Friday, August 16, 2013

POESIS 1 SCAFFOLD: Straight Tip to All Cross Cove (De bonne doctrine a ceux demauvaise vie) by Francois Villon


Ballade de bonne doctrine à ceux de mauvaise vie
By Francios Villon (c. 1431 - disappeared after 1463)

Car ou soies porteur de bulles,
Pipeur ou hasardeur de dés,
Tailleur de faux coins et te brûles
Comme ceux qui sont échaudés,
Traîtres parjurs, de foi vidés;
Soies larron, ravis ou pilles:
Où s'en va l'acquêt, que cuidez?
Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.

Rime, raille, cymbale, luthes,
Comme fol feintif, éhontés;
Farce, brouille, joue des flûtes;
Fais, ès villes et ès cités,
Farces, jeux et moralités,
Gagne au berlan, au glic, aux quilles
Aussi bien va, or écoutez!
Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.

"De tels ordures te recules,
Laboure, fauche champs et prés,
Sers et panse chevaux et mules,
S'aucunement tu n'es lettrés;
Assez auras, se prends en grés.
Mais, se chanvre broyes ou tilles,
Ne tends ton labour qu'as ouvrés
Tout aux tavernes et aux filles?

Chausses, pourpoints aiguilletés,
Robes, et toutes vos drapilles,
Ains que vous fassiez pis, portez
Tout aux tavernes et aux filles.


Francois Villon’s Straight Tip To All Cross Coves 
(De bonne doctrine a ceux de mauvaise vie)
Rendered by William Ernest Henley 1887

 ‘Tout aux tavernes et aux filles’


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,
I first heard Henley's version of Villon's ballad, De bonne doctrine a ceux de mauvaise vie (Good Doctrines for a Bad Life), while watching a video of Rick Jay performing card tricks:

At the time, I was looking for an interesting poem to memorize and this was ideal. I wanted a to test my memory with a poem I had never heard before. While I knew a little about Villon - outlaw poet, wrote in criminal argot, "the snows of yesteryear" - I had never before heard this piece. It sounded like a French version of the Russian influenced "Nadsat" of Anthony Burgess' Clockwork Orange:

“When the last movement had gone round for the second time with all the banging and creeching about Joy Joy Joy Joy, then these two young ptitsas were not acting the big lady sophisto no more. They were like waking up to what was being done to their malenky persons and saying that they wanted to go home and like I was a wild beast. They looked like they had been in some big bitva, as indeed they had, and were all bruised and pouty."

Villon's poem was beautiful and strange, oddly cool and complex, full of a raw humor and lowlife wisdom. More importantly, I wanted to know it by heart. I wanted to place it within my interior library so that I would have it at hand to draw upon whenever I desired.  It appeared from "the outside" to meet all the criteria I was looking for. Additionally, the fact that most of it was in an slang that sounded like a foreign language provided it a layer of semantic opacity, contingent difficulty (cf. Steiner), that seemed a good test for my memory abilities.

A cursory search led me to The Ondioline where I found the entire translation of the Villon poem, here titled Straight Tip to All Cross Cove. The translator was the 19th century poet Willian Ernest Henley, best known for his defiant and charged "Invictus." Significantly, Henley also helped to edit a seven volume work, Slang and Its Analogues.

Henley's translation, attempting to be true to the spirit of Villon's language, substitutes 19th century thieve's cant (cryptolect) for the 15th century French street argot in the poem. To beautiful effect.

After reading Henley's version, all others seem overly mannered, with no life, ruffling disdainful feathers under the dust of old books in forgotten library stacks. To illustrate this point, The Ondioline quotes a portion of a translation from Henry de Vere Stacpoole (who also wrote, The Blue Lagoon). I have difficulty reading the de Vere Stacpoole version ( collection) and not hearing it in a haughty shouting Oxford accent:

Frontpiece of The Poems of François Villon.
Translated by H. de Vere Stacpoole (1914)

Ye who be smugglers of papal bulls,
Or cheaters at dice, whatever be ye –
Coiners who risk life and limb like fools,
Then boil in hot oil for their felony,
Traitors disloyal — ye know who ye be –
Stealers of jewels, of perfume and pearls:
So where goes it all, that ye get in fee?
All to the taverns and to the girls. 

Le Grant Testament Maistre Françoys Villon et le Petit.
 Son Codicille avec le Jargon et ses Ballades - source


1315-1322  The Great Famine. Millions of deaths. Memory image: Hansel and Gretel, the story of two children threatened by a cannibalistic witch, originates from this event.

