François Villon (1431–1463?) is the quintessential Orphean poet, forever glancing back over his shoulder at what he is about to lose. Friends and enemies, lovers, his mother, his many persecutors (real and imagined), his colleagues in roguery, all step from his consummately sculpted verses in the lineaments of dismissal. It is only in bidding adieu that he fully acknowledges others. It is only in the bequeathing gesture that he claims what he has had. At the same time, Villon affects a drastic spontaneity; it is always the present instant in his verses; he seems to be scribbling the stanzas as we read. The most studious of craftsmen—is there a form, from rondeau to double ballade, he did not master?—he calibrates his impromptus so cleverly that his tirades sound virtually unrehearsed, his quips and squibs have an off-the-cuff quality that startles, even after five-hundred years. He is a soliloquist whose repertoire ranges from...

 
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