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"The Last Ballade; Master François Villon Loquitur" by Thomas Beer is a haunting meditation on mortality, sin, and the possibility of redemption, told through the fictionalized voice of François Villon, the 15th-century French poet. The poem captures Villon in his final moments, looking back at his life filled with sins and regrets while also pondering the prospect of an afterlife. Thomas Beer (1889 - 1940) was an American biographer, novelist, essayist, satirist, and author of short fiction.

In the poem, the dying Villon is conversing with a sister, presumably a nun, and contemplating his complicated relationship with mortality and spirituality. The atmosphere is heavy with impending death: the snow, the darkness, and the mention of "the last unction" serve as poignant metaphors for the end. Villon admits to being afraid not of death but of Fear itself, described as a "gray awful thing" that ambushes one from behind to remind them of their mortality.

The Sister's "cloistered peace and sanctity" sharply contrasts with Villon's tumultuous life. She represents the kind of ordered, virtuous life that Villon never led and now cannot be a part of. Villon has seen glimpses of heavenly light but only as fleeting instances, clouded by his earthly appetites and failures. The mention of Katharine, presumably a lost love, suggests a moment of happiness that eluded his grasp. Katharine laughed her "beautiful bright laugh," perhaps unable or unwilling to see the depths of Villon's soul. Here lies the tragedy; Villon is eternally caught between his aspirations toward goodness and the reality of his flawed human nature.

Villon's concerns about fitting into the heaven he envisions are darkly humorous and humanizing. He worries about the lack of "stewed tripe" and "Beaune wine," which, while a humorous touch, highlights the gulf between the earthy life he knows and the celestial one he contemplates. Villon has served "Myself alone," and in doing so, he feels he's betrayed not just others but also himself.

The poem reaches an emotional peak with Villon's appeal to the "Holy Queen," presumably the Virgin Mary, to whom he offers his life as a prayer. Despite the myriad sins and flaws, Villon seeks understanding and mercy. He has written poorly, "nor matched his meter well," but his song, his life, becomes a plea for compassion. This could be seen as a broader commentary on human life itself: imperfectly composed, yet deserving of grace.

Beer's poem concludes with a visceral experience of coldness, symbolizing the approach of death and the isolation that accompanies it. The request for "bread and wine" recalls both earthly sustenance and the sacramental elements that signify Christ's body and blood. Villon's last earthly thought is of Katharine, indicating the inescapable pull of his human desires, even in his final moments.

"The Last Ballade" is a complex narrative of sin, grace, and the human condition, cast through the lens of a historical figure known for his roguish life and soul-searching poetry. Beer manages to encapsulate the eternal struggle between human fallibility and the aspiration for divine grace, rendering a picture of a soul at the crossroads, torn between his earthly past and an uncertain, but hoped-for, spiritual future.

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