Ballad of the Dead Ladies

Water Willow by Dante Gabriel RossettiThat last song led me to this one by Francois Villons (c1431-1463), as translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. I had to include it.

Tell me now in what hidden way is
Lady Flora the lovely Roman?
Where’s Hipparchia, and where is Thais,
Neither of them the fairer woman?
Where is Echo, beheld of no man,
Only heard on river and mere,
She whose beauty was more than human?
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Where’s Héloise, the learned nun,
For whose sake Abeillard, I ween,
Lost manhood and put priesthood on?
(From Love he won such dule and teen!
And where, I pray you, is the Queen.
Who willed that Buridan should steer.
Sewed in a sack’s mouth down the Seine?
But where are the snows of yester-year?

White Queen Blanche,like a queen of lilies,
With a voice like any mermaiden,
Bertha Broadfoot, Beatrice, Alice,
And Ermengarde the lady of Maine,
And that good Joan whom Englishmen.
At Rouen doomed and burned her there,
Mother of God, where are they then?
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Nay, never ask this week, fair lord,
Where they are gone, nor yet this year,
Save with this much for an overword,
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Here is Villons’ original ballad, “Ballade de Dames de Temps Jadis,” which is more accurately translated as “Ballad of the Ladies of Former Times.” This is how it appeared in Les Oeuvres de Françoys Villon (1553):

Dictes moy où, n’en quel pays,
Est Flora, la belle Rommaine,
Archipiada, ne Thaïs,
Qui fut sa cousine germaine;
Echo, parlant quand bruyt on maine
Dessus rivière ou sus estan,
Qui beaulté ot trop plus qu’humaine?
Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?

Où est la très sage Helloïs,
Pour qui fut chastré, puis moyne
Pierre Esbaillart a Saint Denis?
Pour son amour ot cest essoyne.
Semblablement ou est la royne
Qui commanda que Buridan
Fust gecte en ung sac en Saine?
Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?

La royne blanche comme lis,
Qui chantoit a voix de seraine;
Berte au grant pié, Bietris, Alis;
Haremburgis qui tint le Maine,
Et Jehanne, la bonne Lorraine,
Qu’Englois brulerent a Rouan;
Ou sont ilz, ou, Vierge souvraine?
Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan?

And here is the version in modern French:

Dites-moi où, en quel pays,
Est Flora, la belle Romaine,
Alcibiade et Thaïs,
Qui fut sa cousine germaine;
Écho, qui parle quand on fait bruit
Sur la rivière ou sur l’étang,
Et qui eut beauté surhumaine.
Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?

Où est la très sage Héloïse,
Pour qui fut châtré puis moine
Pierre Abélard à Saint Dénis?
Pour son amour il subit cette peine.
Semblablement où est la reine
Qui ordonna qui Buridan
Fût jeté en sac dans la Seine?
Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?

La reine Blanche comme lis,
Qui chantait à voix de sirène;
Berthe au grand pied, Béatrix, Aélis,
Eremberg, qui possédait le Maine,
Et Jeanne la bonne Lorraine,
Qu’Anglais Brûlèrent à Rouen,
Où sont-elles, où, Vierge souveraine?
Mais où sont les neiges d’antan?

Thanks to the Si j’ose ecrire blog for these early versions.

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About lostdelights

An old gamer flying his freak flag, I've been playing table-top role-playing games since 1978. I've been building my own system (Journeyman) since 1981.
This entry was posted in Songs and Lyrics. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Ballad of the Dead Ladies

  1. Woofb says:

    The original French version has been marvellously done as a song by the famous French singer George Brassens. Well worth checking out, if you haven’t heard it yet!

  2. lostdelights says:

    Thanks! Here’s the link to YouTube:

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