End of Europe's Middle Ages

Epitaph in the Form of a
Ballade - François Villon

Villon is best known for the candor of his poetry and honest revelation of life in the late Middle Ages outside the halls of nobility. Having had death sentences commuted to exile on more than one occasion, Villon probably identified closely with the pleas of criminals condemned to hanging in this ballad.

Epitaph in the Form of a Ballade
Men, brother men, that after us yet live,
                    Let not your hearts too hard against us be;
For if some pity of us poor men ye give,
                    The sooner God shall of you take pity.
                    Here are we five or six strung up, you see,
And here the flesh that all too well we fed
Bit by bit eaten and rotten, rent and shred
                    And we bones grow dust and ash withal;
Let no man laugh at us discomforted,
                    But pray to God that he forgive us all.

If we call on you, brothers, to forgive,
                    Ye should not hold our prayer in scorn, though we
Were slain by law; ye know that all alive
                    Have not wit always to walk righteously;
Make therefore intercession heartily
With him that of virgin's womb bred,
That his grace be not as a dry well-head
                    For us, nor let hell's thunder on us fall;
We are dead, let no man harry or vex us dead,
                    But pray to God that he forgive us all.
The rain has washed and laundered us all five,
                    And the sun dried and blackened; yea, perdie,
Ravens and pies with beaks that rend and rive
                    Have dug our eyes out, and plucked off for fee
                    Our beards and eyebrows; never we are free, Not once, to rest; but here and there still sped,
Driven at its wild will by the wind's change led,
                    More pecked of birds than fruits on garden-wall;
Men, for God's love, let no gibe gere be said,
                    But pray to God that he forgive us all.

Prince Jesus, that of all art lord and head,
Keep us, that hell be not our bitter bed;
                    We have nought to do in such a master's hall.
Be not ye therefore of our fellowhead,
                    But pray to God that he forgives us all.

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The End of Europe's Middle Ages / Applied History Research Group / University of Calgary
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