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? This was translated into English by Rossetti as "Where are the snows of yesteryear?",[1] 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?".[2]

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,[3] expressing the short-term memory without regrets of a hard-bitten prostitute, in the refrain

Wo sind die Tränen von gestern abend?
Wo ist der Schnee vom vergangenen Jahr?

Where are the tears of yesterday evening?
Where is the snow of yesteryear?

The ballade has been made into a song (using the original Middle French text) by French songwriter Georges Brassens,[4] and by the Czech composer Petr Eben, in the cycle Sestero piesní milostnych (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
Were 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 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.[5]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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
  2. ^ Woledge, Brian, ed. (1961). The Penguin Book of French Verse. 1. Harmondsworth: Penguin. p. 315.
  3. ^ Nanna's Lied, sung by Tiziana Sojat
  4. ^ Brassens, Georges. "Ballade des dames du temps jadis". YouTube. Retrieved 25 January 2019.
  5. ^ 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