UKArchive ID: 35875

Reading 'Ballade des Pendus'
by nemo
Originally published on November 27, 2015 in Poetry        

François Villon is like the must-see gargoyle
too far round the other side of Notre Dame,
or the stained-glass chef d’œuvre
that you miss forever in your hurry back
to the sight-seeing coach,
so you can’t give either a second thought.

Yes, but he made a desperate appeal
to us all to intercede for him.
‘Frères humains’, he called us,
as he contemplated being hanged,
his body swinging from the gibbet,
five fellow villains for company,
rain-soaked, sun-scorched,
rotting, pecked by crows.

Well, he was a thief and a murderer,
and you went to hell in those days
if you were a sinner like him.
But you could get him forgiven
if you prayed for him, and
he’d be all right. Absolved. Perhaps.
Okay, so it was over five hundred years ago.
And, okay again, so it’s not clear in his poem
how many people had to pray for him
to secure his escape from the fires of hell.

Nor, of course, you add, did he allow –
well he couldn’t,
it would have been stake-burningly heretical –
for his appeal lasting century after century
into the enlightened age of sceptics,
atheists, existentialists, nihilists
and their ilk,

not forgetting
you sightseers on a mission,
who wouldn’t give
his poem a second pensée
if it was flashed up in the coach.
Why should you bother reading his poem?
it’s in bleedin’ French, init? you might say.

(François Villon 1431 – 1463?)

© nemo (Nemo on OLD UKA)

UKArchive ID: 35875
Archived comments for Reading ‘Ballade des Pendus’

Texasgreg on 27-11-2015
Reading Ballade des Pendus
Had to read it in English, of course…

I believe true repentance is acknowledgement of our weaknesses. Though very difficult at times, it must include those of others as well if we're to last and grow as a civilization…

Good poem for thought,

Greg 🙂

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Author’s Reply:
Thanks, Greg. I'm pleased I got you reading his poem.



franciman on 27-11-2015
Reading Ballade des Pendus
Hi Gerald,

I read this, then Villon, then back to this excellent piece. Leaving aside the morality, it is great to find that great poetry does not always, if ever, stem from virtuous pens. Thank you. Made me think!



Oh, and it is great poetry (yours, I mean)

Author’s Reply:
I'm pleased you liked it, Jim, and thanks for the rate.

Cheers, Gerald.

And thanks to whoever nominated it.

Mikeverdi on 27-11-2015
Reading Ballade des Pendus
As always, much enjoyed the read Gerald. You are indeed the thinking man's poet😊


Author’s Reply:
Thanks, Mike. I've been fascinated by this poem of Villon's for many years. I'm pleased it got you thinking.

Regards, Gerald.

And thanks to whoever nominated it!

gwirionedd on 28-11-2015
Reading Ballade des Pendus
I remember the name of Francois Villon from somewhere, but can't remember where exactly. I'm sure I've read something from him, in translation, years ago.

Anyway, this is an excellent poem. I look forward to reading more of your stuff, and will look into your back catalogue…

All the best,


Author’s Reply:
Many thanks, Archie. I'm pleased you liked it.