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Crazy Laughter

Original text Arthur Rimbaud, 1870
Adapted words and music © copyright 2000 Holly Tannen

     "These poets, you see, are not from here below. Let them live their crazy life. Let them have their cold and hunger, let them run and love, and sing. They are rich, these children, for their souls are full of rhymes, rhymes which laugh and cry. Let them live: God have mercy on the poor, and the world will bless the poet."
- Arthur Rimbaud

O good my lord come to the greenwood
The skies have dropped all their cloak of rain
Come bring your lady to sport and dally
And hear the sweet songs of love again.

But Sire when you have heard my story
Then you like me shall sore lament
The crows and magpies have caught the sparrow
Villon is taken by Parliament.

He lies on straw, fed on bread and water
Down in the dungeon at Chatelet
The poet writes one last lonely lyric
"The hangman's noose is sad in May."

Now he regrets all those moonlit evenings
Flamboyant inns where drunkards yell
Open highways and narrow back streets
Where sweethearts sell what they have to sell

Perhaps he quarreled with a dozen doxies
Or thrashed the guard at some country inn
Or stole the tripes from a careless butcher
My lord, this is not so great a sin.

Perhaps he sang of the dumpy chaplain
Beneath his cassock so black and staid
Who pays less heed to the dames' confessions
Than to the rump of his chambermaid.

The student cold in his lonely garret
The fiddler paying his tab with song
The stablehand, the drunken soldier
All sing the praise of François Villon.

So leave the poet his crazy laughter
Let him run free beneath the sky
Till his soul overflows with verses
His songs that make you laugh and cry.

So leave the poet his cold and hunger
The love and longing he must endure
All the world shall praise the poet
And the Lord have mercy upon the poor.

     This song was inspired by the "Lettre de Charles d'Orléans à Louis XI pour solliciter la grâce de Francois Villon, menacé de la Potence," by Arthur Rimbaud (age 15).
     Most of what we know about François Villon comes from the records of the police. He was born in Paris in 1431 and received his master's degree from the University of Paris around 1450. But instead of settling down to a secure teaching position, Villon preferred to hang out in the taverns writing satirical songs and poems. For some reason he was never able to make a living at this, so he supported his poetry habit through his skill in burglary, until they caught him at it and he was sentenced to be hanged. However, Charles, the Duke of Orléans, was himself an amateur poet and an admirer of Villon. He wrote a letter to the king asking for Villon's release.
     The letter has not survived. So it came to pass in the spring of 1870 that a young schoolteacher, George Izambard, on his first teaching assignment in the provincial French city of Charleville, set his prize student an assignment: write the letter that should have been written.

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Michael Potts, webster updated 29 March 2002 : 10:29 Caspar (Pacific) time

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