Amours retranchées 5

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De toy, Paschal, il me plaist que j’escrive
Qui de bien loin le peuple abandonnant,
Vas des Romains les tresors moissonnant,
Le long des bors où la Garonne arrive.
 
Haut d’une langue éternellement vive,
Son cher Paschal Tholose aille sonnant,
Paschal, Paschal, Garonne resonnant,
Rien que Paschal ne responde sa rive.
 
Si ton Durban, l’honneur de nostre temps,
Lit quelquefois ces vers par passe-temps,
Di-luy, Paschal (ainsi l’aspre secousse
 
Qui m’a fait cheoir, ne te puisse émouvoir)
Ce pauvre Amant estoit digne d’avoir
Une Maistresse, ou moins belle, ou plus douce.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Of you, Paschal, it pleases me to write
                                                                            You who far off, abandoning the common throng,
                                                                            Go harvesting the treasures of the Romans
                                                                            Along the banks where the Garonne runs.
 
                                                                            Loudly in a language eternally alive
                                                                            Toulouse goes on praising its dear Paschal;
                                                                            The Garonne replying ‘Paschal, Paschal’,
                                                                            Its banks echoing nothing but Paschal.
 
                                                                            If your Durban, the pride of our times,
                                                                            Sometimes reads these verses at leisure,
                                                                            Tell him, Paschal (for the harsh shock
 
                                                                            Which has made me fall cannot thus move you)
                                                                            That this poor lover was worthy of having
                                                                            A mistress either less beautiful or more gentle.
 
 
 
 
 
We’ve met Paschal before and seen how Ronsard became less enchanted with him too. It’s not surprising that this sonnet ended up being withdrawn when that happened, naming him 6 times as it does! (And that’s even more obvious if you typeset the name in capitals each time, as is done by Marty-Laveaux, following some of the early sixteenth-century editions… But the story of how Paschal rose and fell is interesting, not principally to see Ronsard being duped by someone who didn’t have the same talent as he did, but rather for showing how it could have happened. It’s all about what was important at the time, and how values have changed; what is valued now, is not what was valued then.
 
But first the contemporary notes  on the sonnet written by Muret:
 
Line 1: ‘He addresses this sonnet to Pierre Paschal, a gentleman native to Languedoc, a man who, beyond an understanding of the sciences worthy of a fine mind (in which he has few equals) is endowed with such eloquence in Latin that even the Venetian Senate was astonished several times by it.’
 
Line 3: commenting on an earlier version of this line, which begins “Vas du Arpin…” (‘Go harvesting the treasures of the man from Arpinum’ – Cicero’s birthplace), Muret paraphrases “Go carefully gleaning the riches of Ciceronian eloquence”, and adds ‘he says that, because Paschal is one of those best-versed in Cicero who are alive today’
 
Line 4: ‘River which passes through Toulouse, where Paschal has his residence’
 
Line 9: ‘Michel-Pierre de Mauléon, protonotary of Durban, councillor in the Toulouse parliament, a very excellent fellow. Between him and Paschal is so great a friendship that effaces all those which are recommended by ancient authors.’  
 
 
So, now to the story of Paschal’s rise and fall.
 
It’s easy to forget – in an age when the ‘vulgar tongue’ has triumphed – that the Renaissance was not the re-birth of art, or of vernacular poetry, but pre-eminently was the re-birth of classical Latin & Greek literary style. All (or almost all) languages have a day-to-day form, and a higher style used in poetry and literature; and sometimes the gap between them is bigger, sometimes smaller. During the centuries since the fall of Rome, when Latin had remained the language of the church and of communication, the gap had become quite small – as it is today in English. But in the 1300s and 1400s, Italians rediscovered what the Golden Latin (& Silver Latin) poets and writers had done, and realised that the literary style could be much more refined than it was. And it was Latin, in particular, where their efforts were focused. Languages like French and Italian were, literally, secondary – and scholars even doubted whether anything good could be written in them. Ronsard and his peers were taking a risk by ‘renewing’ the French language as a language capable of birthing poetry of a quality comparable with the Greek and Roman ‘classics’.
 
Petrarch in Italy, and now Ronsard in France, were determined to show that the local language could be used as stylishly as Latin; but they lived within a humanist world which still valued Latin higher. When you see one or more dedicatory poems in Latin at the beginning of one of Ronsard’s collections, it’s not an affectation: it is a statement that what follows is literature worthy of the name, and the Latin is there to prove it.
 
