Frères humains qui après nous vivez
N'ayez les coeurs contre nous endurciz,
Car, ce pitié de nous pauvres avez,
Dieu en aura plus tost de vous merciz.
Vous nous voyez ci, attachés cinq, six
Quant de la chair, que trop avons nourrie,
Elle est piéca devorée et pourrie,
Et nous les os, devenons cendre et pouldre.
De nostre mal personne ne s'en rie:
Mais priez Dieu que tous nous veuille absouldre!

François Villon--"L'Épitaph (Ballade des pendus)"

It's Tuesday again: French day. As usual I spent a good portion of my pre-matinal regime in French reading and revision to get ready for conversational practice this evening. I was feeling particularly fresh, so I wrote a poem based on the first two stanzas of Villon's (I ran out of time for finishing the third stanza and envoi). It's a near translation, and you can get much of Villon's basic sense from it, but I purposefully make some departures. If you want a closer translation, try Swinburne's "Epitaph in the Form of a Ballade", from Poems and Ballads. I shall say that Villon is almost impossible to translate faithfully. He was an incomparable craftsman, and used every resource of his native tongue. It's actually fairly easy French to follow (especially, for me, after Les Symbolistes), so if you paid attention at all in high school, give the original a try (you must read it aloud).

Anyway, the first half of my modest effort:

Brother souls who live beyond our days,
Don't turn towards us hearts of hollow stone,
For if you pity us, such wretched strays,
Goddess redeem indulgence you'll have shown.
You see a hand or so of us thus strown:
Bodies once well fed of ill-got gain
Now ravened by rot and beasts upon the plain
We, the bones who speak, turn dust and ash.
None should deign to laugh upon our pain,
But wish all ghosts kind Fortune's calabash.

--Uche Ogbuji--from "Epitaph (après Villon, maître)", 3 May 2005

The only real thematic change is from the European gallows to the "evil bush" of Igbo custom, reserved for criminals who have committed abominations.

I've been working on and off on getting Cara Musis, my literary site, back in shape, so I can publish some of my work. I think I'll have to make that a priority this weekend. «Aaaaïïïïïe, nooooon!», do I hear you say? Ah, hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frère... Va t'en.

[Uche Ogbuji]

via Copia