same        30
  With him. It brought me scant liesse:
And what is left me? Sin and shame.
 
V.
“Now is he dead this thirty year,
  And I’m grown old and worn and gray:
When I recall the days that were        35
  And think of what I am to-day
  And when me naked I survey
And see my body shrunk to nought,
  Withered and shrivelled,—wellaway!
For grief I am well-nigh distraught.        40
 
VI.
“Where is that clear and crystal brow?
  Those eyebrows arched and golden hair?
And those bright eyes, where are they now,
  Wherewith the wisest ravished were?
  The little nose so straight and fair;        45
The tiny tender perfect ear;
  Where is the dimpled chin and where
The pouting lips so red and clear?
 
VII.
“The shoulders gent and strait and small;
  Round arms and white hands delicate;        50
The little pointed breasts withal;
  The haunches plump and high and straight,
  Right fit for amorous debate;
Wide hips and dainty quelquechose,
  Betwixt broad firm thighs situate,        55
Within its little garden-close.
 
VIII.
“Brows wrinkled sore and tresses gray;
  The brows all fall’n and dim the eyne
That wont to charm men’s hearts away;
  The nose, that was so straight and fine,        60
  Now bent and swerved from beauty’s line;
Chin peaked, ears furred and hanging down;
  Faded the face and quenched its shine
And lips mere bags of loose skin grown.
 
IX.
“Such is the end of human grace:
        65
  The arms grown short and hands all thrawn;
The shoulders bowed out of their place;
  The breasts all shrivelled up and gone;
  The haunches like the paps withdrawn;
The thighs no longer like to thighs,        70
  Withered and mottled all like brawn,
And fie on that between them lies!
 
X.
“And so the litany goes round,
  Lamenting the good time gone by,
Among us crouched upon the ground,        75
  Poor silly hags, to-huddled by
  A scanty fire of hempstalks dry,
Kindled in haste and soon gone out;
  (We that once held our heads so high!)
So all take turn and turn about!”        80
 
 
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