It’s also important to realise that good style was valued enormously highly. In Florence, in the 1400s, reputations were made and lost on the turn of a (Latin) phrase. So Paschal’s Italian training in good classical Roman style was a strong weapon in his armoury. It’s worth noting that Paschal had published only the short book in 1548 (beautifully presented, of course – see it online here) containing his prosecution speech at a murder trial in Venice, and some Latin letters describing his Italian impressions, which would be his calling-card on being introduced to the poets; indeed, he would publish little else. That his reputation, on this basis, should equal Ronsard’s, looks crazy to us at this distance, but gives some idea of the importance the Renaissance attached to style rather than substance: what mattered was writing well, not necessarily the originality or substantive content of what you wrote. And Paschal did, indeed, write Latin well.
 
Paschal’s career was traced at length by Pierre de Nolhac a century back – well worth a read. His rise really begins when he came back from Italy in 1553, fluent in the ‘Ciceronian’ style of oratorical Latin which was favoured by the Italian stylists, and was introduced to some of the Pleiade poets: Ronsard, along with Olivier de Magny, was his first and strongest supporter. For what it’s worth, Baif’s first published piece of poetry was a dedicatory sonnet in another little booklet publishing a French translation of that Venetian speech of Paschal’s.
 
The promise of writing eulogies of France’s greatest poets in Latin had a strong appeal to all of them, even though they were wedded to the renewal of the French language, for they ‘knew’ instinctively that histories and eulogies written in Latin were longer-lasting and more significant than the equivalent in French. Publication in Latin would ensure that their reputation was Europe-wide, for a Latin eulogy would reach educated people across the whole of Europe. And Henri II ‘knew’ that it was more important that the history of his reign was undertaken by someone who could write high-quality Latin, than by someone who could handle sources etc with a historian’s insight.
 
Which is why Paschal rose so quickly to the position of Historiographer of France, in 1554. He was – or presented himself as – the pre-eminent Italian-trained Ciceronian writer in France. Not until Muret went to Rome would he have a direct rival. But his fine Latin did not make him a good historian. Although Ronsard and others ridiculed him for not having managed to write any of his history, three volumes of drafts survive in manuscript, and show that he was good at writing speeches etc, but not at military history or the undercurrents of politics. So his history skimped on what we think of as ‘history’, and majored on long speeches and extended praises of the main characters. And when Henri II died in 1559, he fell from favour and was replaced, returned to the south, and died soon afterwards (in 1565, aged only 45) leaving his history unfinished.
 
By 1554, then, Paschal was an important personage, and with the prospect of being immortalised in Latin, it was important that the poets continued to praise him. As late as 1558 Bellay placed him alongside Ronsard, he the master of prose, Ronsard the master of poetry; and in the mid-1550s Ronsard amended one of his 1550 odes so that it now said ‘Paschal will at some point make me immortal by his eloquence … It’s you who will make me eternal!’. To us, both the statement, and the breath-taking sycophantism of it, look unbelievable. And indeed back in 1555 Etienne Pasquier had already warned Ronsard that he was over-estimating and over-praising Paschal. (Further south, in Paschal’s home, people were less convinced by him: as early as 1551 a humanist poet and professor of law, Etienne Forcadel, had written: ‘Hear what his gilded eloquence actually says: that speech, however sweet, is empty’. So Ronsard’s line 5, about Toulouse praising Paschal, is not entirely true!)
 
(Incidentally, Paschal’s dear friend Durban was, as Muret’s note explains, a member of the Mauléon family. Paschal’s printed speech from Venice was as prosecutor in a trial for the murder of a Mauléon; though it’s not clear if the family chose him for his known eloquence in Ciceronian-style prosecutions, or because of some prior connection in Toulouse. Ronsard, in his 1559 invective, later reproached Durban for having ‘imposed’ the mediocre Paschal on him and for over-praising him among the poets. In fact, of course, Ronsard did quite a lot of that himself!)
 
Ronsard was not alone in preparing biographical material in French which Paschal could convert into a more significant publication, in Latin. But Paschal failed to deliver on his ‘hall of fame’ – though there is evidence that, again, he made some progress towards it: interestingly, there is a piece on Mellin de Saint-Gelais which survives – so perhaps his popularity with Ronsard’s set was affected by his taking a different view of just who was important to mention in this ‘hall of fame’!
 
But then the Pleiade poets began to see through the ‘emperor’s clothes’ and realise that his talents were, in fact, limited. It is interesting that this happened in 1559, when the King his supporter died and he did not gain the new King’s support. Could Ronsard and his friends have been playing safe up to that point? But when the gloves came off they really did get vituperative. Adrien Tournebu published a vicious Latin satire, and Baif published a French translation; Ronsard wrote, but only circulated in manuscript, a vicious anti-eulogy of him – in Latin. In Latin, because that was Paschal’s home turf, and because it carried more weight. Incidentally, although Ronsard’s Latin is fine and even stylish, it’s not in the same league as Paschal’s. Each had their specialism, and each was excellent within it. Is it coincidental that Ronsard also prepared a first collected edition of his works very shortly afterwards in 1560, and removed Paschal’s name from all the poems and dedications he had given him? (He wanted to re-dedicate his Hymne de la Mort to Bellay – but Bellay refused ‘someone else’s leftovers’.)
 