1337 - 1453  The Hundred Year’s War. Memory image: A map of Europe with no France: what the English would have liked to have happened.

1347 - 1351  The Black Death. Millions more died. Memory image: Danse Macabre: Skeletons dancing on the graves

1431 - April 19  François Villon born in Paris. May 30  Memory image: Joan of Arc burned at the stake. 

1449  Villon receives bachelor’s degree from the University of Paris

1450 Wolves terrorize Paris, killing forty. 

1452  Villon receives a master’s degree from the University of Paris.

1453  The end of the Hundred Year’s War at Bordeaux. English are defeated. Memory image: Map of France as it is. 

1456  - June 5 Villon is implicated in a murder. Villon fled. Sentenced to banishment. December -  Robbery of Collège de Navarre by Villon.  Composed Petit Testament or Lais.

1461  Imprisoned. Granted general amnesty with the accession of the King on 2 October 1461.

1462  Imprisoned and tortured, condemned to be hanged. Writes Le Grand Testament. Sentence commuted to banishment on 5 January 1463.

1492  Columbus becomes first European to land in Caribbean. Memory image: Three women, Maria, Pinta, Nina kissing the natives, infecting them with Old World diseases.

1498  Leonardo da Vinci paints The Last Supper. Image.

1499  Michelangelo Buonarroti sculpts the Pietà. Image.

Frontpiece to The jargon of Master francois Villon clerk of Paris, A.D.
Being Seven Ballads from the Thieves' Argot of the XVth Century


The richer the context, the easier it is to build up memorable associations. Even a rudimentary sense of the historical occurrence of the poem is helpful. A text as occluded and riddled with cryptolect as Straight Tip will inevitably find some sympathetic resonance, something to hook on to - even if this is peculiar only to you - in the historical events that surrounded it. 

Villon enters this world in the year of 1431, in the city Paris, at the end of the Middle Ages, just on the cusp of an emerging Renaissance in Western Europe.  At his back is Famine, War and Plague. At his side, always, is Death. 

William Manchester, in A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance, paints a harrowing portrait of the the time:

“In the early 1500s one could hike through the woods for days without encountering a settlement of any size. Between 80 and 90 percent of the population (the peasantry; serfdom had been abolished everywhere except in remote pockets of Germany) lived in villages fewer than a hundred people, fifteen or twenty miles apart, surrounded by endless woodlands. They slept in their small cramped hamlets, which afforded little privacy, but they worked - entire families, including expectant mothers and toddlers - in the fields and pastures between their huts and the great forest. It was brutish toil, but absolutely necessary to keep the wolf from the door. Wheat had to be beaten out by flails, and not everyone owned a plowshare. Those who didn’t borrowed or rented when possible; when it was impossible, they broke the earth awkwardly with mattocks.” 

In her entertaining history, A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century, Barbara Tuchman summarizes the age and illustrates the danger of living in the city and being a member of the privileged class.

“In the next fifty years, the forces set in motion during the 14th century played themselves out, some of them in exaggerated form like human failings in old age. After heavy recurrence in the last year of the old century, the Black Death disappeared, but war and brigandage were renewed, the cult of death grew more extreme, the struggle to end to schisms and reform the abuses of the Church more desperate. Depopulation reached its lowest point in a society already weakened both physically and morally.

In France, Jean de Nevers, who had succeeded his father as Duke of Burgundy in 1404, turned assassin, precipitating a train of evils. In 1407, he employed a gang of toughs to murder his rival Lous D’Orleans in the streets of Paris. As Louis was returning to his hotel after dark, he was set upon by hired killers who cut off his left hand holding the reins, dragged him from his mule, hacked him to death with swords, axes and wooden clubs, and left his body in the gutter while the mounted escort, which never seems to have been much use on these occasions, fled.”

History gives us the privilege of looking back and seeing a meaning and significance to events that at the time appeared to have no consequence. Borges’ comment that Tacitus did not perceive the Crucifixion. Still, I imagine the young Villon, roaming the streets of Paris, being shaped by a world haunted by death, whether from plague, famine or murder. Tuchman continues:

“Statues of St. Roch and other saints invoked against the plague and various forms of sudden death multiplied in the churches; the fashion for naked skeletal effigies spread. Now in the 15th century the cult of death flourished at its most morbid. Artists dwelt on physical rot in ghoulish detail: worms wriggled through every corpse, bloated toads sat on dead eyeballs. A mocking, beckoning, gleeful Death led the parade of the Danse Macabre around the innumerable frescoed walls. A literature of dying expressed itself in popular treatises on Ars Moriendi. the Art of Dying, with scenes of the deathbed, doctors and notaries in attendance, hovering families, shrouds and coffins, grave-diggers who spades uproot the bones of the earlier dead, finally the naked corpse awaiting God’s judgement while angels and black devils dispute for his soul.”

