Flesh of Snow, Words of Iron:
The Fortunes of Villon's Dead Ladies in American Culture
by
Robert D. Peckham, Société François Villon



William Carlos Williams spoke of François Villon's immortality in these terms: "By a single line of verse in an almost forgotten language, Medieval French, the name of Villon goes on living defiantly." (Bonner, The Complete Works of François Villon [NYC: Bantam,1960], ix)   He was alluding the refrain in the testamentary "Ballade des dames du temps jadis", the first to appear in English translation. Below is a collection of American poems (with 2 exceptions) either imitating this ballade or making extensive reference to it.  Of course, the omnipresent and apparently inspirational word "yesteryear", was coined by Dante Gabriele Rossetti in his translation of the ballade published in 1870. We see a blossoming of interest in Villon as early as 1890, with the first American work about him, the 467-line dramatic dialogue, entitled François Villon, by S. Weir Mitchell. In the collection below, works date from as early as 1900.


Bracker, Milton.  "Where, O Where?"  In Sprints and Distances.  Sports Poetry and the Poetry in Sport.  Ed. Lillian Morrison.  Ills. Claire and John  Ross.  20. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, c1965]

Where are the heroes of yesteryear?
Has ever their like been seen?
Terry and Gehrig and Melvin Ott
Lining another one out of the lot-
And Harry (The Cat) Brecheen.

Where are the stars of my misspent youth-
Like Meusel and Frisch, I mean?
Tony Lazzeri (before Di Mag)
Leading the Yanks to a runaway flag-
And Harry (The Cat) Brecheen.

Where are the players I loved so well-
Art Nehf, and the brothers Dean?
Who in the multitude does not miss
Walter and Alex and Tyrus and Tris-
And Harry (The Cat) Brecheen.

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Cantor, Michael "Where Are the Negligees of Anthony."  The Buckey: An Anthology of Metrical Poetry  1, No. 1 (June 2003): 37
http://www.the-buckeye.org/premiere.pdf

My closet once held forty pin-striped suits
arranged in shades and grades of blue and gray -
each morning I compared their attributes:
The peaked lapels to see the bank, today?
That muted chalk from Nathan Road should play
well there - the Saville Row's too rich, I fear.
But bright new days now only bring dismay:
where are the clothes of yesteryear?

A businessman must have his absolutes,
those vested interests he will not betray:
I flaunt my Turnbull ties and Magli boots;
this banker favored skin tight jeans that stay
snug as you please, and whispered, “Call me Kay”.
But when I squeezed her knees, and called her “dear”,
she called the loan - and knocked my hand away.
Where are the suits of yesteryear?

They're gone, all gone, on golden parachutes,
to seek the sun and gargle chardonnay;
and what they've left behind as substitutes
are brutes, in wrinkled chino disarray,
who think style is a Harvard MBA
recruit, in T-shirt stained with last night's beer
and artfully emblazoned Casual Fryday.
Where are the clothes of yesteryear?
 

Bespoken and unspoken for, I stay;
aware that reinforcements won't appear,
and pray a marker at Thermopylae will say:
Where are the clothes of yesteryear?

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Robert Dupree, "Bal1ade des poetes exiles" in Kergyma (literary journal published at the University of Dallas from 1961 to 1966)

Kergyma Spring 1961

Tell me not where nor in which land
Was Homer, whose own odyssey
Carried him through seven cities and
An epical road-show's legacy;
Nor Ovid, inverser of lewdery,
Who left Rome; nor Dante, who-worse
Pariah-raised hell poetically;
But where is the home of great verse?

Not to which country fled banned
Francois Villon de Paris,
Esteemed among critics as grand
Baladin; similarly
Lord Byron, who limped on one knee
To war and a Homeric hearse;
Rimbaud; and Schiller by decree;
But where is the home of great verse?

No ubi sunt: Joyce, who must stand
Less as a poet than as he
Who wrote Ulysses and fanned
The ire of his native country;
Ezra Pound, saved by insanity;
And diplomatic St.-John Perse,
His career cut short by Vichy;
But where is the home of great verse?

Poets please tell me-our sympathy
Will, with your art, reimburse
Your honor-not the borders you flee,
But where is the home of great verse?
 

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Faulkner, William. "Une Ballade des dames perdues."  In William Faulkner: Early Prose and Poetry.  Comp. and Intro. Carvel Collins. Ill. London: Johnathan Cape, c1965]. 54 [epigram: "Mais où sont les neiges d'antan"].