It was about the same time that Ronsard wrote, in his Elegie to Jérôme L’Huillier, of the way others, more adept than him but less deserving, won honours from kings while he struggled to make ends meet.
 
As usual though, Ronsard’s anger was short-lived. His poem beginning “Je meurs Paschal” dates from about 1564, when Paschal had retired to the south; and Ronsard also mentioned him favourably in some of his anti-Calvinist poetry. By this time, though, Paschal was dead, so Ronsard’s cooling anger may have had as much to do with that early death and the sadness of potential unfulfilled, as with any genuine reconciliation.
 
A minor detail of Ronsard history to close: in 1554 it was Paschal who, in Toulouse, persuaded the jury of the ‘Jeux Floraux’ to award the prize to Ronsard, and it was Paschal who accepted the award on his behalf. The silver flower never reached Ronsard, but the next year the committee had a silver statuette of Minerva made instead and sent that. Ronsard presented it to the King!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Amours retranchées 3

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Le seul penser, qui me fait devenir
Brave d’espoir, est si doulx que mon ame
Desja gaignée, impuissante se pasme,
Songeant au bien qui me doit advenir.
 
Donc sans mourir pourray-je soustenir
Le doux combat que me garde ma Dame,
Puis qu’un penser si brusquement l’entame
Du seul plaisir d’un si doulx souvenir ?
 
Helas ! Venus, que l’escume féconde,
Non loin de Cypre enfanta dessus l’onde,
Si de fortune en ce combat je meurs ;
 
Reçoy ma vie, ô Déesse, et la guide
Par les odeurs de tes plus belles fleurs,
Dans les vergers du Paradis de Gnide.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            The thought alone, which makes me become
                                                                            Bold in hope, is so sweet that my soul
                                                                            Already defeated, faints weakened away
                                                                            Dreaming of the good which must come to me.
 
                                                                            Could I sustain, without dying,
                                                                            The sweet combat which my lady reserves for me,
                                                                            With just the pleasure of so sweet a memory,
                                                                            Since a thought begins it so suddenly? 
 
                                                                            Alas, Venus, whom the fertile surf
                                                                            Bore upon the waves not far from Cyprus,
                                                                            If by chance I die in that combat, 
 
                                                                            Receive my life, o goddess, and guide it
                                                                            Amongst the fragrances of your most beautiful flowers,
                                                                            In the orchards of the gardens of Cnidus.
 
 
 
It’s relatively uncommon to have a sonnet with just the one theme all the way through. But this is a good one; I wonder why Ronsard withdrew it?
 
The love-death is a fine romantic theme, but here of course it’s a more neo-Platonic love-death, more the anticipation than the reality of love.
 
The second quatrain is one of those whose grammar is rather contorted: unusually, I’ve opted to re-organise the translation to prioritise sense over parallelism with Ronsard’s French. Taking it line by line it would go something like:
 
              Without dying, then, could I sustain
              The sweet combat which my lady reserves for me
              (Since a thought so suddenly launches it)
              With just the pleasure of so sweet a memory?
 
We’ve met Venus as goddess of Cnidus before; and Cnidus as a place rich in agriculture (though, as noted before, its real wealth was apparently based more on trade than agriculture).
 
There are plenty of changes in Blanchemain’s version, some of them minor re-orderings of word for euphony; here it is complete:
 
 
Le seul penser, qui me fait devenir
Haultain et brave, est si doulx que mon ame
Desja desja impuissante, se pasme,
Yvre du bien qui me doibt avenir.
 
Sans mourir donq, pourray-je soustenir
Le doux combat que me garde ma Dame,
Puis qu’un penser si brusquement l’entame
Du seul plaisir d’un si doulx souvenir ?
 
Helas ! Venus, que l’escume féconde,
Non loin de Cypre enfanta dessus l’onde,
Si de fortune en ce combat je meurs ;
 
Reçoy ma vie, ô Déesse, et la guide
Parmy l’odeur de tes plus belles fleurs,
Dans les vergers du Paradis de Gnide.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            The thought alone, which makes me become
                                                                            Proud and bold, is so sweet that my soul
                                                                            Now already weakened, faints away
                                                                            Drunk on the good which must come to me.
 
                                                                            Could I sustain, without dying,
                                                                            The sweet combat which my lady reserves for me,
                                                                            With just the pleasure of so sweet a memory,
                                                                            Since a thought begins it so suddenly? 
 
