"Poor Splendid Wings"

(Magill's Quotations in Context)

Context: One of the earliest and greatest lyric poets of France, François Villon (1431–?), was very influential upon the development of modern lyric poetry; however, while his verse is noted for its polish and raciness, he is remembered as the leader of a band of thieves and for his imprisonment for robbery. Seeing a kinship between himself and Villon, Swinburne calls the Frenchman the "Prince of all Ballad-Makers" and his own "sad bad glad mad brother." Like Swinburne, Villon created his best verse when in his deepest dejection; thus, in this poem the contrast of the French poet's miserable life and birdlike song becomes a lament for the man and a paean for the remarkable verse that transcends his personal misfortunes.

Poor splendid wings so frayed and soiled and torn!
Poor kind wild eyes so dashed with light quick tears!
Poor perfect voice, most blithe when most forlorn,
That rings athwart the sea whence no man steers
Like joy-bells crossed with death-bells in our ears! . . .
Prince of sweet songs made out of tears and fire,
A harlot was thy nurse, a God thy sire;
Shame soiled thy song, and song assoiled thy shame.
But from thy feet now death has washed the mire, . . .