I sing in the green dusk
Fatuously
Of ladies I have loved
- Ça ne fait rien!  Hélas, vraiment, vraiement

Gay little ghosts of loves in silver sandals
They dance with quick feet on my lute strings
With the abandon of boarding school virgins
While unbidden moths
Amorous of my seraglio
Call them with soundless love songs
A sort of etherial seduction

They hear, alas
My women
And brush my lips with ghostly kisses
Stealing away
Singly, their tiny ardent faces
Like wildflowers from some blown garden of dreams
To their love nights among the roses

I am old, and alone
And the star dust from their wings
Has dimmed my eyes
I sing in the green dusk
Of lost ladies - Si vraiment, vraiment charmant.
 

This was originally published in The Mississippian  (January 28, 1920): 3, where an error in the title tagged it "Une balad Hedes Femmes Perdues".  It may have been written as early as 1919, because there is a holograph version in a decorated gift, dated January 1, 1920 (ed. p. 127)

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Jack Foley. "Two Questionnaires - 'September'"
http://www.alsopreview.com/foley/jfdmorton.html

What is there left at the garage sale of Western Culture?
What artifacts? What heart-shaped curios?
What treasured, misplaced, valueless mementoes?
What rags of yesteryear they used to wear?
Where are the wisdom-books someone would read
And gain courage from, and think them wise?
Where are the women with their suns and eyes?
What is there here that has not gone to seed?
Where are the chickens coming home to roost?
Where are the architects whose work is gone?
Where is Hamlet with his father's ghost?
Where are the diapasons? Where the sun?
Nothing but carnage and a speechless sky.
Nothing in this rubble left to buy.

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Marilyn Hacker, "THE REAL HIDDEN SCANDAL OF EMILY DICKINSON'S LIFE"
http://www.iath.virginia.edu/dickinson/titanic/hacker8.html

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Hicky, Daniel Whitehead.  "The River Boats."  In America Forever New.  A Book of Poems.  Ed. Sara Westrook Brewton.  Ill. Ann Grifalconi.  New York: Thomas Y. 172-73. Crowell, [c1968].

Where are the old side-wheelers now,
The river boats of yesteryear-
The Comet  and Vesuvius
Whose whistles sharp and clear
Routed a parish from its bed,
Shaking the morning air?

(Sing low, O voices from the past-
Breathe deep, O honeysuckle flower!)

Where is the shining Prince of Wales ,
The Washington  and Southern Belle ,
The Sea Gull  and the Unicorn
That made the Mississippi swell
In bright, swift tides against the warves?
Where are they now? Who can tell?

(Play soft, O banjo from the shadows,
Bleed red, O melon on the vine!)

Where does the Annie Laurie  rest,
The bold Diana's  fabled hull,
The Sally Robinson  trail her smoke?
Proud as a lady and beautiful
Casting her shadow in the sun,
Where steams the Belle Creole?

(Finger the willows gently, wind,
Spill all your silver, delta moon!)

Where are the boats of yesteryear?
It is a secret I cannot keep:
Deep in the harbor of a dream
They drift with tall majectic sweep,
The song song of stevedores long silent,
And all their pilots fast asleep.

========================================

Lowell, Robert.  "Ballad for the Dead Ladies"  Imitations.  15-16. New York: Ferrar, Strous and Giroux, [c1961]

Say in what land, or where
is Flora, the lovely Roman,
Andromeda, or Helen,
far lovlier,
or Echo, who would answer
accross the brook or river-
her beauty was more than human!
Oh where is last year's snow?

Where is the wise Eloise,
and Peter Abelard
gelded at Saint Denis
for love of her?
That queen who threw Buridan
in a sack in the Sein-
who will love her again?
Oh where is last year's snow?

Queen Blanche, the fleur-de-lys,
who had a siren's voice,
Bertha Big Foot, Beatrice,
Arembourg, ruler of Maine,
or Jeanne d'Arc of Lorraine
the British burned at Rouen?
Where are they, where?  Oh Virgin,
Oh where is last year's snow?

Prince, do not ask this year
or next year, where they are;
or answer my refrain:
Oh where is last year's snow?  (pp. 15-16)

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Masters, Edgar Lee. "The Hill" In Spoon River Anthology.  An Annotated Edition.    Ed. John E Hallwas. 1914; rpt.   Urbana and Chicago: Univ. of Illinois Press, [c1992], 87-88.

