The Ballad of the Hanged Men

By Xavier Jones

François Villon

TIMELINE:

  • 1431: born to a young, poor French couple
  • 1449: baccalauréat from the University of Paris
  • 1452: Villon receives his Master of Arts degree
  • 1455: Villon was arrested for killing a priest in a bar brawl in Paris- royally pardoned
  • 1456: imprisoned for famous robbery of 500 golden écus from College of Navarre, sent on the run, accused of friend's crimes then banished from Paris
  • 1461: again imprisoned for minor crime, there composed his masterpiece, Le Testament, then pardoned by King Charles VII
  • 1462-63: arrested, tortured and condemned to be hanged but the sentence was reduced to banishment by the Parliament on, while waiting for gallows composed “Ballad of Hanged Men” and “I Am Francois, They Have Caught Me"

THE POEM

The Ballad of the Hanged Men

My brothers who live after us,

Don’t harden you hearts against us too,

If you have mercy now on us,

God may have mercy upon you.

Five, six, you see us, hung out to view.

When the flesh that nourished us well

Is eaten piecemeal, ah, see it swell,

And we, the bones, are dust and gall,

Let no one make fun of our ill,

But pray that God absolves us all.


No need, if we cry out to you, brothers,

To show disdain, if we’re in suspense

For justice’s sake. How few of the others,

Are men equipped with common sense.

Pray for us, now beyond violence,

To the Son of the Virgin Mary,

So of grace to us she’s not chary,

Shields us from Hell’s lightning fall.

We’re dead: the souls let no man harry,

But pray that God absolves us all.


The rain has soaked us, washed us: skies

Of hot suns blacken us, scorch us: crows

And magpies have gouged out our eyes,

Plucked at our beards, and our eyebrows.

There’s never a moment’s rest allowed:

Now here, now there, the changing breeze

Swings us, as it wishes, ceaselessly,

Beaks pricking us more than a cobbler’s awl.

So don’t you join our fraternity,

But pray that God absolves us all.


Prince Jesus, who has all sovereignty,

Preserve us from Hell’s mastery.

We’ve no business down there at all.

Men, you’ve no time for mockery.

But pray to God to absolve us all.

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EXPLICATION OF POEM

Francois Villon’s “The Ballad of the Hanged Men” is a very dark and dramatic narrative poem. The poem is the last dying wish of a man and his fellow in-mates, who are basically on “death row”. In the first stanza, the speaker is asking future readers and listeners to take pity on them and pray that God show them mercy. The second stanza is the speaker’s confession that he has done something wrong and also a request that his audience pray he is not sent to hell. The third stanza is a list of detailed events the men have gone through while waiting to be hanged. The last stanza is the speaker’s request that Jesus keep them away from hell, as well as a request that the speaker’s audience not mock him. At the end of each stanza, the author includes a sort of reminder to the speaker’s audience to pray “…to God to absolve…” him and his companions from damnation. The whole poem has a negative connotation, and imagery is especially used in third stanza (rain, birds, etc.). The tone of the poem is sad and desperate and the same can be said for the mood. This poem is a ballad, so it stands to reason that its structure is song-like with an ABAB rhyme scheme. The major theme of the poem is be to have pity on those who recognize their wrong-doings, but cannot stop the consequences that come with them.

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