"Ballade of the Hanged Men", a poem written by Francois Villon, probably while he was in prison waiting to be hanged for murder. It's also called L'Epitaphe de Villon (Villon's Epitaph),and was published posthumously in 1489. Here's the original French text, followed by my translation:

Frères humains, qui après nous vivez,
N'ayez les coeurs contre nous endurcis,
Car, si pitié de nous pauvres avez,
Dieu en aura plus tôt de vous mercis,
Vous nous voyez ci attachès, cinq, six;
Quant à la chair, que trop nous avons nourrie,
Elle est pièça dèvorèe et pourrie,
Et nous, les os, devenons cendre et poudre.
De notre mal personne ne s'en rie;
Mais priez Dieu que tous nous veuille absoudre!

Se frères vous clamons, pas n'en devez
Avoir dédain, quoique fûmes occis
Par justice. Toutefois, vous savez
Que tous hommes n'ont pas bon sens rassis.
Excusez-nous, puisque sommes transis,
Envers le fils de la Vierge Marie,
Que sa grâce ne soit pour nous tarie,
Nous préservant de l'infernale foudre.
Mous sommes morts, âme ne nous harie,
Mais priez Dieu que tous nous veuille absoudre!

La pluie nous a débués et lavés,
Et le soleil desséchés et noircis.
Pies, corbeaux nous ont les yeux cavés,
Et arraché la barbe et les sourcils.
Jamais nul temps nous ne sommes assis
Puis ça, puis là, comme le vent varie,
A son plaisir sans cesser nous charrie,
Plus becquetés d'oiseaux que dés à coudre.
Ne soyez donc de notre confrérie;
Mais priez Dieu que tous nous veuille absoudre!

Prince Jhesus, qui sur tous a maistrie,
Garde qu'Enfer n'ait de nous siegneurie:
A lui n'ayons que faire ne que soudre.
Hommes, ici n'a point de moquerie;
Mais priez Dieu que tous nous veuille absoudre!

Brothers who live on after us,
Harden not your hearts against us,
For, if you have pity for us wretches,
God will show you mercy as well.
You see us hanged here, five, six:
As for the flesh that we fed too well,
It is devoured piecemeal and rotten,
And we, the bones, reduced to dust and ash.
Laugh not at our misfortune,
But pray to God that He may absolve us all!

If we call you brothers, don't disdain us,
Even if we were lawfully killed.
In any case, you know well that men
Don't always exercise good sense.
Forgive us, now that we have passed
Toward the Son of the Virgin Mary.
May His grace not delay
To save us from the fires of hell.
We are dead; no one harries us,
But pray to God that He may absolve us all!

The rain has washed us clean
And the sun has dried and blackened us.
Magpies and crows have pecked out our eyes,
And torn out our beards and eyebrows.
At no time do we rest
Pushed this way and that by the wind,
It carries us ceaselessly at its pleasure.
Pecked more full of holes than a thimble,
Do not join our company;
But pray to God that He may absolve us all!

Prince Jesus, lord of all creation,
Protect us from hell's dominion:
We have no business with the devil.
Men, here there is no mockery;
But pray to God that He may absolve us all!

I first ran across this poem reading Dorothy L. Sayers' novel Busman's Honeymoon, in which one of the characters has a dream very reminiscent of Villons' row of hanged men. That being back in the pre-internet days, I didn't have the opportunity to look it up, and let it slide along with all the other literary references I didn't recognise. I didn't find the poem itself until some years later, when I was at school in Belgium, and tripped over it in a French literature textbook. In any case, the image of the hanging skeletons and the recurring refrain have stuck in my head ever since.

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