Ballade des pendus – Ballad of the hanged

Ballade des pendus – Ballad of the hanged
"Ballade des pendus" ("Ballad of the hanged") is the poem that is written by François Villon. It is believed, that this French poet wrote these words when he was imprisoned.

Ballade des pendus (Ballad of the hanged) is the poem that is written by François Villon. It is believed, that this French poet wrote these words when he was imprisoned.

François Villon
François Villon Source: Wikimedia Commons

François Villon was born as François de Montcorbier (or François des Loges). The last name Villon he used to write his poetry. It was also the name of his foster father – Guillaume de Villon (a chaplain in the collegiate church of Saint-Benoît-le-Bétourne. His foster father was also a professor of Law.

Villon the criminal

The life of Villon was not only about poetry. Today he would be considered a criminal. Several times he was in trouble with the lawmakers. It is believed that his final poem – Ballade des pendus – was written whilst he was in the final days of his life.

Facts about his year of birth: this was the year that Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. These tragic events took place in France. In another part of Europe, Vlad II Dracul became a member of the Order of the Dragon as he was the prince of Wallachia (a geographic region of Romania). Vlad II was the father of Vlad III, also known as The Impaler. He would be the source of inspiration for Bram Stoker, to write the nineteenth-century novel Dracula (1897). And yes, this was also the year that Villon was born in Paris (France).

Villon grew out to become the best-known poet of the late Middle Ages in his country. His fame as a poet was preceded by the events that took place on June 5, 1455. He was involved in a fight. As result of his doing, the priest Philippe Sermoise died. Villon fled and was banished. By pardon of King Charles VII, he was able to return to Paris. Not very long after he was pardoned, the Collège de Navarre was robbed of about five hundred gold crowns. Villon was considered a suspect and he left Paris. During that time, he wrote Petit Testament (Small Testament). Although the crime wasn’t discovered until March 1457, Villon feared for his life. It was believed, he was the ringleader of a gang that committed several crimes that held similarities to the theft of the gold coins. He was captured and again banished from Paris. He became a vagabond for the following four years. It may well be, that he committed even more crimes during this period.

As of 1461, Villon appeared again. In the poem The Testament, he may well refer to the crime(s) he committed in the period before he was arrested. Villon wrote in The Testament that he was in prison in Meun-Sur-Loire. When King Louis XI was the new king of France, Villon was a free man as of October 2, 1461. He did not stay out of trouble. He was arrested for more burgling activities in the autumn of 1462. After an argument in 1463, he was again arrested and banished again. Lucky for him, because the original sentence was death by hanging.

His whereabouts after January 1463 are unknown. It is not likely that he was hanged. It’s more likely that he died while living under harsh conditions, somewhere in France.

Villon the poet

Based on the information above, it is hard to believe that this sums up the life (the criminal life) of a great French poet. Still, he left us some beautiful poems. Set aside these events, we can see a poet that is one of the most important poets of the last part of the Middle Ages. Based only on his two collections of poetry that still exists. They form the basis for his biography, next to the documents of the court.


Villon was schooled as an art student when he was twelve years old. In 1452 he graduated from the University of Paris.

About Ballade des pendus

The Ballad of the hanged, is also known as the Epitaphe Villon or Frères humains is supposedly written when he was in prison. The poem wasn’t published after his death. Responsible for the publication was Antoine Vérard (1489).

Ballad of the hanged

Ballad of the hanged

Human brothers who live after us,
Do not have (your) hearts hardened against us,
For, if you take pity on us poor (fellows),
God will sooner have mercy on you.
You see us tied here, five, six:
As for the flesh, that we nurtured too much,
It is already long-time consumed, and rotting,
And we, the bones, become ashes and powder.
Of our pain let no one make fun,
But pray God that he wills to absolve us all!

If we call you brothers, you must not
Have scorn for it, although we were killed
By justice. Nevertheless, you know
That all men do not have staid common sense.
Forgive us, since we are shivering,
Toward the son of the Virgin Mary,
That his grace may not run dry for us,
Preserving us from the infernal wrath.
We are dead, let no soul harry us,
But pray God that he wills to absolve us all!

Rain has unsmirched and washed us
And the sun has dried and blackened us;
Magpies and crows have carved out our eyes,
And torn off our beards and eyebrows.
We never sit for a moment;
Now here, then there, as the wind changes,
at its pleasure, without cease (it) tosses us,
More pecked by birds than thimbles.
Do not then be of our brotherhood,
But pray God that he wills to absolve us all!

Prince Jesus, who has command of all,
Prevent Hell from having lordship over us:
With him, we have nothing to perform nor to trade.
Men, there is no mockery here,
But pray God that he wills to absolve us all.

— François Villon

This translation was made by A. Lagarde and L. Michard. The original version goes as follows:

Balllade des pendus

Frères humains, qui après nous vivez,
N’ayez les cœurs contre nous endurcis,
Car, si pitié de nous pauvres avez,
Dieu en aura plus tôt de vous mercis.
Vous nous voyez ci attachés, cinq, six:
Quant à la chair, que trop avons nourrie,
Elle est piéça dévorée et pourrie,
Et nous, les os, devenons cendre et poudre.
De notre mal personne ne s’en rie;
Mais priez Dieu que tous nous veuille absoudre!

Si frères vous clamons, pas n’en devez
Avoir dédain, quoique fûmes occis
Par justice. Toutefois, vous savez
Que tous hommes n’ont pas bon sens rassis.
Excusez-nous, puisque sommes transis,
Envers le fils de la Vierge Marie,
Que sa grâce ne soit pour nous tarie,
Nous préservant de l’infernale foudre.
Nous sommes morts, âme ne nous harie,
Mais priez Dieu que tous nous veuille absoudre!

La pluie nous a débués et lavés,
Et le soleil desséchés et noircis.
Pies, corbeaux nous ont les yeux cavés,
Et arraché la barbe et les sourcils.
Jamais nul temps nous ne sommes assis
Puis çà, puis là, comme le vent varie,
A son plaisir sans cesser nous charrie,
Plus becquetés d’oiseaux que dés à coudre.
Ne soyez donc de notre confrérie;
Mais priez Dieu que tous nous veuille absoudre!

Prince Jésus, qui sur tous a maistrie,
Garde qu’Enfer n’ait de nous seigneurie:
A lui n’ayons que faire ne que soudre.
Hommes, ici n’a point de moquerie;
Mais priez Dieu que tous nous veuille absoudre!

— François Villon

Source of the image that was used in this article (for the poem): Old Book Illustrations

Ballade des pendus – Ballad of the hanged
Article Name
Ballade des pendus – Ballad of the hanged
A short analysis of the poem written by one of France's most important poets
Publisher Name
The Ministry of Poetic Affairs

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