François Villon is like the must-see gargoyle
too far round the other side of Notre Dame,
or the stained-glass chef d’oeuvre
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 with
“Frères humains qui après nous vivez ……
priez Dieu que tous nous vueille absouldre”
as he contemplated being hanged,
his body swinging from the gibbet,
five fellow villains for company,
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, who wouldn’t give
his poem a second fuckin’ pensée,
(François Villon 1431 – 1463?)
….Brothers, men who live after us,
Let not your hearts be hardened against us,
Because, if you have pity for us poor men,
God will have more mercy toward you.
You see us here attached five or six:
When our flesh that was nourished so well
Is over time devoured and putrified,
And we, the bones, have become cinders and powder.
Let no one laugh at our misfortune:
But pray that God absolve us all!
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