Booze and Blowens Cop The Lot

Villon
François Villon (1431 – 1463)

 

Villon’s Straight Tip To All Cross Coves

by William Earnest Henley

“Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.”

Suppose you screeve? or go cheap-jack?
Or fake the broads? or fig a nag?
Or thimble-rig? or knap a yack?
Or pitch a snide? or smash a rag?
Suppose you duff? or nose and lag?
Or get the straight, and land your pot?
How do you melt the multy swag?
Booze and the blowens cop the lot.

Fiddle, or fence, or mace, or mack;
Or moskeneer, or flash the drag;
Dead-lurk a crib, or do a crack;
Pad with a slang, or chuck a fag;
Bonnet, or tout, or mump and gag;
Rattle the tats, or mark the spot;
You can not bank a single stag;
Booze and the blowens cop the lot.

Suppose you try a different tack,
And on the square you flash your flag?
At penny-a-lining make your whack,
Or with the mummers mug and gag?
For nix, for nix the dibbs you bag!
At any graft, no matter what,
Your merry goblins soon stravag:
Booze and the blowens cop the lot.

THE MORAL
It’s up the spout and Charley Wag
With wipes and tickers and what not.
Until the squeezer nips your scrag,
Booze and the blowens cop the lot.


Ricky Jay Potash died several days ago.   Known as Ricky Jay, he was one of the greatest sleight of hand magicians and card performers over the past 50 years. His talents a combination of incredible skill, brilliant memory and showmanship. The video below is an hour-long stage act produced by the famed director David Mamet which showcases Jay’s prowess with a deck of cards. In it he recites at about the 5:30 mark Henley’s translation of Villon’s masterful poem about the life of pick pockets, con men, thieves and swindlers. Henley uses the idiom’s of 19th century London street slang in place of Villon’s 15th century French Paris. As poems go, it is as fun to read aloud as Lewis Carroll’s poem Jabberwocky. Both are great examples that sometimes poetry doesn’t have to make sense, it simply has to be fun to read.

Francois Villon’s real life reads a bit like Miguel Cervantes’ fiction. Villon was a scoundrel, brawler, purported murderer and thief, whose quick wits and propensity for humorous and finely rhymed poetry gained him enough recognition during his lifetime to obtain several pardons, including once by King Louis XI himself who allegedly said “I cannot afford to hang François Villon. There are a hundred thousand rogues in France as great as he, but not such another poet.”

Villon was born poor and orphaned early, but his keen intelligence attracted a priest as benefactor, and he eventually won scholarship at the University of Paris, earning both a Baclaurate and Master’s degree in the Arts.  Though his poetry gained him little income in his lifetime, his humor and candor about both his life as a scoundrel, and his depiction of the common poor and the rich in verse usally reserved for courtly elite, made him popular in France. Villon’s unique approach to lyric poetry influenced and inspired many of the innovative French poets of the 19th century including Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Verlaine and Mallarme.

Villon was largely unknown outside of France  as a poet until a few English poets began translating some of his work in the 19th century. It is a testament to Villon’s talent that brilliant minds like William Earnest Henley, Charles Algernon Swinburne, Galway Kinnell and Dante Gabriel Rossetti tackled translations faithful to his originals in both intent and playfulness.  Today Villon is likely the most well known French poet of the middle ages, his poetry translated into more than 25 languages.

So why are men like Henley, Rossetti, Baudelaire and Jay attracted to Villion’s verse? I think its because they recognize in his poetry a kindred soul, a fellow poet and thief.  All poet’s are thieves. They steal their best lines by listening for the poetry that is all around them and then pawn it off as original.  I think they applaud his originality, his avante garde style for his day.  And who doesn’t admire a man whose poetry kept him more than once from the gallows as a metaphor for what every poet aspires.

Skip an hour of Netflix tonight and check out the video below.  Jay’s card tricks and sleight of hand are incredible.

