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François Villon and Bob Dylan

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Joined: 07 Sep 2007
Posts: 982
Location: Paris, City of Light

PostPosted: Sat Dec 30, 2017 7:15 pm    Post subject: François Villon and Bob Dylan Reply with quote

The French Petty Thief Who Influenced Bob Dylan’s Songs
François Villon liked to run with Parisian crooks and low-lifes—but his poetry influenced everyone from Bob Dylan to Bertold Brecht.
Allen Barra

The bleakest of Christmas poems was written 561 years ago in a drafty garret in the student ghetto of 15th-century Paris by a college student and petty thief.

“At Christmas,” wrote François Villon in his Little (or Lesser) Testament, “cold and bitter days/When wolves live on the wind./Within this house a person stays/By warming fires, the winter logs ablaze.”

Yes, you can feel the heat from that fire, but in the back of your mind, there’s the thought of that hungry wolf in the freezing wind right outside your door.

You won’t find many poems with lines about hungry wolves in Christmas cards, but then, Villon was not given to good cheer or reassuring thoughts. His poetry invariably took a sinister bend towards the macabre; gallows humor was practically his invention.

The known work of the poet called François Villon comprises little more than 3300 lines, 2000 of them in one long poem, The Great Testament. Most of his verse, at least that which has survived, is thought to have been written from December 1461 to the spring of 1462. The influence of this slender collection is almost immeasurable. It’s possible that nowhere else in literature have so many been influenced by so few words. More than five-and-a-half centuries later, Villon’s voice is heard in the work of last year’s Nobel laureate, Bob Dylan.

On the liner notes to his 1964 album, The Times They Are a-Changin’, Dylan told us that he wrote “with the sounds of François Villon echoin’ through my mad streets.” This makes sense. Villon’s most recent translator, David Georgi—who, in 2012, rendered the poems of the 15th-century Frenchman into American English—says, “Dylan was the voice I had in my head as I was trying to come up with a current English translation for Villon’s lines.”

We know little about Villon and are not sure even his real name. It might have been François de Montcorbier or François des Loges, both of which appear in court documents. He was probably born in 1431, the year of Joan of Arc’s death, in the neighborhood called the Celestins in the historic area of Marais. Author Alysa Salzburg, who visited Paris in 2007 looking for traces of the poet, found “streets lined with crooked, sooty buildings [that] accentuate the city’s past.”

The mad streets of the Paris he was born into still clung to the Middle Ages. English soldiers occupied the city. During a bitterly cold winter, famine drove city dwellers to cannibalism. A biographer, Aubrey Burl, wrote in Danse Macabre that when English troops left, “Only wolves came. There was no food in the barren fields, and every evening the ravenous animals swam across the river, packs of starving man-eaters that could smell the scent of a human being a quarter of a mile away, silently stalking their prey, man, woman or child, through the muddy streets of Paris.” (Fourteen adults and one child were reported killed by wolves that winter.)

There is no record of his father’s death; at age 7 his mother brought him to live with a chaplain, Guillanua de Villon, one of the few people who ever showed him kindness. François repaid him with immortality in The Greater Testament, calling him “plus-que-père”—“more than father.” He had some learning: a bachelor’s of arts degree (about the equivalent of a high school diploma today) and, later, a master of arts. His real education, though, came in the streets. As Ezra Pound put it, “He had the learning of the schools and the wisdom of the gutter.”

Villon was a lyric poet of breathtaking beauty and depth, but he was also the first great vernacular poet of the western world, a romantic but also a cynic capable of the kind of vulgarity that would cause a Victorian like Robert Louis Stephenson to recoil from his “evil, ironical temper.” (In Stephenson’s story “A Lodging for the Night,” a desperate Villon, seeking shelter on a winter’s night, passes the frozen body of a prostitute as a wolf howls. The poet is given refuge by a kindly man who hopes that Villon will “repent and change.” “I repent daily,” he replies.)

Villon ran with the worst criminal element in Paris; he robbed church boxes, pimped, and perhaps, though the evidence is slim, was even involved in a murder. His companions were pickpockets, barmaids, smugglers and gamblers—“coquillards” in the jargon of 15th-century Paris. Most of what we know about him comes from criminal court records. If he had not spent so much time in jail, we might know nothing about him at all.

His criminal activities resulted in his banishment from Paris in the year 1463 for the murder he probably did not commit, and from there he disappeared into myth—no trace of any kind was found.

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Thuy Duong

Joined: 02 Nov 2007
Posts: 1051
Location: France

PostPosted: Sat Dec 30, 2017 7:22 pm    Post subject: Who knew? Reply with quote

This is fascinating. I never knew of the connection to Villon! Embarassed
Music Về Miền Trung
Miền Thùy Dương bóng dừa ngàn thông Music
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Admin Pro Tem

Joined: 01 Jun 2008
Posts: 6713
Location: Australia

PostPosted: Sat Dec 30, 2017 11:23 pm    Post subject: A movie? Reply with quote

I’m surprised they haven't made a movie about it really if they haven't already done so.... Maybe they could do one along the lines of The Hours only with the influence being Bob Dylan and maybe one of the translators who were influenced by Bob Dylan being influence by Villon... super grin
The Grumpiest Old Woman on Ave Viet.....
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