Where are Elmer, Herman, Bert, Tom and Charley,
The weak of will, the strong of arm, the clown, the
boozer, the fighter?
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

one passed in a fever,
One was burned in a mine
One was killed in a brawl,
One died in jail,
One fell from a bridge toiling for children and wife-
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Ella, Kate, Mag, Lizzie and Edith,
The tender heart, the simple soul, the loud, the proud,
the happy one?-
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

One died in a shameful child-birth,
One of a thwarted love,
One at the hands of a brute in a brothel,
One of a broken pride, in the search for heart's desire,
One after life in far-away London and Paris
Was brought to her little space by Ella and Kate and Mag-
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where are Uncle Isaac and Aunt Emily,
And old Towny Kincaid and Sevigne Houghton,
And Major Walker who had talked
With venerable men of the revolution?
All, all, are sleeping on the hill.

They brought them dead sons from the war,
And daughters whom life had crushed,
And their children fatherless, crying-
All, all are sleeping, sleeping, sleeping on the hill.

Where is Old Fiddler Jones
Who played with life all his ninety years,
Braving the sleet with bared breast,
Drinking, rioting, thinking neither of wife nor kin,
Nor gold, nor love, nor heaven?
Lo! he babbles of the fish-frys of long ago
Of the horse-races of long ago at Clary's Grove,
Of what Abe Lincoln said
One time in Springfield.

The poem devotes its first 2 stanzas to asking and then answering questions about five men.  The next two stanzas do the same for five women. The next two stanzas unite concerns about both men and women and span the time between two wars.  The last stanza focuses on a good-lifer named Fiddler Jones.
 

Masters, Edgar Lee. "Petit the Poet" Ibid. 173

Edgar Lee Masters (1868?1950).  Spoon River Anthology.  1916.
http://www.bartleby.com/84/86.html

SEEDS in a dry pod, tick, tick, tick,
Tick, tick, tick, like mites in a quarrel—
Faint iambics that the full breeze wakens—
But the pine tree makes a symphony thereof.
Triolets, villanelles, rondels, rondeaus,
Ballades by the score with the same old thought:
The snows and the roses of yesterday are vanished;
And what is love but a rose that fades?
Life all around me here in the village:
Tragedy, comedy, valor and truth,
Courage, constancy, heroism, failure—
All in the loom, and oh what patterns!
Woodlands, meadows, streams and rivers—
Blind to all of it all my life long.
Triolets, villanelles, rondels, rondeaus,
Seeds in a dry pod, tick, tick, tick,
Tick, tick, tick, what little iambics,
While Homer and Whitman roared in the pines

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McCarthy, Justin Huntly.  "A Ballade of Dead Ladies.  After Villon.  From 'If I Were King.'"  In The Home Book of Verse - American and English.  With an Appendix Containing a Few Well-Known Poems in Other Languages.  Ed. Burton  Egbert Stevenson.  9th Ed.  New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1953, Vol. 1, pp. 1785-87 [occuring act iii, p. 56 of play and on p 180 in novel; in both spoken, but with lute-strum accompanyment].

I wonder in what Isle of Bliss
Apollo's music fills the air;
In what green valley Artemis
For young Endymion spreads the snare:
Where Venus lingers debonaire:
The Wind has blown them all away-
And Pan lies piping in his lair-
Where are the gods of Yesterday?

Say where the great Semiramis[1786]
Sleeps in a rose-red tomb; and where
The precious dust of Caeser is,
Or Cleopatra's yellow hair:
Where Alexander Do-and-Dare;
The wind has blown them all away-
And Redbeard of the Iron Chair;
Where are dreams of Yesterday?

Where is the Queen of Herod's kiss,
And Phyrne in her beauty bare;
By what strange sea does Tomyris
With Dido and Cassandra share
Devine Proserpina's despair;
The wind has blown them all away-
For what poor ghost does Helen care?
Where are the girls of yesterday?

ENVOY

Alas for lovers!  Pair by pair!
The wind has blown them all away:
The young and yare, the fond and fair:
Where are the Snows of Yesterday?
 
 

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Peterson, Donald. "The Ballad of Dead Yankees" In  Ed. Don Johnson. Hummers, Knucklers, and Slow Curves: Contemporary Baseball Poems. 262.  Urbana-Champaign:  Univ. of Illinois ress, 1991

Where's Babe Ruth, the King of Swat,
Who rocked the heavens with his blows?
Grabowski, Pennock, and Malone--
Mother of mery, where are those?
 

Where's my love though taint and rot,
Who soured the soil with her mouth?
Mischevious, Adulteress, and Reproach--
Mother of vien, where lie south?

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Phelon, William A. "Dogs in a Show." In Bill's Book; Poems from the Writings of W.A. Phelon. Ed. Lillion H. Phelon. 117. sl.: Lillion H. Phelon, 1926

THEY stand in vocal ranks upon their benches,
Big dogs and small dogs, dogs of many a kind,
Speaking their welcome to the passing thousands,
Barking with one concerted, vastly noisy mind.
Airedale and collie, Boston bull, police dog,
Setter and pointer—yes, we find them here—
But where's the mastiff and the black Newfoundland?
Where are the dogs of yesteryear?

