François Villon: Poems

Translated by

David Georgi

Published by Northwestern University Press

available ON AMAZON

François Villon was as direct and funny, wild and scabrous and passionate as any poet who ever lived, and David Georgi’s version of his works is clearly the one for our time, managing the remarkable trick of sounding at once contemporary without cant and 15th-century without fustian.

– Luc Sante, author of Low Life, translator of Félix Fénéon’s Novels in Three Lines, and frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books

Very few translations are works of power and beauty on their own….David Georgi’s rendering of Villon’s great Testament is one of them. If ever there was a poet deserving of renewed glory, it is the brutal and blessed Villon, criminal and verse-maker, who lived in shadows, disappeared at the age of thirty-two, and left behind something unique. Georgi gives Villon new life and, in doing so, gives us all a rare and wonderful gift.

– Nick Tosches, author of Me and the Devil, In the Hand of Dante, and The Last Opium Den

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Georgi’s lively, nuanced translation, accompanied by a newly-revised French text and the most comprehensive (and enjoyable!) notes of any English translation of Villon, is set to become the definitive Villon text for classroom use….Georgi makes Villon’s poems delightfully accessible to English speakers, whether students of French, teachers, scholars, or lovers of poetry.

–  Nancy Freeman Regalado, Professor of French, emerita, New York University


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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 HouseThe Literary Review, and Inventory. 

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