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Trois ballades de François Villon

Debussy (1910)1

Ballade à s'amye

Fausse beauté, qui tant me coûte cher,
Rude en effet, hypocrite douceur,
Amour dure plus que fer à mâcher,
Nommer te puis, de ma défaçon seur.
Charme félon, la mort d'un pauvre cœur,
Orgueil mussé qui gens met au mourir,
Yeux sans pitié, ne veux Droit de rigueur,
Sans empirer, un pauvre secourir?

Mieux m'eût valu avoir été crier
Ailleurs secours: c'eût été mon bonheur;
Rien ne m'eût su de ce fait arracher.
Trotter m'en faut en fuite à déshonneur.
Haro, haro, le grand et le mineur!2
Et qu'est ceci? Mourrai sans coup férir?
Ou pitié peut, selon cette teneur,
Sans empirer, un pauvre secourir?

Un temps viendra qui fera dessécher,
Jaunir, flétrir, votre épanie fleur;
J'en risse lors, se tant peusse marcher,
Mais las! nenny; Ce serait donc foleur,
Vieil je serai; vous, laide, et sans couleur;
Or buvez fort, tant que ru peut courir;
Ne donnez pas à tous cette douleur,
Sans empirer, un pauvre secourir.

Prince amoureux3, des amants le greigneur,
Votre mal gré ne voudrais encourir,
Mais tout franc cœur doit, par Notre Seigneur,
Sans empirer, un paurvre secourir.

Ballade que Villon fit à la requête de
sa mère pour prier Notre Dame

Dame du ciel, régente terrienne,
Emperière des infernaux palus,4
Recevez moi, votre humble chrétienne,
Que comprise soie entre vos élus,
Ce non obstant qu'oncques rien ne valus.
Les biens de vous, ma Dame et ma Maîtresse,
Sont trop plus grands que ne suis pécheresse,
Sans lesquels biens âme ne peut mérir
N'avoir les cieux. Je n'en suis menteresse.
En cette foi je veux vivre et mourir.

A votre Fils dites que je suis sienne;
De lui soient mes péchés abolus;
Pardonnez moi comme à l'Égyptienne,5
Ou comme il fit au clerc Théophilus,6
Lequel par vous fut quitte et absolus,
Combien qu'il eût au diable fait promesse
Préservez-moi que je n'accomplisse ce!
Vierge portant, sans rompure encourir,7
Le sacrement qu'on célèbre à la messe:8
En cette foi je veux vivre et mourir.

Femme je suis pauvrette et ancienne,
Qui rien ne sais; oncques lettre ne lus.
Au moutier vois dont suis paroissienne9
Paradis peint, où sont harpes et luz,
Et un enfer où damnés sont boullus:
L'un me fait peur, l'autre joie et liesse.
La joie avoir fais moi, haute Déesse,
A qui pécheurs doivent tous recourir,
Comblés de foi, sans feinte ne paresse:
En cette foi je veux vivre et mourir.

Ballade des femmes de Paris

Quoi qu'on tient belles langagères
Florentines, Vénitiennes,
Assez pour être messagères,
Et mêmement les anciennes;
Mais, soient Lombardes, Romaines,
Genevoises, à mes perils,
Piémontoises, Savoisiennes,
Il n'est bon bec que de Paris.

De beau parler tiennent chayères,
Ce dit-on, Napolitaines,
Et que sont bonnes caquetières
Allemandes et Prussiennes;
Soient Greques, Egyptiennes,
De Hongrie ou d'autre pays,
Espagnoles ou Catelannes,
Il n'est bon bec que de Paris.

Brettes, Suisses, n'y savent guères,
Ne Gasconnes et Toulousaines:
Du Petit Pont deux harengères10
Les concluront, et les Lorraines,
Anglesches ou Calaisiennes,
(Ai-je beaucoup de lieux compris?)
Picardes, de Valenciennes;
Il n'est bon bec que de Paris.

Prince, aux dames parisiennes
De bien parler donner le prix;
Quoi qu'on dit d'Italiennes,
Il n'est bon bec que de Paris.


