Le Testament

Le Testament is a collection of poetry composed in 1461 by François Villon. Le Testament, comprising over twenty essentially independent poems in octosyllabic verse, consists of a series of fixed-form poems, namely 16 ballades and three rondeaux,[1] and is recognized as a gem of medieval literature.


A page from Villon's Le grand testament. Kungliga biblioteket in Stockholm, Sweden.

The 2,023 lines of the Testament are marked by the immediate prospect of death by hanging and frequently describe other forms of misery and death. It mixes reflections on the passing of time, bitter derision, invective, and religious fervor. This mixed tone of tragic sincerity stands in contrast to the other poets of the time.

In one of these poems, Ballade des dames du temps jadis ("Ballad of the Ladies of Times Past"), each stanza and the concluding envoi asks after the fate of various celebrated women, including Héloise and Joan of Arc, and ends with the same semi-ironic question:

Dictes moy ou n'en quel pays
Est Flora le belle Romaine
Archipiades, ne Thaïs,
Qui fut sa cousine germaine,
Echo parlant quant bruyt on maine
Dessus riviere ou sus estan,
Qui beaulté ot trop plus qu'humaine.
Mais ou sont les neiges d'antan?

Tell me where, in which country
Is Flora, the beautiful Roman;
Archipiada (Alcibiades?), and Thaïs
Who was her cousin;
Echo, speaking when one makes noise
Over river or on pond,
Who had a beauty too much more than human?
Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!

—Anthony Weir[2]

This same "Ballade des dames du temps jadis" was famously translated into English in 1870 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti as "Ballade of Dead Ladies". Rossetti translated the refrain as "But where are the snows of yester-year?"[3]


Poems included in Le Testament are:

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ * Fein, David (1997), "6 The Testament: The Ballades", François Villon Revisited, New York: Twayne, ISBN 0805745645, Villon has interspersed a series of fixed-form poems, 16 ballades and three rondeaux, throughout the Testament.
  2. ^ Villon, "Tide and Undertow", poems of various languages translated by Anthony Weir, 1975
  3. ^ Rossetti, Dante Gabriel (1872) [original French poem Ballade des dames du temps jadis 1461 by François Villon], "Three Translations From François Villon, 1450. I. The Ballad of Dead Ladies", Poems (1870): Sixth Edition, French poems translated 1869 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (6 ed.), London: F. S. Ellis, p. 177, retrieved 2013-07-23 {{citation}}: External link in |edition= (help)

Further readingEdit

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