This post is part of an ongoing series featuring items from the newly acquired Julio Mario Santo Domingo Collection.
Francois Villon was all of those things, and most prominently a subversive outsider. At a time when most poetic works were strongly religious or allegorical Villon wrote with honesty about love and sex, drinking, money problems, and living on the road in 15th-century France. Many of his works were meant to be read aloud, preferably in a tavern. He is known to have influenced modern English poetry, particularly Ezra Pound. This limited edition of Villon’s works and accompanying illustrations by Albert Dubout was published in France around 1933.
The text above is taken from Villon’s poem Bequests, whose premise is that Villon is leaving the city after being spurned by a woman, so he must leave all of his possessions behind. He details a long list of beneficiaries gifting them with worthless junk and items that he never owned, essentially mocking everyone and everything. Most of Villon’s poems have a strong dose of social satire and a tone of merry pranksterism.
This shorter poem translates to:
I am Francois, which I find a burden,
born in Paris (near Pontoise),
and from the six-foot rope
my neck will learn what my ass weighs.
This poem could be read as a direct commentary of Villon’s life since he was indeed condemned to death in November of 1462. The story goes that he was involved in a brawl where the Pope’s Paris notary was stabbed by a companion so he was sentenced to hang since he had already been jailed three times. However, Villon appealed the case and his sentence was changed to a 10 year banishment from Paris. Villon celebrated by writing both a poem taunting the prison clerk and then another lavishly praising the court. Shortly thereafter he disappeared from public view.
Though it is tempting to look at Villon’s work as completely biographical many scholars contend that he created a mix of factual and fictional information to create this character of Villon featured in his works. To see more illustrations by Dubout or recite some of Villon’s verse in French you can find this volume at Houghton Library. Villon (oeuvres) /illustrations de Dubout.Oeuvres. Paris : Gibert Jeune, Librairie d’Amateurs, . FC.V7195.B933v
Thanks to Alison Harris, Santo Domingo Project Manager and Ryan Wheeler, Rare Book Cataloger, for contributing this post.