Classic and Contemporary Poetry
VILLON IN PRISON, by HOWARD CHANDLER ROBBINS
First Line: A word with thee, my friend o' the rusty keys!
Last Line: How did the first line run? -- poor jehanne, poor jehanne!
Subject(s): Prisons & Prisoners; Villon, Francois (1431-1463); Yale University
A WORD with thee, my friend o' the rusty keys!
Didst think, perchance, I slept a moment since,
So failed to note the fine, painstaking search
Bestowed on my apparel; frayed, 'tis true,
By over-frequent bouts with wind and worse,
Yet whole enough to hide some paltry pence
Whereof 'twere well to rid -- nay, spare excuse!
My course were thine, had I been turnkey here
And thou mad Villon, doomed to hang at noon,
So making late amends to angry God
And cheating hell fire yet, to quote the priest.
But hear me out! The coins may still be thine,
With blessings added, all for one poor sheet --
Mark me, I ask but one -- whereon to write
Of pity and farewell; throw needful light
On certain episodes for one who else --
Dost catch my drift? Girls' hearts are such frail things.
Thanks, friend! There, keep the pence, and leave me now
To make, as best I can, my peace with God
And her, if that may be.
Wide, smooth and white!
So smooth! So white! So fit to charm the pen
To facile rhyme! -- And leave poor Jehanne to starve
Her heart out for the word that sets all right?
No, never that, please God! -- But ah, those lines
That raced like wildfire through my brain last night!
Bright fugitives; if I could grasp them now,
What golden worth might they not yield, what hope
Of handing Villon's name to future years
Blest, glorified, redeemed from sudden night
By one triumphant burst of lyric dawn!
How did the first line run? -- Poor Jehanne, poor Jehanne!
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