Where Are the Games of Yesteryear?

Brueghel, "Winter Landscape"

Brueghel, “Winter Landscape”


I shared “Ballad of the Games of Yesteryear” this past spring when my father temporarily lapsed into dementia. But he wrote it as a Christmas poem and so I’m posting it again as I mourn the first Christmas spent without him. Now that he is dead, the poem contains special meaning, echoing as it does Francois Villon’s famous “Ballad of the Ladies of Bygone Times,” which compares those wondrous souls who have lived amongst us to “les neiges d’antan”—the snows of yesteryear.

Of course, my father’s nostalgia for the games of his youth are currently triggering my own nostalgia for the games that we played with him, especially during the Christmas season. These included skittles, caroms, bagatelle, mumblety peg, foosball, horseshoes, boules. He also carried around with him tops and marbles, which he would bring out around children.

And of course, there were the best toys of all, the books that he read to us every night until I was 11 or 12.

Where is my father now? As Villon would say, you might just as well ask where are the snows of yesteryear. I follow up my father’s poem with Villon’s:

Ballad of the Games of Yesteryear

By Scott Bates

Oh, tell me where, in what fair lands
Lie all the games we used to play,
The gliders launched with rubber bands,
Trucks, trains, and marbles, kites, croquet,
Diabolo and bilboquet,
Kick the Can and Ducks and Deer;
Where are the toys of yesterday?
Where are the games of yesteryear?

The stockings stuffed with jelly beans
We used to open starry-eyed
Now swell with murderous machines
Designed for kiddy fratricide;
Malevolent monsters lurk inside
The packages of Christmas cheer
Angrily waiting to get untied . . .
Where are the games of yesteryear?

Computer wars are grimly in
And guts and gore are all the go,
Death Stars invade the Planet Minh,
And cosmic killers run the show;
“As Barbie’s kissing G.I. Joe,
Six slimy aliens appear…”
(Which costs, of course, a lot of dough)–
Where are the games of yesteryear?


Consumer Parent, spare thy purse,
Waste not thy wealth on guns and gear;
Go buy a book—you could do worse—
And dream of games of yesteryear.

Ballad of the Ladies of Bygone Times

By Francois Villon

Tell me where, or in what land

is Flora, the lovely Roman,

or Archipiades, or Thaïs,

who was her first cousin;

or Echo, replying whenever called

across river or pool,

and whose beauty was more than human?

But where are the snows of yesteryear?

Where is that brilliant lady Heloise,

for whose sake Peter Abelard was castrated

and became a monk at Saint-Denis?

He suffered that misfortune because of his love for her.

And where is that queen who

ordered that Buridan 

be thrown into the Seine in a sack?

But where are the snows of yesteryear?

Queen Blanche, white as a lily,

who sang with a siren’s voice;

Big-footed Bertha, Beatrice, Alice,

Arembourg who ruled over Maine;

and Joan, the good maiden of Lorraine

who was burned by the English at Rouen —

where are they, where, O sovereign Virgin?

But where are the snows of yesteryear?

Prince, do not ask in a week

where they are, or in a year.

The only answer you will get is this refrain:

But where are the snows of yesteryear?

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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