Spaniel and pug—aye, they are still among us,
Toy dogs are numerous; the black-mouthed chow
Calls from a nearby bench, and many others,
Bulldogs and terriers, stand before us now.
We see a regiment of splendid creatures—
Winners of cups and ribbons—all are here—
But where's the giant Dane? Or the old sheep dog?
Where are the dogs of yesteryear?

Styles change in dogs much as they do in clothing.
The canine monarch of a dozen years ago
Finds only room to-day with those who always loved him—
No place upon the benches of the modern show!
Magnificent, no doubt, the present winners,
The splendid emperors of dogdom here—
But where's the bloodhound and the spotted coach dog?
Where are the dogs of yesteryear?
 

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Pound, Ezra.  "Villonaud for This Yule."  In his Personae: The Collected Poems of Ezra Pound.  A New Directions Book. 10 [New York: James Laughlin, c1926].

Towards the Noel that morte saison
(Christ make the shepherds' homage dear!)
Then when the grey wolves everychone
Drink of the winds their chill small-beer
And lap o' the snows food's gueredon
Then makyth my heart his yule-tide cheer
(Skoal! with the dregs if the clear be gone!)
Wineing the ghosts of yester-year.

Ask ye what ghost I dream upon?
(What of the magians' scented gear?)
The ghosts of dead loves everyone
That make the stark winds reek with fear
Lest love return with the foison sun
And slay the memories that me cheer
(Such as I drink to mine fashion)
Wineing the ghosts of yester-year.

Where are the joys my heart had won?
(Saturn and Mars to Zeus drawn near!)
Where are athe lips mine lay upon,
Aye! where are the glances feat and clear
That bade my heart his valor don?

I skoal to the eyes as grey-blown meer
(Who knows whose was athat paragon?)
Wineing the ghosts of yester-year.

Prince: ask me not what I have done
Nor what God hath that can me cheer
But ye ask first where the winds are gone
Wineing the ghosts of yester-year.
 

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Delmore Schwartz, "Calmly We Walk Through This April's Day"
http://www.plagiarist.com/poetry/?wid=3916

Calmly we walk through this April's day,
Metropolitan poetry here and there,
In the park sit pauper and rentier,
The screaming children, the motor-car
Fugitive about us, running away,
Between the worker and the millionaire
Number provides all distances,
It is Nineteen Thirty-Seven now,
Many great dears are taken away,
What will become of you and me
(This is the school in which we learn...)
Besides the photo and the memory?
(...that time is the fire in which we burn.)

(This is the school in which we learn...)
What is the self amid this blaze?
What am I now that I was then
Which I shall suffer and act again,
The theodicy I wrote in my high school days
Restored all life from infancy,
The children shouting are bright as they run
(This is the school in which they learn . . .)
Ravished entirely in their passing play!
(...that time is the fire in which they burn.)

Avid its rush, that reeling blaze!
Where is my father and Eleanor?
Not where are they now, dead seven years,
But what they were then?
                                 No more? No more?
From Nineteen-Fourteen to the present day,
Bert Spira and Rhoda consume, consume
Not where they are now (where are they now?)
But what they were then, both beautiful;
Each minute bursts in the burning room,
The great globe reels in the solar fire,
Spinning the trivial and unique away.
(How all things flash! How all things flare!)
What am I now that I was then?
May memory restore again and again
The smallest color of the smallest day:
Time is the school in which we learn,
Time is the fire in which we burn.
 

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Tom Smith.  "After Villon: The Dead Ladies."  In his Singing The Middle Ages.  Poems.  40. Woodstock, Vermont: Countryman Press, © 1982

Where? Tell me, Groovy, in what void
or vale of dollies - tabloid, gloss -
rolls Jayne perpetually employed
in capitable gain or loss?
Where's Judy?  Garlanded across
what bluebird rainbow's reachless span
moans Lady Day remote as moss,
"Ah, Groovy, where's the old snow, man?"

Does platinum, does celluloid
strip Harlowe?  Say - Do crow and cross
hawk Bessie Smith off trapazoid?
Does Eagles slip on golden sauce
along the luminary jaws
while Sylvia brings bees to Pan
Ald Marylyn like dental floss
coos, "Groovy, where's the old snow, man?"

