Reference > Anthologies > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library > Verse

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Here Beginneth Villon to Enter upon Matter Full of Erudition and of Fair Knowledge
By François Villon (1431–1463?)
From the ‘Greater Testament’: Translation of John Payne

NOW it is true that after years
  Of anguish and of sorrowing,
Travail and toil and groans and tears,
  And many a weary wandering,
  Trouble hath wrought in me to bring        5
To point each shifting sentiment,
  Teaching me many another thing
Than Averröes his Comment.
However, at my trials’ worst,
  When wandering in the desert ways,        10
God, who the Emmaüs pilgrims erst
  Did comfort, as the gospel says,
  Showed me a certain resting-place,
And gave me gift of hope no less;
  Though vile the sinner be and base,        15
Nothing he hates save stubbornness.
Sinned have I oft, as well I know;
  But God my death doth not require,
But that I turn from sin, and so
  Live righteously and shun hell-fire.        20
  Whether one by sincere desire
Or counsel turn unto the Lord,
  He sees; and casting off his ire,
Grace to repentance doth accord.
And as of its own motion shows,        25
  Ev’n in the very first of it,
The noble Romaunt of the Rose,
  Youth to the young one should remit,
  So manhood do mature the wit.
And there, alack! the song says sooth:        30
  They that such snares for me have knit
Would have me die in time of youth.
If for my death the common weal
  Might anywise embettered be,
Death my own hand to me should deal        35
  As felon, so God ’stablish me!
  But unto none, that I can see,
Hindrance I do, alive or dead;
  The hills, for one poor wight, perdie,
Will not be stirred out of their stead.        40
Whilom, when Alexander reigned,
  A man that hight Diomedes
Before the Emperor was arraigned,
  Bound hand and foot, like as one sees
  A thief. A skimmer of the seas        45
Of those that course it far and nigh
  He was; and so, as one of these,
They brought him to be doomed to die.
The Emperor bespoke him thus:—
  “Why art thou a sea-plunderer?”        50
The other, no wise timorous:—
  “Why dost thou call me plunderer, sir?
  Is it, perchance, because I ear
Upon so mean a bark the sea?
  Could I but arm me with thy gear,        55
I would be emperor like to thee.
“What wouldst thou have? From sorry Fate,
  That uses me with such despite
As I on no wise can abate,
  Arises this my evil plight.        60
  Let me find favor in thy sight
And have in mind the common saw:
  In penury is little right;
Necessity knows no man’s law.”
Whenas the Emperor to his suit        65
  Had harkened, much he wonderèd:
And “I thy fortune will commute
  From bad to good,” to him he said;
  And did. Thenceforward Diomed
Wronged none, but was a true man aye.        70
  Thus have I in Valerius read,
Of Rome styled Greatest in his day.
If God had granted me to find
  A king of like greatheartedness,
That had fair fate to me assigned,        75
  Stooped I thenceforward to excess
  Or ill, I would myself confess
Worthy to die by fire at stake.
  Necessity makes folks transgress,
And want drives wolven from the brake.        80
My time of youth I do bewail,
  That more than most lived merrily,
Until old age ’gan me assail,
  For youth had passed unconsciously.
  It wended not afoot from me,        85
Nor yet on horseback. Ah, how then?
  It fled away all suddenly,
And never will return again.
It’s gone, and I am left behind,
  Poor both in knowledge and in wit,        90
Black as a berry, drear and dwined,
  Coin, land, and goods, gone every whit;
  Whilst those by kindred to me knit,
The due of Nature all forgot,
  To disavow me have seen fit,        95
For lack of pelf to pay the scot….
When I of poverty complain,
  Ofttimes my heart to me hath said,
“Man, wherefore murmur thus in vain?
  If thou hast no such plentihead        100
  As had Jacques Cœur, be comforted:
Better to live and rags to wear,
  Than to have been a lord, and dead,
Rot in a splendid sepulchre.”
(Than to have been a lord! I say.        105
  Alas, no longer is he one:
As the Psalm tells of it,—to-day
  His place of men is all unknown.)
  As for the rest, affair ’tis none
Of mine, that but a sinner be:        110
  To theologians alone
The case belongs, and not to me.
For I am not, as well I know,
  An angel’s son, that crowned with light
Among the starry heavens doth go:        115
  My sire is dead—God have his spright!
  His body’s buried out of sight.
I know my mother too must die,—
  She knows it too, poor soul, aright,—
And soon her son by her must lie.        120
I know full well that rich and poor,
  Villein and noble, high and low,
Laymen and clerks, gracious and dour,
  Wise men and foolish, sweet of show
  Or foul of favor, dames that go        125
Ruffed and rebatoed, great or small,
  High-tired or hooded,—Death (I know)
Without exception seizes all.
Paris or Helen though one be,—
  Who dies, in pain and drearihead,        130
For lack of breath and blood dies he,
  His gall upon his heart is shed:
  Then doth he sweat, God knows how dread
A sweat, and none there is to allay
  His ills; child, kinsman, in his stead        135
None will go bail for him that day.
Death makes him shiver and turn pale,
  Sharpens his nose and swells his veins,
Puffs up his throat, makes his flesh fail,
  His joints and nerves greatens and strains.        140
  Fair women’s bodies, soft as skeins
Of silk, so tender, smooth and rare,
  Must you too suffer all these pains?
Ay, or alive to heaven fare.

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