Three Translations from Francois Villon, 1450

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

General Description

Date: 1869-1870
Genre: poem group


◦ Baum, Poems Ballads and Sonnets., 177

◦ Gregory, Life and Works of Dante Gabriel Rossetti II. 124

◦ Lang, New Writings by Swinburne(1964), 183-187

◦ Lange, “Swinburne und Rossetti” (1977), 17-30

◦ Sharp, DGR: A Record and a Study, 304-305

Scholarly Commentary


This is the heading DGR gave in the first edition of the 1870 Poems to the three Villon translations: The Ballad of Dead Ladies; To Death, of his Lady; and His Mother's Service to Our Lady.

The three translations are central texts in the structure of DGR's volume. They open the final part of the book's opening section of Poems. This last sequence is a set of translations that re-collect from the ancient, the medieval, and the modern world the same themes DGR pursues in his original poetry. The Villon translations are especially important, and aptly chosen as a group, since they graphically emphasize the continuity of sacred and profane love. The interpenetration of the two, perhaps the most celebrated idea in all of DGR's work, grounds the (implicit but recurrent) mythic orientation of DGR's work.

As Baum notes, “Rossetti's versions are faithful without being literal. He is closest to the original in the rondeau, though he there introduces a different image in the last line. . . . The three translations . . . were made in 1869, perhaps partly under the influence of Swinburne, who several years earlier had translated three other ballads and begun a prose essay on Villon” ( Poems, Ballads, and Sonnets 177 ). DGR and Swinburne planned, in the early 1860s, to do a complete translation of Villon's poetry.

Textual History: Composition

WMR (1911) dates the first two 1869, and the third 1870. In fact the first two must have been written by August 1869 since they appear in the Penkill Proofs, the first of the prepublication texts DGR prepared for the eventual publication of his 1870 Poems. The third translation seems to have been made in early March 1870, when he inserted it with the other two at a very late proof stage for his volume of Poems. The third Villon translation was made as a substitute for the translation of “Francesca da Rimini”, which DGR had added in March but then decided to remove (see DGR's letter to Ellis, 4 April 1870, Fredeman, Correspondence, 70. 82 ).

Printing History

First published in the 1870 Poems, again in the New Edition of 1881, and collected thereafter.


All three translate sections of Villon's Le Testament: lines 329-356; 978-989; and 873-909. His text for all three translations was Lacroix's 1854 Oeuvres Complètes de Francois Villon : pages 62-64, 113, and 105-107 respectively.

Electronic Archive Edition: 1
Source File: 49-1869.raw.xml