Where's Mrs Woolf lighthousled, bouyed
on nightmare waves?  What Trojan hoss
throws Isadora who enjoyed
Greek passes gossamer?  Say, Boss,
where?  Tell me - Where in tilt and toss
of pearl exploits whose  whoops Joplin, Jan?
Where's Shirley Jackson?  Haunting straws.
"And, Groovy, where's the old snow, man?"

Prince, ask again the snatch that gnaws
behind the wind.  Prig, ask again.
The sything stars through dust and dross
sigh, "Groovy, where's the old snow, man?"

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404 Haiku (Vivian Sommerville of the UW Madison Memorial Library)
http://www.library.wisc.edu/help/messages/404haiku.html

Where are the snows of
yesteryear? Vanished, like this
page you hoped to find.
 

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Starrett. Vincent.  "Villon Strolls at Midnight."  In The Book of American Poetry.  Originally Published in Three Volumes Entitled "The Book of Poetry-American Poets."  Rpt. 1934.  692. Miami, FL: Granger Books, 1977.

There is an eerie music, Tabary,
In the malevolence of the wind to-night.
Thank you the spirits of the damned make flight
O' midnights?  Gad, a wench I used to see
Heard all the ghosts of history ride past
Her window on a shrieking night like this. . . .
Look!  Where the moonlight and the shadows kiss!
Saw you aught move? . . . Poor jade, she died unmassed.

"See where the gibbet riseth gaunt and slim. . . .
(Curse me!  The wind hath thrust my entrails through
It beareth fruit to-night, , , , Not me, not you! . . .
Hark to the clatter of the bones of him.
They rattle like . . . (Ah, do you catch your breath?)
Like castanets in the hands of death."

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Wallace Stevans, "The Pink Parasol"
http://www.utm.edu/departments/french/pinkp.html
 

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"Where Are the Heathers of Yesteryear? (With apologies to François Villon)." posted by Will Warren on "Unremitting verse" (3/3/2002)
http://unremittingverse.blogspot.com/2002_03_01_unremittingverse_archive.html

Alpha girl, her withering looks
Tossing social death, prowls the school
With a fierce ruthlessness that brooks
No gainsaying her haughty rule.
Who can resist her mockings cruel,
Her perfect sweaters of cashmere,
Her tight enforcement of the cool?
Where are the Heathers of yesteryear?

What could defeat her scornful glare?
Who sits now in her accustomed place—
A dweebish grind with tacky hair?
How came gammas from youth’s disgrace
To win first place in grown-up’s race?
How could wonkish quest for career
Best silky tresses and made-up face?
Where are the Heathers of yesteryear?

Mo knows how: it’s all that bad old
Conspiracy of testosterone:
Those swinish men keep lady bold
Outside the happy alpha zone.
Stylish gal can’t be beaten alone:
The louts ally to cheat her, it’s clear,
And keep her from her rightful throne.
Where are the Heathers of yesteryear?

Maureen, as you suffer the pain
Of serious times on frivolous career,
Keep in mind this mournful refrain:
Where are the Heathers of yesteryear?
 


Williams, William Carlos.  "The Clouds."  In The Collected Poems of William Carlos Williams.  Volume II: 1939-1962.  Ed. Christopher MacGowan.  [New York]: A New Directions Book, [©1988], pp. 171-74 [section II, pp. 172-73].

Where are the good minds of past, the unshorn?
Villon, to be sure, whith his
saw-toothed will and testament?  Erasmus
who praised folly and

Shakespeare who wrote so that
no school man or churchman could sanction him without
revealing his own imbecility?  Aristotle,
shrewd and alone, a onetime herb peddler?

They all, like Aristophanes, knew the clouds and
said next to nothing of the soul's flight
but kept their heads and died-
like Socrates, Plato's better self, unmoved.

Where?  They live today in their old state because
of the place they kept that keeps
them now fresh in our thoughts, their
relics, ourselves: Toulouse Lautrec, the

deformed who lives in a brothel and painted
the beauty of whores.  These were
the truth-tellers of whom we are the sole heirs
beneath the clouds that bring

[p. 173] shadow and darkness full of thought deepened
by rain against the clatter
of an empty sky. . . .



Wright, Frank. "THE NICKNAMES OF YESTERYEAR" In Poetry Talk !
http://members.aol.com/lucyhardng/poembook/orcas_5.htm#nicknames
 



Orr, Gregory. "Best" [about Villon, T.429-56] in Ploughshares 74 (Winter 1997-1998)
http://www.pshares.org/issues/article.cfm?prmArticleID=4312



"Les Neiges d'antan,"  by Gerald Stern, in SLATE (December 4, 2001)
http://slate.msn.com/?id=2059299