28 August 2008

A canting translation of Villon

Watching a video of Ricky Jay and his Fifty-two Assistants (directed by David Mamet), I came across this extraordinary translation of Villon's ballad "De bonne doctrine à ceux de mauvaise vie" into nineteenth-century canting slang. The original (text from the Oxford Book of French Verse):

Car ou soies porteur de bulles,
Pipeur ou hasardeur de dez,
Tailleur de faulx coings, tu te brusles,
Comme ceulx qui sont eschaudez,
Traistres parjurs, de foy vuydez;
Soies larron, ravis ou pilles:
Où en va l’acquest, que cuidez?
Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.

Ryme, raille, cymballe, luttes,
Comme fol, fainctif, eshontez;
Farce, broulle, joue des fleustes;
Fais, es villes et es citez,
Farces, jeux et moralitez;
Gaigne au berlanc, au glic, aux quilles.
Aussi bien va—or escoutez—
Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.

De telz ordures te reculles;
Laboure, fauche champs et prez;
Sers et pense chevaulx et mulles;
S’aucunement tu n’es lettrez;
Assez auras, se prens en grez.
Mais se chanvre broyes ou tilles,
Ne tens ton labour qu’as ouvrez
Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.


Chausses, pourpoins esguilletez,
Robes, et toutes voz drappilles,
Ains que vous fassiez pis, portez
Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.

The translation, by William Ernest Henley, the minor poet and slang lexicographer:


Suppose you screeve, or go cheap-jack?
Or fake the broads? or fig a nag?
Or thimble-rig? or knap a yack?
Or pitch a snide? or smash a rag?
Suppose you duff? or nose and lag?
Or get the straight, and land your pot?
How do you melt the multy swag?
Booze and the blowens cop the lot.


Fiddle, or fence, or mace, or mack;
Or moskeneer, or flash the drag;
Dead-lurk a crib, or do a crack;
Pad with a slang, or chuck a fag;
Bonnet, or tout, or mump and gag;
Rattle the tats, or mark the spot
You cannot bank a single stag:
Booze and the blowens cop the lot.


Suppose you try a different tack,
And on the square you flash your flag?
At penny-a-lining make your whack,
Or with the mummers mug and gag?
For nix, for nix the dibbs you bag
At any graft, no matter what!
Your merry goblins soon stravag:
Booze and the blowens cop the lot.

The Moral.

It’s up-the-spout and Charley-Wag
With wipes and tickers and what not!
Until the squeezer nips your scrag,
Booze and the blowens cop the lot.
(See this link for annotations.)

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