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Short poem

Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909)

The Epitaph in Form of a Ballad which Villon Made for Himself and his Comrades, Expecting to be Hanged along with Them

              1Men, brother men, that after us yet live,
              2    Let not your hearts too hard against us be;
              3For if some pity of us poor men ye give,
              4    The sooner God shall take of you pity.
              5    Here are we five or six strung up, you see,
              6And here the flesh that all too well we fed
              7Bit by bit eaten and rotten, rent and shred,
              8    And we the bones grow dust and ash withal;
              9Let no man laugh at us discomforted,
            10    But pray to God that he forgive us all.

            11If we call on you, brothers, to forgive,
            12    Ye should not hold our prayer in scorn, though we
            13Were slain by law; ye know that all alive
            14    Have not wit alway to walk righteously;
            15    Make therefore intercession heartily
            16With him that of a virgin's womb was bred,
            17That his grace be not as a dry well-head
            18    For us, nor let hell's thunder on us fall;
            19We are dead, let no man harry or vex us dead,
            20    But pray to God that he forgive us all.

            21The rain has washed and laundered us all five,
            22    And the sun dried and blackened; yea, perdie,
            23Ravens and pies with beaks that rend and rive
            24    Have dug our eyes out, and plucked off for fee
            25    Our beards and eyebrows; never are we free,
            26Not once, to rest; but here and there still sped,
            27Drive at its wild will by the wind's change led,
            28    More pecked of birds than fruits on garden-wall;
            29Men, for God's love, let no gibe here be said,
            30    But pray to God that he forgive us all.

            31Prince Jesus, that of all art lord and head,
            32Keep us, that hell be not our bitter bed;
            33    We have nought to do in such a master's hall.
            34Be not ye therefore of our fellowhead,
            35    But pray to God that he forgive us all.


1] François Villon, born in 1431, a French autobiographical poet who wrote about his criminal adventures.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Swinburne's Collected Poetical Works, 2 vols. (London: William Heinemann, 1924): I, 448-49.
First publication date: 1878
Publication date note: Poems and Ballads, second series (1878): 222-24.
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO (1999).
Recent editing: 2:2002/5/2

Rhyme: ababbccdc

Other poems by Algernon Charles Swinburne