 


Ballade des Dames du Temps Jadis

by  François Villon

Translated by Dante Gabriel Rossetti as “Ballad of the Dead Ladies”

Tell me now in what hidden way is
Lady Flora the lovely Roman?
Where’s Hipparchia,and where is Thais,
Neither of them the fairer woman?.
Where is Echo,beheld of no man,
Only heard on river and mere,
She whose beauty was more than human?
But where are the snows of yester-year?.

Where’s Héloise, the learned nun,.
For whose sake Abeillard, ween,
Lost manhood and put priesthood on?.
(From Love he won such dule and teen!)
And where, I pray you, is the Queen.
Who willed that Buridan should steer.
Sewed in a sack’s mouth down the Seine?
But where are the snows of yester-year?

White Queen Blanche, like a queen of lilies,
With a voice like any mermaiden,
Bertha Broadfoot, Beatrice, Alice,.
And Ermengarde the lady of Maine,
And that good Joan whom Englishmen.
At Rouen doomed and burned her there,
Mother of God, where are they then?
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Nay, never ask this week, fair lord,
Where they are gone, nor yet this year,
Save with this much for an overword,
But where are the snows of yester-year?

Hunting Down The Lawless Sonnets of The Old West

Sonnet Eye Chart (1)

 

In fact, it seems to be the opinion of most of the later poets of our language that if the game is to be played at all, it is best to follow the rules without cavil and without claiming any license to depart from them.

 A Study on Versification (1911) by Brander Matthews

It is a conundrum, this holy aura that surrounds sonnets. The nearly religious vow that a poet is expected to uphold in pursuit of writing them, by fervently obeying a sonnet’s ancient rhyming rules and metrical structure. I agree with Matthews; “There is no obligation of any poet to make use of the sonnet framework; and if he would express himself without restraint he has at his command the large liberty of all the other lyrical forms.  It is in the rigidity of its skeleton that the charm of the sonnet is firmly rooted.  It tends to impose a helpful condensation, thus counteracting the temptation to diffuseness.”

Rules aren’t fun when it comes to creative writing. I think it’s why many readers of poetry wrinkle their noses at sonnets like an ancient lyricist has let out a fart in the library and it’s just wafted their way.   We might pin the blame for the modern masses eschewing sonnets on Shakespeare, whose sonnets, even his most ardent fans admit, can be at times practically unreadable in the leaden opacity of some of his verse.  We are told by learned professors of literature we are supposed to like Shakespeare because he is brilliant. No wonder many modern readers have thrown off their literary chains, shirking their responsibilities of reading Milton, Chaucer, Tennyson, Wordsworth and Dunne to obtain a well rounded appreciation of poetry, instead favoring more accessible poets like e. e. cummings, who followed no rules at all. However, boldly avowing a broad dislike of dusty sonnets would require taking the time to actually read a fair bit of Shakespeare or Milton to have a real opinion on the matter and most of us never cracked those books to begin with in high school, college or beyond.

Sonnets run the risk of offending the sensibility of modern readers of poetry, those readers that are attracted to free verse precisely because poetry doesn’t have to follow the rules of grammar and sentence construction we were taught in school.  A modern poet can claim poetic license at anytime and lay down their “get out of grammar jail” free card whenever he or she chooses.

So dear readers, let’s climb into this poet’s confessional and get something off our collective chests early on in this blog.  Sonneteers sometimes stretch the rules just a bit in favor of a winning line or for the sake of clarity and story.   Let’s not pretend that sonnets are bound by an ironclad suit of armor of 14 lines of 10 syllables each and every time. Nor are they chained unmercifully to a rhyming scheme or even rhyming at all. Many great sonnets stray slightly from this construction, with the occasional couplet getting its freak on by being 9 syllables followed by 10 or 11 syllables, or the addition of a bonus couplet and winding up with 16 lines, or snipping a couplet off and wrapping things up after only 12 lines. Believe it or not, there are even 18 line sonnets, who aren’t kicked out of the family tree of sonnets for having an extra few chromosomes as it were. Rudyard Kipling, a contemporary of Brander Matthew, wrote him a letter following the publication of A Study of Versification and quipped; “I’d like to war over the sonnet idea with you.  A sonnet is much more lawless than you’d have it.”

