A Ballad of François Villon, Prince of All Ballad-Makers

By Algernon Charles Swinburne 1837–1909
Bird of the bitter bright grey golden morn
      Scarce risen upon the dusk of dolorous years,
First of us all and sweetest singer born
      Whose far shrill note the world of new men hears
      Cleave the cold shuddering shade as twilight clears;
When song new-born put off the old world's attire
And felt its tune on her changed lips expire,
      Writ foremost on the roll of them that came
Fresh girt for service of the latter lyre,
      Villon, our sad bad glad mad brother's name!

Alas the joy, the sorrow, and the scorn,
      That clothed thy life with hopes and sins and fears,
And gave thee stones for bread and tares for corn
      And plume-plucked gaol-birds for thy starveling peers
      Till death clipt close their flight with shameful shears;
Till shifts came short and loves were hard to hire,
When lilt of song nor twitch of twangling wire
      Could buy thee bread or kisses; when light fame
Spurned like a ball and haled through brake and briar,
      Villon, our sad bad glad mad brother's name!

Poor splendid wings so frayed and soiled and torn!
      Poor kind wild eyes so dashed with light quick tears!
Poor perfect voice, most blithe when most forlorn,
      That rings athwart the sea whence no man steers
      Like joy-bells crossed with death-bells in our ears!
What far delight has cooled the fierce desire
That like some ravenous bird was strong to tire
      On that frail flesh and soul consumed with flame,
But left more sweet than roses to respire,
      Villon, our sad bad glad mad brother's name?

Prince of sweet songs made out of tears and fire,
A harlot was thy nurse, a God thy sire;
      Shame soiled thy song, and song assoiled thy shame.
But from thy feet now death has washed the mire,
Love reads out first at head of all our quire,
      Villon, our sad bad glad mad brother's name.

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Poet Algernon Charles Swinburne 1837–1909

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Subjects Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Ballad

 Algernon Charles Swinburne

Biography

Swinburne was one of the most accomplished lyric poets of the Victorian era and was a preeminent symbol of rebellion against the conservative values of his time. The explicit and often pathological sexual themes of his most important collection of poetry, Poems and Ballads (1866), delighted some, shocked many, and became the dominant feature of Swinburne's image as both an artist and an individual. Nevertheless, critics have . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Arts & Sciences, Poetry & Poets

POET’S REGION England

SCHOOL / PERIOD Victorian

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Ballad

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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