Projet Brassens' page about the song
Ballade des dames du temps jadis
last update 09.12.05
If you've never heard of the ladies mentioned in this poem, read the notes at the end.
Ballade des dames du temps jadisBallad of the ladies of old
Poème de François Villon Poem by François Villon
Dictes-moy où, n'en quel pays,
Est Flora, la belle Romaine;
Archipiada, ne Thais,
Qui fut sa cousine germaine;
Echo, parlant quand bruyt on maine
Dessus riviere ou sus estan,
Qui beauté eut trop plus qu'humaine?
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan!

Tell me where, tell me in what land
Is Flora, bonny Roman lady?
Where Archippa, where Thais fair,
Who was her cousin? O tell me!
Now where will be Echo, who babbled
Back at you o'er rivers and ponds,
And whose beauty was more than human?
O where are gone the snows of yore?

Où est la très sage Héloise,
Pour qui chastré fut et puis moyne
Pierre Esbaillant à Sainct-Denis?
Pour son amour eut cest essoyne.
Semblablement, où est la royne
Qui commanda que Buridan
Fust gecté en ung sac en Seine?
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan!
Where is Heloise chaste and wise,
For whom unmanned and made a monk
Was Abelard in Saint-Denis?
For love of her he suffered so.
In the same way where is the queen
Who gave command that Buridan
Be bagged and thrown into the Seine?
O where are gone the snows of yore?
La royne Blanche comme ung lys,
Qui chantoit à voix de sereine,
Berthe au grand pied, Bietris, Allys;
Harembourgis, qui tint le Mayne,
Et Jehanne, la bonne Lorraine,
Qu'Anglois bruslèrent à Rouen;
Ou sont-ils, Vierge souveraine?...
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan!
What befell the lily-white queen
Who sang with her voice like a bird’s;
‘Big Feet’ Bertha, Beatrix, Allys,
Arembour, who ruled o’er Maine;
And the sweet Joan from Lorraine,
Whom the English burned at Rouen?
Where are they all, Sovereign Lady?
O where are gone the snows of yore?
Prince, n'enquerez de sepmaine
Ou elles ont, ne de cest an,
Que ce refrain ne vous remaine:
Mais où sont les neiges d'antan!

My Prince, seek not endlessly to know
Where they are now, why time has passed;
But only remember this chorus:
O where are gone the snows of yore?

© 1954 Ed. Intersong-Paris
Musique G. Brassens
Translated by Florence Dujarric, 2005
This translation aims to convey meaning and not attempt poetry or song.


  • Flora: The courtesan mentioned in Juvenal's second satire.
  • Archippa was the mistress of Sophocles.
  • Thais was mistress of Alexander the Great and followed him to Egypt.
  • The story of Abelard and Héloise is well known.
  • There was a tradition that the Queen of Burgundy used to entice young men into her palace and then, when she tired of them, have them cast into the Seine. Legend has it that this happened to Buridan, who later became a famous scholar. When he was sewn into a sack and thrown into the Seine, he was saved by some of his students.
  • Blanche of Castile, mother of St Louis
  • Berthe au grand pied was wife of King Pépin le Bref and mother of Charlemagne.
  • Beatrix and Allys are characters in a medieval Chanson de geste
  • Alembour, heiress of Maine around 1100.
  • Joan of Arc, born in Domrémy, Lorraine, in 1412. Tried and burned at the stake in Rouen in 1431.

    This poem, set to music by Brassens, is concerned with a sense of the passage of time, the melancholy thought of lost beauty. It contains one of the most famous questions in French literature: "Mais où sont les neiges d'antan?" English-speakers unfamiliar with Villon might nevertheless recognise this line as the derivation of "Where are the Snowdens of yesteryear?", a central quote from Joseph Heller's book and film `Catch 22'.

    This mediaeval poet has particular affinities with Brassens, who considered him "a master". Born in 1431 of humble origins, Villon completed studies at the Sorbonne but led a riotous life, became involved with crime and even murder and prison. He was sentenced to hang, but released in 1463, after which date nothing is known of him. Significantly for the link with Brassens, one of Villon's collections of poems is called `Le Testament'. He is one of the great poets of the Middle Ages, lyrical, ironic, speaking of regret for the past, tenderness, remorse, friendship and the concern with death. He is touching but never sentimental, because his irony and sense of humour, sometimes macabre, are always present. He is a master of harmony and rhythm in his poems. His style is simple, direct and realistic.

    Florence Dujarric writes: "I was born in 1982 and lived in France most of my life, apart from one year I spent in Glasgow in 2003. I study English at the "Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan" (a French high-level teacher-training school) and I just passed the competitive exam called the "Agrégation" in English Literature. I am currently working on a Master 2 on Scottish short stories. I have already done a handful of translations for friends of friends, but haven't published anything yet
    Et en Français...
    Elève de l'Ecole Normale Supérieure de Cachan, tout récemment Agrégée de littérature anglaise et préparant un DEA de Littérature écossaise. Débute dans la traduction, la recherche et l'enseignement

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