The Pink Parasol

Stevens, Wallace [pseud. Carrol More]. "The Ballade of the Pink Parasol." In Joan Richardson. Wallace Stevens. The Early Years: 1879-1923. 95. New York: Beech Tree Books. William Morrow, 1988.

I pray thee, where is the old-time wig,
And where is the lofty hat?
Where is the maid on the road in her gig,
And where is the fire-side cat?
Never was sight more fair than that,
Outshining, outreaching them all,
There in the night where lovers sat-
But where is the pink parasol?

Where in the park is the dark spadille
With scent of lavender sweet,
That never was held in the mad quadrille,
And where are the slippered feet?
Ah! we'd have given a pound to meet
The card that wrought our fall
The card that none other of all could beat-
But where is the pink parasol?

Where is the roll of the old calash,
And the jog of the light sedan?
Whence Chloe's diamond brooch would flash
And conquer poor peeping man.
Answer me, where is the painted fan
And the candles bright on the wall;
Where is the coat of yellow and tan-
But where is the pink parasol?

Prince, these baubles are far away,
In the ruin of palace and hall,
Made dark by the shadow of yesterday-
But where is the pink parasol?

This pre-Harmonium poem invokes the wealth and romance of a by-gone era, vanished as in a card game. It seems to imitate Villon's "Ballade des dames du temps jadis" (T.329-56) in several ways. First it asks the whereabouts of thirteen things and people, mirroring Villon's thirteen ladies of yesteryear. Second, each refrain begins with the conjunction "but" ("mais" in Villon), asking the whereabouts of something both ephemeral and symbolic of women. Third, the form of the poem mirrors that of Villon's ubi- sunt masterpiece. It is a twenty-eight line ballade, divided into three octaves and ending in a formal envoy, consisting of a quatrain, which begins with an address to the prince. This medieval convention, though not universal, is consistant in Villon's poetry. For each of the four strophes, the rhyme is a schematic mirror of the French model, with ababbcdc for the octaves, and an alternating rhyme in the envoy. Finally, "I pray thee" and "Dites-moi" are similar beginnings. If this is credible logic, then, Wallace Stevens joins other American writers who read Villon's ballade and imitated lines from it in their own work: including Robert Lowell, Justin Huntly McCarthy, Edgar Lee Masters, William Faulkner, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound, and a number of others.

If you are interested in the reception history of François Villon in American society, I invite you ro read my article:

Peckham, Robert D. "Dark Laughter in the Chambers of the King: François Villon in America." Medievalism in North America. Studies in Medievalism, 6. Ed. Kathleen Verduin. 123-42. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer, 1994.

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TennesseeBob Peckham
Director, The Globe-Gate Project
University of Tennessee-Martin