Francois Villon

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Villon, Francois


(real surname, Montcorbier or de Loges). Born between Apr. 1, 1431, and Apr. 19, 1432, in Paris; year and place of death unknown. French poet.

Villon was brought up by his foster father, the chaplain Guillaume de Villon, whose name he bore. He studied in the arts faculty at the Sorbonne, where he received a bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree (1452). In 1455, Villon killed a priest in a brawl and fled from Paris. After being pardoned he returned and joined gangs of thieves; he was in jail several times. In 1463 he was condemned for brawling and sentenced him to be hanged. While awaiting death Villon wrote his Ballade of the Hanged. However, his execution was commuted to exile from Paris. Villon took part in the competitions for poets which were held at the court of Duke Charles d’Orleans, but his fate is unknown after 1464.

In 1456, Villon wrote his long poem Lais in 320 verses, well-known under the title of Minor Testament. This mock confession of an itinerant student, parodying a legal document, is a work of great realistic force, full of penetrating lyricism, irony, and earthy humor. Villon’s Grand Testament with its inserted ballades (such as “Of Ladies of Bygone Days,” “Women of Paris,” and “Fat Margot”) contains 2,023 verses. Especially noteworthy are the realistic little scenes from the life of the Parisian lower classes; vividly sketched are the riotous tramps, thieves, prostitutes, tavern keepers, and inveterately drunken clergymen. Villon’s poems contain his meditations on his lost youth, his unrequited love, his bitter poverty—the “mother of all crimes”—his presentiment of inevitable death, and repentant prayers; all this is shot through with irony, at times benign, at times sarcastic. Nor were patriotic moods alien to him (for example, “Ballade Against the Enemies of France”).

Villon’s verse was supple and musical. The poet had a command of both rhythm and rhyme; his ballades were complex in form and contained refrains. Villon’s language combined the dialect of the urban petite bourgeoisie with the jargon of thieves, the learned rhetoric of the Sorbonne, and archaisms used in the descriptions of the former days of chivalry. Villon’s successors (P. Gringore, M. Regnier, C. Marot, and F. Rabelais) were writers who were already free of medieval morality.

Villon was praised by the poets of classicism and the Enlightenment (J. La Fontaine, N. Boileau, Moliere, P. A. C. Beaumarchais), the romantics (V. Hugo, T. Gautier), and the symbolist P. Verlaine. Villon has been translated into Russian by V. la. Briusov, N. S. Gumilev, and I. G. Ehrenburg. The tragic, adventure-filled destiny of Villon has been the subject of poetic and romantic interpretations by such authors as R. L. Stevenson, F. Carco, K. Edschmid, and P. G. Antokol’skii.


Oeuvres complètes, 3rd ed. Published by A. Longnon. Paris, 1923.
Oeuvres. Published by A. Mary. Paris [1962].
Oeuvres poètiques. [Paris] 1965.
In Russian translation:
Stikhi. Translated by F. Mendel’son and I. Ehrenburg. [With a foreword by L. Pinskii. Moscow, 1963.]
[“Stikhi.”] In Ten’ derev’ev: Stikhi zarubezhnykh poetov v per. I. Erenburga. Moscow, 1969.


Veselovskii, lu. A. Literaturnye ocherki, vol. 1. Moscow, 1910.
Mandel’shtam, O. O poezii: Sb. statei. Leningrad, 1928. Pages 87-97.
Istoriia frantsuzskoi literatury, vol. 1. Moscow-Leningrad, 1946. Pages 195-201.
Ehrenburg, I. Frantsuzskie tetradi. Moscow, 1959.
Cons, L. Etat prèsent des etudes sur Villon. Paris, 1936. (Contains a bibliography.)
Lewis, D. B. W. François Villon: A Documented Survey. London, 1945.
Chancy, E. F. Francois Villon in His Environment. Oxford, 1946.
Burger, A. Lexique de la langue de Villon. Geneva-Paris, 1957.
Seaton, E. Studies in Villon, Vaillant, and Charles d’Orléans. Oxford, 1957.
Charpier, J. Francois Villon. [Paris, 1958.]
Robert, A. F. Villon. New York [1968].


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Did I ever tell you the parody of Cowley's elegiac lines on Crashaw that Rossetti once made at my instigation for the opening couplet of an Epicede on Francois Villon, poet, pimp and pickpocket?
In "On an Old Roundel," he pays tribute to Francois Villon, a fellow lover of complicated versification and subversion.
Again in his essay on Francois Villon, the fifteenth century French poet, his judgement is too harsh, for he could only see 'artistic evil' in him.
For Enghien-les-Bains, a small spa town just north of Paris, Nationale Zero was appropriately transformed into an "exhibition route" starting at the town's Centre des Arts (stretches one through three, by Meyer, Pascal Aimar, and Mat Jacob), continuing at the Centre Culturel Francois Villon (four through seven, by Olivier Culmann, Gilles Coulon, Philippe Lopparelli, and Patrick Tourneboeuf), and winding up at the local Mediatheque (eight through ten, by Denis Bourges, Caty Jan, and Thierry Ardouin).
Poesies de Francois Villon, commentees par Emmanuele Baumgartner, Foliotheque 72 (Paris: Gallimard, 1998).
In fact, on the one hand this poetry symbolically recalls ancient Rome's erotic elegies handed down to us from Propertius and Tibullus, Ovid and Catullus; on the other hand it evokes the kind of verse both imagined and interpreted by Francois Villon through his Lais, as well as a later relative of Petrarch's Laura, the Marquis de Sade, presumed author of such "ribald romances" as Justine, or the theory (acknowledged by psychiatry) that sexual deviations and criminal acts are both part of nature and thus are natural and human as well.
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Karl Klammer's) famous translation of Francois Villon - because, allegedly, "er sie nicht glaubte verbessern zu konnen" - is downright wrong, and doubly so to boot.
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However, since Villon protests at the attribution of the title Testament to his first work (LXXV), which he had called Le Lais Francois Villon (RH III, p.