Best World’s Most Famous Poem

Best World’s Most Famous Poem

The Greeks said: never to be born is best;
next best, to die young in a noble cause.
“Où sont les neiges d’antan?” Villon asked.
“Where are yesteryear’s snows?” is, I guess,
the phrase in English. Villon spoke in praise
of women not born when the Greeks said: “Best
not to exist at all.” Yet the French poet pressed
on with his list: great beauties of the past.
“Où sont les neiges d’antan?” Villon asked.
In his great poem, only their names persist:
Joan, Beatrice, Blanche of the White Arms.
Were the Greeks right: not to live at all is best?
What would Blanche’s lovers say to this
who are themselves just dust, all suffering
long gone as the snows after which Villon asked?
Beauty is like life itself: a dawn mist,
the sun burns off. It gives no peace, no rest.
“Où sont les neiges d’antan?” we ask.
But the Greeks were wrong: to live and love is best.

Gregory Orr
first published in Ploughshares, vol. 23, no. 4, Winter 1997–98
edited by Howard Norman and Jane Shore
also from The Caged Owl: New and Selected Poems

Best World’s Most Famous Poem

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll to top