In the year of Francois Villon’s birth, 1431, Joan of Arc, 19 years old, was burned at the stake in Rouen, just north of Paris.

“In an entry dated May 1431, the Bourgeois of Paris, anonymous author of the Parisian Journal, records the chilling and curious execution of one of France’s most enigmatic figures: 

‘She was at once unanimously condemned to death and was tied to a stake on the platform (which was built of plaster) and the fire lit under her. She was soon dead and all her clothes were burned. Then the fire was raked back and her naked body was shown to all the people and tall the secrets that could or should belong to a woman, to take away any doubts from people’s minds. When they stared long enough at her dead body bound to the stake, the executioner got a big fire going again round her poor carcass, which was soon burned up, both flesh and bone reduced to ashes.’ 

In order that her ashes were not used for maleficium, they were scattered into the Seine.”

From Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc by Bonnie Wheeler, Charles T. Wood, 1999

A map of Paris is from 1422 to 1589 shows a small city. Estimated population after the decimations of the previous years: 150,000 to 200,000. 

An indication of how primal and, at times, savage, life was back then: in 1450 a pack of wolves terrorized the city, killing forty people. Their notoriety was such that the leader of the pack had a name, Courtaud, and a commonplace farewell was, “Don’t get eaten by wolves.” Eventually, in what a scene that I wish I had witnessed, the angered Parisians lured the wolves to the steps of Notre Dame Cathedral using a live child in a cage as bait. They surrounded the pack and killed them with stones and spears. During this time, Villon was a student at the University of Paris. [Daniel Mannix’s Wolves of Paris is a compelling and brutal account of the wolves attack on Paris from the wolves point of view. Highly recommended. (cf. ]

Translators and biographers often make the just observation of what makes the poetry of Francois Villon so remarkable is its simultaneous celebration of the low and the high. Villon stands alone in his expressive ability to have one foot in the grave and the other stepping up to the stars.

“An American writer in a recent number of the Chap-Book has thus linked our poet: 

‘The Poes and Villons, the urban highest types of genius, to which belong the Verlaines and the Baudelaires, invariably voice a supremely artificial conception of life and its aspirations. Their flowers are flowers of evil; their trees bear Sodom apples; their birds sing dolorous songs, and the very air they breathe has a burden of severe poison.’ 

This critic is right when he says that these men cannot be judged by rural standards. It is by these alone that one can understand his failure to see the sad beauty and eternal truth that wells from the poetry of men whose souls are on the rack. A man who is able to see in Villon something other than artistic evil need not necessarily consider himself an artist, but it seems to me that he views everything from a higher plane if he can include himself with those who see, as Stevenson says, beautiful and human traits in him.”

 François Villon by G. L. Swiggett, The Sewanee Review, Vol. 7, No. 4 (Oct., 1899)

This engraving, by the 17th century English artist John Payne,
is the frontispiece to The Mirrour Which Flatters Not.
Dedicated to their Maiesties of Great Britaine, by Le Sieur de la Serre,
Historiographer of France. Enriched with faire Figures. (1639),
a book of poetry by Jean Puget de La Serre, translated into English by Thomas Carey.

“He says horrible things, he says sordid things, and he says beautiful things, but he says one thing always—the truth, and his lamentations are real no less when he is lamenting his own fate than the fate of the women who have vanished from the world. 

Considering the times in which he lived, he is wonderfully clean-spoken and devoid of brutality. Remember, that in the Paris of 1456 they boiled malefactors alive in the cauldron of the swine-market, the graveyards at night were the haunts of debauchery, priests and nuns helped in the recruiting of the army of Crime, and the students of the University were often reduced to begging their bread from door to door. He, in his personal life, had been hardly dealt with. He killed Chermoye; and who was Chermoye? a priest armed with a dagger. He was a robber, but he was a robber in an age of robbers. God made him a robber, it is true; but at least let us thank God that He did not make him a tradesman. He was a robber, but he was compassionate towards children and women grown old — see amongst other things, the ballade written for his mother and many of the verses of the Testaments; and it is this feeling for things weak and humble and ruined that lends his verse a grace greater even than the grace lent to it by his genius. To arrive at a true estimate of the man we must look, not at his actions, of which we know little, but at the expressions of his mind which lie before us in his poems.”