Things happen in poetry, even classical poetry.   Its true, that rules are rules with sonnets, and a serious reader of sonnets should probably know the difference between an English sonnet, an Italian sonnet or a Petrarchan sonnet, but not every line must rhyme precisely in its anointed position if the flow and meter is pleasing.  Some sonnets follow the – if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck rule of sonnets, for even with slight unique modifications – it’s still a sonnet.  But as Brander Matthews said: “A poor sonnet is a poor thing indeed….. nothing is longer than a sonnet if there is nothing in it.”  A boorish writer of sonnets can be a slave to impeccable rhyme sequence and structure with nothing interesting to say and the reader is still left with a shortish bit of rubbish.

Why go in search of great sonnets?  And whose to be the judge of what constitutes a great sonnet?   Both good questions one should ask if we are both to invest considerable time in this endeavor, me in writing this blog and you in reading it. I’ll not impose or assume anything about your motivations. The reason I have an obsession with sonnets is that when I find a sonnet that really speaks to me, in both the fluidity of its language and in the artistry of it’s message, it sparkles. Finding a great sonnet is like finding a keeper agate;  I see a glimpse of it sticking out of the ground, I bend over to pick it up and hope that when I lick off the dirt and study it closely I am going to uncover something incredibly beautiful.

Here are four sonnets about sonnets.  I figured why not let much better writers than I explain why sonnets can suck you in under their influence if you’re not careful.   Astute readers will instantly call foul on the Billy Collins poem, Sonnet, being labeled a sonnet. True, it lacks a sonnets rhyming scheme. But its a ripping good poem, so it qualifies in my book as a true “sonnet.”  A sense of humor scores bonus points if I am judge and jury in curating which sonnets make the grade for this blog.  Enjoy!

 

Scorn Not The Sonnet

William Wordsworth

Scorn not the Sonnet; Critic, you have frowned,
Mindless of it’s just honours; with this key
Shakespeare unlocked his heart; the melody
Of this small lute gave ease to Petrarch’s wound;
A thousand times this pipe did Tasso sound;
With it Camöens soothed an exile’s grief;
The Sonnet glittered a gay myrtle leaf
Amid the cypress with which Dante crowned
His visionary brow: a glow-worm lamp,
It cheered mild Spenser, called from Faery-land
To struggle through dark ways; and, when a damp
Fell round the path of Milton, in his hand
The Thing became a trumpet; whence he blew
Soul-animating strains—alas, too few!

 

A Sonnet

D. G. Rossetti

A Sonnet is a moment’s monument,
–Memorial from the Soul’s eternity
To one dead deathless hour. Look that it be,
Whether for lustral rite or dire portent,
Of its own arduous fullness reverent:
Carve it in ivory or in ebony,
As Day or Night may rule; and let Time see
Its flowering crest impearled and orient.
A Sonnet is a coin: its face reveals
The soul,–its converse, to what Power ’tis due:
–Whether for tribute to the august appeals
Of Life, or dower in Love’s high retinue,
It serve, or, ‘mid the dark wharf’s cavernous breath,
In Charon’s palm it pay the toll to Death.

 

I Will Put Chaos Into Fourteen Lines

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I will put Chaos into fourteen lines
And keep him there; and let him thence escape
If he be lucky; let him twist, and ape
Flood, fire, and demon — his adroit designs
Will strain to nothing in the strict confines
Of this sweet order, where, in pious rape,
I hold his essence and amorphous shape,
Till he with Order mingles and combines.
Past are the hours, the years of our duress,
His arrogance, our awful servitude:
I have him. He is nothing more nor less
Than something simple not yet understood;
I shall not even force him to confess;
Or answer. I will only make him good.

Sonnet

Billy Collins

To read Collin’s poem click the link below.

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/browse?contentId=40461

 

©2017 Original material copyright T. A. Fry.  Other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation.