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21.3.05

Exhibit on François Villon

Ballade des Femmes de Paris
by François Villon

Quoy qu'on tient belles langagières
Florentines, Veniciennes,
Assez pour estre messaigières,
Et mesmement les anciennes;
Mais, soient Lombardes, Rommaines,
Genevoises, à mes perilz,
Piemontoises, Savoysiennes,
Il n'est bon bec que de Paris.

De très beau parler tiennent chaires,
Ce dit-on, les Napolitaines,
Et que sont bonnes cacquetoeres
Allemanses et Bruciennes;
Soient Grecques, Egyptiennes,
De Hongrie ou d'autre pays,
Espaignolles ou Castellannes,
Il n'est bon bec que de Paris.

Brettes, Suysses, n'y sçavent guères,
Ne Gasconnes et Tholouzaines;
Du Petit-Pont deux harangères
Les concluront, et les Lorraines,
Anglesches ou Callaisiennes,
(Ay je beaucoup de lieux compris?)
Picardes, de Valenciennes;
Il n'est bon bec que de Paris.

ENVOI.
Prince, aux dames parisiennes
De bien parler donnez le prix;
Quoy qu'on die d'Italiennes,
Il n'est bon bec que de Paris.
Before Charles Baudelaire in the 19th century, there was another great Poet of Paris, in the 15th century, François Villon. You can read all of his poems online, in the original Renaissance French (Oeuvres complètes de François Villon), but only a few in English translation. There is a new exhibit on Villon at the Bibliothèque historique de la Ville de Paris, called François Villon, poète de Paris (open until May 22), including maps, photographs, and old books relating to his life. Since the BHVP does not have a Web site, there is not much more I can tell you, except to mention an article (Il n'est Villon que de Paris, March 12) by Anne-Marie Romero for Le Figaro, of which I translate a few excerpts here:
Outside of Paris, there would be no François Villon. Outside of this tumultuous Paris of the 15th century, just coming out of the Hundred Years' War and an interminable civil war, outside of this Paris of Louis XI that was beginning to take on the characteristics of a capital with its court, its chic neighborhoods, and its dangerous places, this worthless "schoolboy," this philosopher-thief would never have written "Il n'est bon bec que de Paris," one of his funniest poems, so much was his life tied to his city. It is after all to "François Villon, Poet of Paris," that this new exhibit wants to honor, as the first example of urban poetry in Europe.

To make a museum exhibit about a poet is always difficuult. Jean Dérens, curator at the BHVP and chief of the exhibit, pulls it off well by evoking—through a sober setting, with large photographs of the old roofs of Paris dominating the treetops of light wood—the familiar places that united the "poet-scholar" and his Latin Quarter. These photos are enlargements of Marville's shots in the 19th century, taken before Haussmann carved up the Sainte-Geneviève Hill. Several other maps show us the Paris within Charles V's fortified wall, all oriented with the east to the top, including two from the Bibliothèque nationale (Sainte-Geneviève and Saint-Merri) and parts of the famous map of Truschet and Hoyau (1550), in color, bristling as well with truculent names of disappeared little streets. You can read there, on the Left Bank, realm of clerics, students, and rascals, a gritty urbanism, crisscrossed with tiny, tight streets, overlooked by churches and convents, a city within a city with its own places, morality, and secrets.
The library itself owns several editions of Villons works and is showing its only early printed edition of Villon's great poem, the Testament, printed before 1500. It is also exhibiting the edition of Villon's first great champion, Clément Marot, who rescued Villon from literary oblivion in the 16th century. François Villon, poète de Paris will remain at the Bibliothèque historique de la Ville de Paris until May 22.

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