Finally, the lovely single sentence summing up Villon and his times:

[…] Born in 1431 of humble parentage and brought up in Paris by his god-father, the good Canon of St. Benoit; a tempestuous career at the University, debauch and repentance, ambition and despair; Master of Arts in 1452, at the same time Master of Knavery and also of lyric verse in the ballad form; the wonderful two-sided character of the man, a man who could turn from the coarsest jest in verse to write the beautiful ''Prayer for his mother to Notre Dame"; the murder of the priest in 1455 followed by his flight from Paris; his probable sojourn in the Provinces with the Coquillards; then the robbery of the College of Navarre; his imprisonment and sentence at Meung-sur-Loire and his pardon by Louis XIth upon that monarch's accession to the Throne; again implicated in a murder in Paris; torture, sentence to death, and his appeal, followed by a second pardon and by banishment, - such a person was well fitted to write a warning word to his companions.

Stabler, Jordan Herbert, 1885-1938. “The jargon of Master Francois Villon : clerk of Paris, A.D. MCCCCLII & being seven ballads from the Thieves' Argot of the XVth Century. Published 1918

Smoking Men, 1637
by Adriaen Brouwer


Since I have been singing songs as memory practice, I approached the poem as a song. This makes sense since ballades were originally composed to accompany dances with the dancers singing along with singing the refrains. 

It is important for me to create a vivid mental world for the poem to unfold within. I remind myself that I can imagine anything, figures surreal, pornographic and unforgettably terrifying. However, as the above discussion indicates, I prefer to create a world that pulls as much from the world around it, history and biography, as possible. (This is where I differ from other memory systems. More upon this later.) I find this helpful not only if I want to memorize other poems from Villon, but also if I am memorizing other works from the same period. 

Peasants Carousing in a Tavern, 1630
by Adriaen Brouwer

What I  imagine is something like this: evening red in the sky. A dirt road. The sound of laughter and loud conversation. A tavern on the outskirts of Paris. Mid-1400s. Outside are four horses symbolic of the the times: a red horse for the 100 Years War, a black horse for the Great Famine, a grey horse for disease and the Plague and a pale horse for Death. The Four Horses of the Apocalypse stand not only for the age but for the sense of Doomsday that haunted the mentality of the Late Middle Ages. 

Inside the tavern, soldiers from the endless war, students from Villon’s time at the University of Paris, thieves and rogues who are now his companions, homeless peasants and displaced farmers from the ravaged country. Women: barmaids, whores, and wives laughing with the men. Villon stands by a roaring fire. All are drinking ale, hollering insults at Villon to sing his song. 

Now I turn to the poem itself. I am trying to get a handle on how to approach memorizing it. Where I can grab hold. Where I can count on it to behave in a particular way. 

I look at its overall structure, noting it is composed of 3 stanzas with a short "message" or moral at the end. 

Also, I note that the last line of each stanza and the message are the same: "Booze and the blowens cop the lot." This is refrain, which "break-ups" the narrative flow and serves as a kind of punch-line to the scene set up in the lines before it. 

I know this will make it easier to memorize, knowing I have to “get to this line” at the end.

Then I look at each stanza:

    1                   2              3     4      5
1 Suppose you screeve, or go cheap-jack?   A
2 Or fake the broads? or fig a nag?   B
3 Or thimble-rig? or knap a yack?   A
4 Or pitch a snide? or smash a rag?   B

1 Suppose you duff? or nose and lag?   A
2 Or get the straight, and land your pot?   B
3 How do you melt the multy swag?   A
4 Booze and the blowens cop the lot.   B  (REFRAIN)

Each stanza has eight lines, excepting the message - which has four. 

The are five strong beats to each line. There is a consistent rhythm to each. I note how each ends with three strong beats: go cheap-jack… bamm bamm bamm… fig a nag. 

I see also there is rhyme pattern of ABAB, known as the elegiac stanza. 

So I know there was going to be a regular rhythm, beat, or meter. And I also know that every other line is going to have a rhyme at the end. Sort of little acoustic chime of harmony. All of these are mnemonic devices.

Now have the essential skeleton for the poem: an 8 line ballad with a single line refrain at the end, composed of two four-line stanzas, or quatrains, in the elegiac form, which means there is a regular five beats per line with an ABAB rhyme pattern. 

