Utah State University Faculty Honor Lectures
The Faculty Association, Utah State University
The highest hope of the teacher of literature is to illuminate life in the flame of experience : not in the sense th at hi story repeats itself, but rath er th at particul ar significance can be given to the here and now when it is experienced through minds with uniquely true sight.
One such mind is that of the fift eenth century French poet, Fran<;ois Villon. He sought out life with all his senses . He examined human experience with all his strength of vi sion, never once burying his head in the sands of wishful thinking because what he saw was beyond endurance. Though writing in the fourteen-hundreds he has been called "modern." We might say that he is great because his vi sion transcends time: th at he is "modern" because he is timeless . Perhaps this is because he pits the precious and fragile continuum of life again st the static nihili sm of death, than which even the most degraded life is preferable.
This lecture is not one for expert s on the fiftee nth-century with a special interest in Villon. R ather it is a literature teacher's effort to concentrate in one fifty-minute capsule the substance of Villon 's thought and craftsmanship for listeners willing to take a trip into re alms of hype rbeing where many shun to go. ViII on's life and his poetic creativity are inseparable and, hence, they are interlaced in this lecture. Texts have been selected from half a dozen of the translators who have sought to inject the best of Villon's thought into the stream of English verse. In a few cases the translations are my own. In the printed brochure of this lecture Villon's own texts are given bi-Iaterally so that readers competent in Middle French may experience his art first hand : it is never easy and often impossible to transport great poetry across linguistic frontiers.
For the French texts we have followed Longnon (1941). Subsequent to his work more definitive texts have been establi shed . However, since these were not available to the translators cited, we have preferred to rely on earlier texts
Fife, Austin E., "The Life and Poetry of Francois Villon" (1967). Faculty Honor Lectures. Paper 20.