François Villon

1Modern scholarly versions of these texts vary considerably from those set by Debussy.
2Haro was a cry for help, the "grand haro" was an urgent call.
3Possibly addressed to René d'Anjou, King of Sicily and Jerusalem.
4The infernal swamps of pagan tradition.
5Sainte Marie l'Égyptienne, a whore who was converted after a vision in the Saint Sepulcre Basilica in Jerusalem. She retired to Thebes in Egypt to repent from her former life for forty-seven years.
6Lieutenant in the service of the Bishop of Adana who, upon losing his post, signed a pact with the Devil to regain it. After seven years he repented and was saved by the intervention of the Virgin Mary.
7Literally, without incurring rupture.
8ie. Jesus.
9Guillebert de Metz in 1434 describes l'Église des Celestins, a monastic church thought to have been Villon's mother's parish church, as having a painting of heaven and hell.
10Le Petit Pont still exists in Paris.

Three ballads by François Villon

 

Ballad to his beloved

Deceptive beauty, which costs me so dear,
in fact coarse, hypocritical gentleness,
love harder even than iron to chew;
I can name you certain cause of my undoing.
Disloyal charm, the death of a poor heart,
hidden pride, which condemns men to death,
eyes without pity, does not the Law from rigour,
without worsening his lot, rescue a poor fellow?

It would have served me better to have gone elsewhere
to cry for help: it would have been my good fortune;
nothing succeeded in tearing me from this fate.
I must hurry on my flight from dishonour.
Help, help, great and small!
And what is this? Shall I die without striking a blow?
Or will pity, given this circumstance,
without worsening his lot, rescue a poor fellow?

A time will come which will dry,
yellow, wither, your blossoming flower;
I shall laugh then, if I can still walk enough,
but alas! Nay; for it would be folly,
I shall be old; you, ugly and without colour;
so drink deeply, while the stream still flows;
do not inflict this pain on everybody,
without worsening his lot, rescue a poor fellow.

Prince in love, greatest among lovers,
I would not wish to incur your displeasure,
but each noble heart must, by Our Lord,
without worsening his lot, rescue a poor fellow.

Ballad written by Villon at the request of
his mother as a prayer to Our Lady

Lady of heaven, regent of the earth,
empress of the infernal swamps,
receive me, your humble Christian woman,
that I be numbered among your elect,
notwithstanding that I was worth nothing.
Your good morals, my Lady and my Mistress,
are far too great though I am no sinner,
without such morals, no soul can deserve
nor gain the heavens. I am no liar.
In this faith I wish to live and die.

Tell your Son that I am his;
through him may my sins be abolished;
forgive me, like the Egyptian woman,
or as he did the clerk Theophilus,
who through you was acquitted and absolved,
however many promises he had made to the devil
keep me from ever doing such a thing!
Virgin bearing, without loss of virginity,
the sacrament which is celebrated at mass:
in this faith I wish to live and die.

Woman am I, poor and old,
who knows nothing; nor am I well read.
I see at the monastery, of which I am a parishioner,
Heaven painted, with harps and lutes,
and a hell where the damned are boiled:
the one brings me fright, the other joy and jubilation.
Grant me joy, high Goddess
to whom sinners must all have recourse,
fulfilled in faith, without insincerity or sloth:
in this faith I wish to live and die.

Ballad of the women of Paris

Though we deem Florentine and Venetian women
to be fine talkers,
enough so as to be messengers,
as were the ladies of old;
yet, be they Lombardian, Roman,
Genovese, I stand as witness,
from Piedmont or Savoy,
only from Paris do they have the gift of the gab.

They hold professorships in fine speech
so they say of Napolitan women,
and that Germans and Prussians
are terrible gossips;
yet be they Greek, Egyptian,
from Hungary or other countries,
Spanish or Castilian,
only from Paris do they have the gift of the gab.

Bretton and Swiss women hardly know anything,
nor do those from Gascony and Toulouse:
two fishwives from Petit Pont
would shut them up, and those from Lorraine,
England or Calais,
(have I included many places?)
those from Picardy, from Valenciennes;
only from Paris do they have the gift of the gab.

Prince, give the prize for speaking well
to the Parisian women;
whatever they may say of Italian women,
only from Paris do they have the gift of the gab.

© translated by Christopher Goldsack

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