Ballade des dames du temps jadis

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The "Ballade des dames du temps jadis" ("Ballade of Ladies of Time Gone By") is a poem by François Villon that celebrates famous women in history and mythology, and a prominent example of the ubi sunt? genre. It is written in the fixed-form ballade format, and forms part of his collection Le Testament.

The section is simply labelled Ballade by Villon; the title des dames du temps jadis was added by Clément Marot in his 1533 edition of Villon's poems.

Translations and adaptations[edit]

Particularly famous is its interrogative refrain, Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?, an example of the ubi sunt motif,[1] which was common in medieval poetry and particularly in Villon's ballads.[2]

This was translated into English by Rossetti as "Where are the snows of yesteryear?",[3] for which he popularized the word yester-year to translate Villon's antan.[4] The French word was used in its original sense of "last year", although both antan and the English yesteryear have now taken on a wider meaning of "years gone by". The phrase has also been translated as "But where are last year's snows?".[5]

The ballade has been made into a song (using the original Middle French text) by French songwriter Georges Brassens,[6] and by the Czech composer Petr Eben, in the cycle Šestero piesní milostných (1951).[citation needed]

Text of the ballade, with literal translation[edit]

The text is from Clement Marot's Œuvres complètes de François Villon of 1533, in the Le Grand Testament pages 34 to 35.

Dictes moy où, n'en quel pays,
Est Flora, la belle Romaine ;
Archipiada, ne Thaïs,
Qui fut sa cousine germaine;
Echo, parlant quand bruyt on maine
Dessus rivière ou sus estan,
Qui beauté eut trop plus qu'humaine?
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan!

Où est la très sage Heloïs,
Pour qui fut chastré et puis moyne
Pierre Esbaillart à Sainct-Denys?
Pour son amour eut cest essoyne.
Semblablement, où est la royne
Qui commanda que Buridan
Fust jetté en ung sac en Seine?
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan!

La royne Blanche comme ung lys,
Qui chantoit à voix de sereine;
Berthe au grand pied, Bietris, Allys;
Harembourges qui tint le Mayne,
Et Jehanne, la bonne Lorraine,
Qu'Anglois bruslerent à Rouen;
Où sont-ilz, Vierge souveraine ?
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan!

Prince, n'enquerez de sepmaine
Où elles sont, ne de cest an,
Qu'à ce refrain ne vous remaine:
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan!

Tell me where, in which country
Is Flora, the beautiful Roman;
Archipiada, or Thaïs
Who was her first cousin;
Echo, speaking when one makes noise
Over river or on pond,
Who had a beauty too much more than human?
Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!

Where is the very wise Héloïse,
For whom was castrated, and then (made) a monk,
Pierre Esbaillart (Abelard) in Saint-Denis?
For his love he suffered this sentence.
Similarly, where is the Queen (Marguerite de Bourgogne)
Who ordered that Buridan
Be thrown in a sack into the Seine?
Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!

The queen Blanche (white) as a lily (Blanche of Castile)
Who sang with a Siren's voice;
Bertha of the Big Foot, Beatrix, Aelis;
Erembourge who ruled over the Maine,
And Joan (Joan of Arc), the good (woman from) Lorraine
Whom the English burned in Rouen;
Where are they, oh sovereign Virgin?
Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!

Prince, do not ask me in the whole week
Where they are - neither in this whole year,
Lest I bring you back to this refrain:
Oh, where are the snows of yesteryear!

In popular culture[edit]

The refrain Mais où sont les neiges d'antan? has been quoted or alluded to in numerous works.

  • In Bertolt Brecht's 1936 play Die Rundköpfe und die Spitzköpfe (Round Heads and Pointed Heads), the line is quoted as "Wo sind die Tränen von gestern abend? / Wo is die Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?" ("Where are the tears of yester evening? / Where are the snows of yesteryear?") in "Lied eines Freudenmädchens" (Nannas Lied) ("Song of a joy-maiden [prostitute]" (Nanna's song)); music originally by Hanns Eisler, alternative arrangement by Kurt Weill.[7]
  • The original 1945 manuscript of the play, “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams, contains optional stage directions for projecting the legend “Où sont les neiges d’antan?” on a screen during Amanda’s monologue in Scene One where she recounts her (likely exaggerated)past life as a popular Southern Belle
  • The poem was alluded to in Joseph Heller's novel Catch-22, when Yossarian asks "Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?" in both French and English, Snowden being the name of a character who dies despite the efforts of Yossarian to save him.[8]
  • In S2:E9 of Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, played by Dame Maggie Smith, quotes the refrain "Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?" in its original French, when referring to the father of the present Lord "Jinks" Hepworth, who she knew in the 1860s.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Taylor, Jane H. M. (21 May 2001). Michael Sheringham (ed.). The Poetry of François Villon: Text and Context. Cambridge University Press. pp. 72–74. ISBN 978-0-521-79270-7. OCLC 1171448886.
  2. ^ Fein, David A.; Wadsworth, Philip Adrian (1984). A Reading of Villon's Testament. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-917786-04-4. OCLC 1006445752.
  3. ^ Rossetti, Dante Gabriel (1872) [original French poem Ballade des dames du temps jadis 1461 by François Villon], "Three Translations From François Villon, 1450. I. The Ballad of Dead Ladies", Poems (1870): Sixth Edition, French poems translated 1869 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (6 ed.), London: F. S. Ellis, p. 177, retrieved 2013-07-23
  4. ^ Rossetti has been said to have coined this word, but the Oxford English Dictionary entry for 'yesteryear' cites a work published over two decades before Rossetti's translation, a citation which, furthermore, suggests the word was already in use.
  5. ^ Woledge, Brian, ed. (1961). The Penguin Book of French Verse. Vol. 1. Harmondsworth: Penguin. p. 315.
  6. ^ Brassens, Georges. "Ballade des dames du temps jadis". YouTube. Archived from the original on 2021-12-22. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  7. ^ "Why Brecht Now? Vol. III: Ute Lemper sings "Nanna's Lied"". dusted. 2019-07-12. Archived from the original on 2022-03-25.
  8. ^ Schachtman, Benjamin Nathan (2005), "12. Black Comedy", in Maurice Charney (ed.), Comedy: A Geographic and Historical Guide, Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, ISBN 978-0-313-32714-8, OCLC 836070872
  9. ^ Eco, Umberto (1980). The Name of the Rose. Retrieved 5 October 2021.