Ballade des dames du temps jadis
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
Particularly famous is its interrogative refrain, Mais où sont les neiges d'antan? This was translated into English by Rossetti as "Where are the snows of yesteryear?", for which he coined the new word yester-year to translate Villon's antan. 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?".
The refrain is taken up in the bitter and ironic "Lied de Nana" ("Nana's Song") by Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler, from Die Rundköpfe und die Spitzköpfe (Round Heads and Pointed Heads), also set by Kurt Weill in 1939, expressing the short-term memory without regrets of a hard-bitten prostitute, in the refrain
Wo sind die Tränen von gestern abend?
Where are the tears of yesterday evening?
The ballade has been made into a song (using the original Middle French text) by French songwriter Georges Brassens, and by the Czech composer Petr Eben, in the cycle Sestero piesní milostnych (1951).
Text of the ballade, with literal translation
Dictes moy où, n'en quel pays,
Tell me where, in which country
In popular culture
- 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.
- 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
- Woledge, Brian, ed. (1961). The Penguin Book of French Verse. 1. Harmondsworth: Penguin. p. 315.
- Nanna's Lied, sung by Tiziana Sojat
- Brassens, Georges. "Ballade des dames du temps jadis". YouTube. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
- 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