One of the most original and important voices of the Middle Ages, François Villon took his inspiration from the streets, taverns, and bordellos of Paris. A rare instance of a medieval poet who lived on the margins of society, Villon wrote about love and sex, money trouble, bent cops, lewd monks, “the thieving rich,” and the consolations of good food and wine.
Villon’s raw honesty and gritty urban realism have made him a perennial favorite of avant-garde poets and artists. Rimbaud and Verlaine looked to Villon as a liberating example of a subversive outsider turning verse into an instrument of unflinching exploration. Debussy set three of Villon’s ballades to music, and Brecht adopted sections for the stage in his famous Threepenny Opera. Ezra Pound prescribed Villon as a must-read for all aspiring writers and indeed Villon’s work has exerted a lasting influence on generations of modern American and English poets.
With David Georgi’s ingenious translation, English-speaking audiences finally have a text that captures the riotous energy, humor, and wordplay of the original. This bilingual edition presents Villon’s French side-by-side with the translation, in a newly revised text that reflects the latest scholarship. Addressing everything from gambler’s slang to the ingredients of 15th-century flan to the presence of prostitutes in the graveyard, Georgi’s notes provide an inviting and informative guide to the poems and to the colorful, chaotic world of medieval Paris.
François Villon (born c. 1430) is widely recognized as one of France’s greatest lyric poets. A graduate of the Sorbonne and a chronic jailbird, he was pardoned for knifing a priest, thrown in prison for burgling a chapel, and eventually sentenced to hang. He successfully appealed the sentence and was instead banished from Paris in 1463. He was never heard from again.
David Georgi studied medieval literature and modern poetry at Yale University and New York University (Ph.D., Comparative Literature). He works at Vanity Fair magazine and lives in New York City. Excerpts from this translation have appeared in Tin House, The Literary Review, and Inventory.