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.

WORKS

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.

REFERENCES

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].

I. N. GOLENISHCHEV-KUTUZOV and P. G. ANTOKOL’SKII

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References in periodicals archive ?
Ele realizou a primeira edicao exclusivamente dedicada a sua obra, intitulada CEuvres de Francois Villon de Paris (1532).
The first volume of Hemingway's letters includes a 23 December 1921 (almost Christmas!) letter to Sherwood and Tennessee Anderson suggesting that he had read the Stevenson story: "And when it's a cold night in the streets of Paris and we're walking home down the Rue Bonaparte we think of the way the wolves used to slink into the city and Francois Villon and the gallows at Montfaucon" (Letters 313).
In the first, Grace Frank, writing for Modern Language Notes, lauds Rice's erudite treatment of the facetious testament tradition and, though she quibbles with some textual details, ends up judging his work rather indulgently: "If no new conclusions regarding 'sources' and 'influences' are reached, that is not due to any lack of acumen in our critic, but to the originality of Francois Villon." (17) As for the second, appearing in the Romanic Review, Urban Holmes is less forgiving.
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On Baal, Fuegi claims that Brecht wrote the play: In a matter of at least five weeks stitching it together mainly from his growing portfolio of violent poems, many of which were slightly modified versions of poems by Francois Villon, with help from Augsburg friends, he did create a dark, brilliant, misogynist, violent, homoerotic, extended poem of a play, very much in the style of Wedekind.
Solo sus ojos se movian [...] Su pensamiento se concentraba en el muerto que le habia introducido a estudiar a Villon y le habia aconsejado traducir a Shakespeare." Ciertamente, la gran obra de Schwob, que dejaria inconclusa a pesar de haberse dedicado a ella durante diez anos, trata sobre Francois Villon y su tiempo.
The earliest work he preserved sounds much like the young Pound; "Villon" (1925) voiced the disillusionment--and the prison experience--of the medieval French poet Francois Villon, whose captors left him "lying on my back in the dark place, in the grave,/fettered to a post in the damp cellarage." Bunting later mixed such bitterness with stoicism and with praise, showing how language and its most diligent users can endure, if not repair, a damaged world.
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Francois Villon (1431-1463?) is the quintessential Orphean poet, forever glancing back over his shoulder at what he is about to lose.
Francois Villon, whose personal mystery includes a sudden disappearance in 1462 after which he was never heard of again, makes a piquant subject for a biography and in this context.