Ballade des dames du temps jadis
The "Ballade des dames du temps jadis" ("Ballade of the Ladies of Times Past") 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 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
Dictes moy où, n'en quel pays, Est Flora, la belle Romaine ; Archipiada, né 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
In popular culture
- the phrase is used by José Saramago in "As Intermitencias da Morte" : "como folhas que das árvores se desprendem e vão tombar sobre as folhas dos outonos pretérit, mais oü sont les neiges d'antan, do formigueiro interminável dos que, pouco apouco"
- The poem is alluded to, and the phrase, Mais où sont les neiges d'antan is used as an epigraph in Algernon Charles Swinburne's poem, "Félise".
- 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.
- The text "Ou sont les neiges" is used as a screen projection in the first scene of Tennessee Williams's play The Glass Menagerie.
- "And like the snows of yesteryear, gone from this earth" is used by Lt. Archie Hicox in Quentin Tarantino's film Inglourious Basterds to describe the intended effects of a plot to assassinate the Nazi leadership.
- The poem appears in season two, episode three of Mad Men - the character Don sits in an almost empty cinema, watching a French film (identity unknown) in which a female narrator reads the poem over a series of stills.
- In chapter five of D.H. Lawrence's book Lady Chatterley's Lover, Clifford Chatterley asks, "Where are the snows of yesteryear?...It's what endures through one's life that matters." Here he is referring to the short-lived sexual affairs that his wife, Lady Chatterley, has had with other men. He is suggesting that these affairs, like the snows of yesteryear, are ephemeral and once gone leave nothing tangible behind.
- In Act Two, scene II of the play Blithe Spirit by Noël Coward, Madame Arcati quotes the line, Où sont les neiges d'antan? as she waxes nostalgic about the good old days of "genuine religious belief" when "a drop of holy water could send even a poltergeist scampering for cover."
- In the graphical novel The Crow by James O'Barr the quote "ou' sont les neiges d'antan" appears in the second chapter.
- The phrase "Where are the snows of yesteryear?" is included in Act II of the Broadway musical, I Do! I Do!, in a song entitled "Where Are the Snows?" It is a duet sung by the leading characters, Michael and Agnes. The musical has book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt.
- In chapter 13 of Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, the quote "où sont les neiges d'antan?" is referenced by Alvah.
- During the season 2 Christmas special of Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess Grantham (Maggie Smith) quotes, "Où sont les neiges d'antan" while reminiscing with her son about old acquaintances.
- In HBO's Boardwalk Empire (episode 6 of season 3) prosecuting attorney Esther Randolph quotes, "Where are the snows of yesteryear" in response to Enoch 'Nucky' Thompson's assertion that his days as County Treasurer of Atlantic City are past.
- In a late-career ballade entitled "Snow Jobs", poet James Merrill took up the refrain "Where is the slush of yesteryear?" explicitly mentioning Teapot Dome, Watergate, the Iran-Contra affair and the Whitewater scandal. The poem appeared in the posthumous collection A Scattering of Salts (1995).
- "Vanished Like the Snow," a track off Irish band Solas's 1997 album Sunny Spells and Scattered Showers, follows the poem thematically, with three stanzas about Helen, Heloise and Abelard, and Joan of Arc.
- Reinhardt, a character in Overwatch, quotes the refrain in one of his voicelines: "Forgive and forget, like snow from yesteryear."
- Umberto Eco quotes the line "Where are the snows of yesteryear?" in the final chapter "Last Page" of The Name Of The Rose.
- In Act One of Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt, the titular character says to his mother "Hvor er Sneen fra ifjor?" or "Where is the snow from yesteryear?" This is said in response to Aase lamenting her late husband's money squandering, which left her and Peer in poverty after his death.
- In the Act One monologue of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, she says "such' dir den Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr", a german translation of Villon's famous line, when contemplating the passage of time.
- 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 (1), French poems translated 1869 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (6 ed.), London: F. S. Ellis, p. 177, retrieved 2013-07-23
- Nanna's Lied, sung by Tiziana Sojat