Jane Tozer, 1st prize (Open category)

Les regrets de la belle Heaulmière
(stanzas 55–59)

'Or il est mort, passé trente ans
Et je remains vielle, chenue.
Quand je pense, lasse, au bon temps,
Quelle fus, quelle devenue,
Quant me regarde toute nue
Et je me voys si tres changiee,
Povre, seiche, megre, menue,
Je suis presque tout enragiee.

'Qu'est devenu ce front poly;
Cheveulx blons; ces sourcils voultiz;
Grand entroeil; ce regard joly,
Dont prenoie les plus subtilz;
Ce beau nez droit grand ne petiz;
Ces petites joinctes oreilles;
Menton fourchu; cler vis traictiz,
Et ces belles levres vermeilles?

'Ces gentes espaulles menues;
Ces bras longs et ces mains traictisses;
Petiz tetins; hanches charnues,
Eslevees, propres, faictisses
A tenir amoureuses lisses;
Ces larges rains; ce sadinet
Assis sur grosses fermes cuisses
Dedens son petit jardinet?

'Le front ridé; les cheveulx gris;
Les sourcilz cheus; les yeulx estains,
Qui faisoient regars et ris,
Dont mains meschans furent attains;
Nez courbes de beaulté loingtains;
Oreilles pendantes, moussues;
Le vis pally, mort et destains;
Menton froncé, levres peaussues:

'C'est d'umaine beaulté l'issue:
Les bras cours et les mains contraites,
Les epaulles toutes bossues;
Mammelles ... quoy? Toutes retraites,
Telles les hanches que les tetes;
Du sadinet, fy! Quant des cuisses,
Cuisses ne sont plus mais cuissettes
Grivelees comme saulcisses.

'Ainsi le bon temps regretons
Entre nous, povres vieilles sotes,
Assises bas, a crouppettons,
Tout en ung tas comme pelotes
A petit feu de chenevotes,
Tost allumees, tost estaintes.
Et jadis fusmes si mignotes!...
Ainsi en prent a maints et maintes.'

François Villon
The lament of the Gorgeous Helmet-Fettler
(stanzas 55–59)

The Gorgeous Helmet-Fettler was once a famous prostitute. In old age, she's wretched, sick and down-and-out. In earlier stanzas, she has told us that in her youth she was famous for her beauty and skill. When young, she loved (was seduced by?) a no-good pimp who beat her up. Now she's old, penniless, with nothing left to live for.

'... If he broke all my bones I wouldn't care
I loved him still. One kiss would set me free
Of all my pain. He'd wheedle me to bed
With some new trick, and soon I'd cry for more.
The lusty hog was rotten to the core
Lord love him, dead some thirty years or more.

'I brood on glory days I can't forget.
God, he was something. Stole me, heart and all.
What did he leave me? Bugger all, that's what!
Except a life of shame, a sin-stained soul
– Even the priest has had me, like as not –
And not an ounce of faith to make me whole.
Stripped to this body, withered, grey and old
A bag of bones. Completely lost the plot.

'You should have seen my bright unwrinkled brow
The tumbling golden locks. I'd toss my head
And give one sidelong glance - like this - just so
I'd flash my baby-blues and knock 'em dead.
Had hardened cynics begging me to bed.
That straight and perfect nose - where is it now?
Such dainty ears, my face a cameo
A dimple fit to kiss. Lips coral-red.

'My shoulders, soft and fragile, pleased the eye.
Long shapely arms, fine smooth unblemished hands,
Sweet budding breasts, my haunches firm and high
The loins well-muscled, nifty to withstand
And parry in the joust and thrust of love.
Well-rounded hips, thighs parting to disclose
My pretty little rosy quelque-chose
Hidden inside its fragrant bushy grove.

'Just see me now. Quite broken down, world-weary
A forehead crazed with lines. Hair – hanks of grey.
Once-shapely eyebrows sparse, and eyes grown bleary
That with a look drew moneyed men my way.
This broken nose is not a pretty feature
Nor heavy earlobes tufted with thick moss
A pallid, moribund, pathetic creature
With toothless wizened mouth. Fancy a kiss?

'This way goes human beauty, and all flesh.
Cramped limbs; distorted fingers clenched with pain
Shoulders and back hunched forward in distress
The tits and arse just pitiful remains.
Blotched salami thighs; brittle bones like sticks.
My little wotsit? Huh! You cheeky sod,
Don't even go there, mate. I know your tricks.
Remember – this is how I'll meet my God.

'All huddled up, a bunch of sad old bags
We hunker down to mourn those happier days
Squat on our bum-bones, foul-mouthed mad old hags
Our weedy hemp-stalk fire, no roaring blaze.
We're wisps of wool, a spinner's teased-out rolags.
The fire burns out. The wind blows us away.
We were so lovely, once, us poxed-out slags.
This mortal city. No abiding stay...'

Translated from the medieval French by Jane Tozer
  [Commentary on the poem by the translator]   

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