This in an old and well-worn mnemonic structure. Poets and singers have been writing in this form since the Child Ballads in the 13th century. One of the beautiful effects of memorizing is that whenever I am trying to memorize a poem with the similar structure, my mind recognizes this pattern, making it much easier to learn a new poem. The history and origin of the interior structure of poetic form is a history of mnemonic systems.

Now into each line:

Suppose you screeve, or go cheap-jack?

Let the poem become the memory theater. Allow the language of  the poem to create the images. From the poet's imagination to yours. This is a mystery. This is beautiful. This is the meaning and deepest pleasure of poetry. 

There are those who would say you should memorize this first line by imaging a supper for suppose, and you are sitting down at the supper at the Cross Cove Inn, then someone sneezes while they are screaming and a little girl laughs and says the screeved insted of sneezed and an old man named Jack at the head of the table is disgusted and refuses to pay for his meal because he is so cheap. 

But for me, the language and imagery from the poet's imagination is enough. All of these take me away from the true meaning of the poem and, actually, give me more things to remember. 

I just do not understand why anyone would try to add personal mnemonic imagery to a great poem. The question then is to ask yourself why are you memorizing the poem? If it is merely to prove you can memorize a series of words with no regard for their meaning, for why the poet was compelled to write them in the first place, then it is all sound and fury signifying nothing. However, if you want to know the poem to take it into the depths of your soul so that it might whisper and sing to you, to remind of all that is just and good and beautiful, then allow it to work for you.

Stock woodcut image, used to represent François Villon
in the 1489 printing of the Grand Testament de Maistre François Villon

But what do these strange words mean? I have to do some looking up here. Fortunately, many people have also had this same question. The source comes from the seven volume Slang and Its Analogues Past and Present, edited by John Farmer and Henley in the late 1800s. I went through and looked up as many of the words and collected them here: Source Material for Francois Villon 

Suppose you screeve = forge documents
Go cheap jack = sell cheap or dubious goods
Fake the broads = stack the deck of cards
Fig a nag = place in fig in a horse's ass to make it appear more healthy
Thimble-rig = play a fame of shells with thimbles
Knap a yack = steal a watch
Pitch a snide = use a false coin
Smash a rag = counterfeit cash money
Suppose you duff = sell fake goods
Or nose or lag = become an informer, go to prison
Get the straight = choose the winner in a race
Land your pot = get your winnings, money
Melt that multy swag? = how do you spend that bloody / fucking money, cash, loot

Then, delivering the punch-line refrain:

Booze and blowens = Booze and Women
Cop the lot =  steal it all, take everything you have

I can hear the laughter in the French Tavern, the release of tension after the litany of crimes, coming to this refrain - which everyone soon joins in singing. More context, more "feel" of the poem.

The first line now,
Suppose you screeve, or go cheap-jack?

Because of the canting language, while it is English, feels unfamiliar. I keep wanting to substitute "shreeve" for "screeve" but the end of line, with the bounce from the soft "cheap" to the hard K of "jack" is very memorable. And "cheap-jack" conjurs up a strong character. 

It seems easier to me at this point, after I have the first line down, to look at each quatrain as a unit. The lines are tied together by the rhyme at the end:

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.

In the second line,

Or fake the broads or fig a nag

there is a nice alliteration in the second line: Fffake the broads Fffig a nag.

With each line I repeat it again and again until I get it, then add it to what I have previously set in my memory:

Suppose you screeve, or go cheap-jack?
Or fake the broads? or fig a nag?

I imagine a dealer cutting the marked, fake deck, the cards as ladies, broads, Queens smiling at Jacks behind the King's back.

And the image of a down-on-his-luck character shoving a fig into the ass of broken down old nag to make her seem more lively needs no further adornment.

I imagine this dealer inside the Tavern with his "broads" and his partner outside "figging a nag" to sell to some unfortunate soul. I can hear a horse's whinny of surprise. My sense here is that the interior world of the poem is beginning to open up to me.

Now I know the next two lines will rhyme with the endings of the first two. It creates a glow of intellectual excitement to know how the line will end acoustically. I have to fight here to not want to substitute my own language. 

The word "yack" (watch) is new to me. I want to go to something more familiar: rack, crack, sack. And I have to additionally work against the insistent image of a Yak standing there, breathing steam, at the end of the line. But the line is so satisfying to say,

Or thimble-rig? or knap a yack?

The tongue pressed up against the teeth for "thimble," then rolling back to allow to mouth to say "rig," then the tongue up against the palate for "gnap" and the entire mouth opening to make the "yack" sound.

