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In 1462 Francois Villon killed a man in a brawl, and was sentenced to death. In 1463 this sentence was commuted to banishment, but while in the Chatelet prison, Villon had written this poem, sometimes called  Epitaphe Villon, sometimes La Ballade des Pendus. In it he gives voice to the bodies left hanging on the gibbet, as an example to others.


gibbet
Villonís Epitaph


You fellow humans still among the living,
If you can look at us with hearts unhardened,
Can see us wretches, and can be forgiving,
Then trust in God that you too will be pardoned.
You see us strung up, five, six in a line,
With all that flesh we plumped with food and wine
Now pecked by birds or dried hard by the wind,
Until our disconnected bones drop off.
When you stare at our ugliness, don't scoff,
But pray to God to pardon all mankind.

If we call you brothers, please donít take offence.
Though justice wisely thinks us better dead.
You know enough to know that  common sense
Can sometimes take its flight from any head,
So feel for foolish sinners who in dread
Shiver and pray that grace from Maryís Son,
Grace plentiful enough for everyone,
Might save even us from Hellís eternal grind.
Weíre dead and done. Stop jeering. Donít make fun,
But pray to God to pardon all mankind.

Here comes the driving rain to soak and souse
Our bodies; soon the sun will dry us black.
Crows snatch the hairs out from our beards and brows
And peck at sockets where the eyes now lack.
Blown this way that way as the rough wind chances,
Forever we must do our dangling dances;
Our eyes  jabbed oftener than an addict's arm
By rooks who are voracious and unkind.
Make sure your lives donít lead you to such harm,
But pray to God to pardon all mankind.

Prince Jesus, mighty Lord of earth and air;
Mortals are fragile, and weíre not designed
To waste in hell; we have no business there.
And men Ė don't mock like those whose souls are blind,
But pray to God to pardon all mankind.

Francois Villon
Freely translated by George Simmers

If you have any thoughts on this translation, George Simmers
would be pleased to hear them.

epitaphe
        villon

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