I imagine the game of shells or thimbles, a young guy sliding the thimbles around, asking under which one is the pea? While his confederate slips through the gathered crowd looking to steal, gnap, an unsuspecting spectator's watch, yack.

Or pitch a snide? or smash a rag?

Here is keep substituting "pinch," because that just seems what you should do to a "snide." Dr. Seuss imagery also intrudes. I push it to the side. I think about casually throwing the fake coin to an unsuspecting merchant, pitch the snide, pitch the snide.

"Smash a rag" is a natural phrase, if incongruous in contemporary meaning. Monetary notes are the "rag" and I imagine smashing counterfeit notes down on the counter. Don't look at the bill too closely. Pitch the coins, smash the paper notes.

And the rhyme ties it all together: Jack to Yack and Nag to Rag.

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?

I recite/sing this until I have it down. With no errors. I also work with not singing it, flatly saying it. Then recite it with an English accent, then a Texas accent, listening to the pulse of the language flowing through the variations.

Now the second half:

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.

Starts with another "suppose" like the first. I like that. It gives me a mnemonic anchor to start the quatrain off with.

I also remember that I actually only have to memorize three of these lines. Because I already "know" the last one. This is kind of a trick that I continually play on myself. I don't think about it too much. But at some point, I just unconsciously absorbed the last line: Booze and the blowens cop the lot.

Also, like the end of a rhymed line, there is a tickle of anticipation to get to this last line. It is the payoff, the punch-line, what gives all the rest the lines, the entire poem, meaning. I always am looking forward to being able to recite this line.

I also note the second line of this secondary quatrain, and all the others, will always rhyme with "lot." That is some more memory money in the bank.

Suppose you duff? or nose and lag?

First off, the sound of the line pulls up short at duff, then kind of releases after the sound of nose and lag. You can hear the first line, Suppose you screeve, or go cheap-jack? underneath this one. 

Imagery is a man selling fake goods. A duffel bag is resonate. Full of his wares. Word roots extend to “duffer” as a stupid person. Spiritless. I picture the man. 

Nose and lag. The nose is nosey, inquiring into other’s business. The lag is a lackey, a prison flunkey. Both inform. Both betray. There words are crooked. 

Or get the straight, and land your pot?

Easy here: you see it all clear, make the right choices and win or gain some money. Keeping in mind here that pot is going to trigger the last line, rhyming with lot. It is not going to be anything like: Or get the straight and land your doe or money or winnings. Got to rhyme with lot. Pot lot. 

How do you melt the multy swag?

How do you spend it, get rid of it? Again the rhyme comes from lag above. I really like the sound of the expletive / intensifier multy. I like saying multy swag.

Booze and the blowens cop the lot.

I know this already. Booze and woman take everything. 

I work through the others stanzas in this similar way, Listening for sounds I can memorize. Then adding the meaning of the words to allow the poem to create its own images, its own world within my memory. 

In the end, the poem has populated a theater of characters performing various nefarious acts. This theater is also the French Tavern where Villon is singing. The soldiers, students, thieves, famers, the wives and other women have all been the actors in the play of the poem. I can hear them calling for more rounds of ale and more verses of the song. Drunkenly repeating the refrain. Buying more drink for Villon, slapping him on the back, congratulating him on the multy good song. And over in the corner, away from the light, William Ernest Henley, with two good legs, is sitting beside Wendy from Peter Pan. And he is happy.


I have to emphasize here that my initial memorization is musical. I don’t entirely know how I do it. But I mostly memorize the sound of the language before I know the meaning of the words. 

I worked on Straight Tip to All Cross Cove as I was driving. I was not able to consult a dictionary or a glossary to remind myself of the meaning of each word. It was only after I got home that I was able to look them up. This always added more to the word, impressing it deeper into my memory, granting it more gravity. The next time I was driving, when I said, Suppose you screeve, not only was the sound there but also the meaning of the sound. 

Holy bones in Saint-Victor Abbey in Marseilles.

From the excellent site: Medicographia: The Eternal Life of Bones

Within my Memory Cathedral, in the Chapel of Poetry, each poem has its own small altar recessed into the wall. Each time I come back to it, I dust off the reliquaries, remove the bones, polish them up, make them shine, and occasionally add some new fragment to further complete the whole. 

Fragment of the heart of Louis XVII,
son of Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette, the 10-yearold heir to the throne of France
who died in the Temple Prison in Paris on June 8, 1795.
His royal parents were guillotined.

From the excellent site: Medicographia: The Eternal Life of Bones

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