                                                                            Alas, Venus, whom the fertile surf
                                                                            Bore upon the waves not far from Cyprus,
                                                                            If by chance I die in that combat, 
 
                                                                            Receive my life, o goddess, and guide it
                                                                            Amongst the fragrance of your most beautiful flowers,
                                                                            In the orchards of the gardens of Cnidus.
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

La Grotte – Las! je n’eusse

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Title

Las je n’eusse jamais pensé

Composer

Nicolas de la Grotte  (1530-c.1600)

Source

Chansons de P. de Ronsard, Ph. Desportes et autres, Le Roy & Ballard 1569 (I’ve used the 1580 re-print)

(text on Lieder.net here)
(blog entry here)
(recording unavailable)

Continuing with La Grotte’s settings, this one offers a small frisson of excitement as the print writes out the repeat (as usual) but, in the Superius, marks a B-natural the second time round instead of the B-flat of the first time. Just for fun I have transcribed it exactly, replicating this difference in the repeat, although it’s more likely the repeat is intended to be exact and the B-flat in bar 3 ‘naturalled’ too. Flattening it, however, widens the 4th by a semitone – a spicier sound!

As the setting is short, just two lines of music, La Grotte underlays 6 verses, and adds the text for 6 more on the following page – 12 times through in all. You might just like the variety of the flat/natural choice to spice it up a little!

 

 

 

Helen 2:75

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Je m’en-fuy du combat, ma bataille est desfaite :
J’ay perdu contre Amour la force et la raison :
Ja dix lustres passez, et ja mon poil grison
M’appellent au logis, et sonnent la retraite.
 
Si comme je voulois ta gloire n’est parfaite,
N’en blasme point l’esprit, mais blasme la saison :
Je ne suis ny Pâris, ny desloyal Jason :
J’obeis à la loy que la Nature a faite.
 
Entre l’aigre et le doux, l’esperance et la peur,
Amour dedans ma forge a poly cest ouvrage.
Je ne me plains du mal, du temps ny du labeur,
 
Je me plains de moymesme et de ton faux courage.
Tu t’en repentiras, si tu as un bon cœur,
Mais le tard repentir n’amande le dommage.
 
 
 
                                                                            I flee from the fight, my battle is lost:
                                                                            I have lost, fighting Love, both strength and reason;
                                                                            Fifty years now gone, and now my grey hairs,
                                                                            All call me to rest, and sound the retreat.
 
                                                                            If your glory is not perfected as I wished,
                                                                            Don’t blame my spirit for it, but blame the season:
                                                                            I am neither Paris, nor disloyal Jason;
                                                                            I obey the law which Nature has made.
 
                                                                            Between sour and sweet, hope and fear,
                                                                            Love within my forge has polished this work.
                                                                            I do not complain of trouble, time and labour,
 
                                                                            I complain of myself and of your false courage.
                                                                            You will repent it, if you have a good heart,
                                                                            But late repenting does not mend the loss.
 
 
 
 
And so, the last sonnet to Helen: a mixture of reproach of her, reproach of self, and (inevitably) a claim that in the end it is Helen’s loss… Ronsard is not Paris (failing the original Helen) nor Jason (abandoning Medea) – he has put in the time and trouble, it is Helen who is abandoning him. ‘You will repent it’: I wonder if she did?
 
Of course not! The literary character Hélène might have done so, losing a lover. But the real Hélène had no reason to complain: she has been the centre of attention in two books of France’s finest sonnets; even if portrayed as distant and ungrateful she has been portrayed also as chaste and inaccessible, beautiful and virtuous; and, far from late repenting at the loss of the affair, she has got everything she needed from it – the poems, the fame, the immortality. In fact.as we saw elsewhere, her only complaint was that too many of the poems were recycled from earlier collections!
 
Blanchemain offers a small change in line 1: “Je m’en-fuy du combat, mon armée est desfaite” (‘I flee from the fight, my army is lost’).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Helen 2:74

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Adieu cruelle adieu, je te suis ennuyeux :
C’est trop chanté d’Amour sans nulle recompense.
Te serve qui voudra, je m’en vais, et je pense
Qu’un autre serviteur ne te servira mieux.
 
Amour en quinze jours m’a fait ingenieux,
Me jettant au cerveau de ces vers la semence :
La Raison maintenant me r’appelle, et me tanse :
Je ne veux si long temps devenir furieux.
 
Il ne faut plus nourrir cest Enfant qui me ronge,
Qui les credules prend comme un poisson à l’hain,
Une plaisante farce, une belle mensonge,
 
Un plaisir pour cent maux qui s’en-vole soudain :
Mais il se faut resoudre; et tenir pour certain
Que l’homme est malheureux qui se repaist d’un songe.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Farewell, cruel one, farewell : I irritate you.
                                                                            I’ve sung too much of Love without reward.
                                                                            Let he who wishes serve you, I’m going, and I think
                                                                            No other servant will serve you better.
 
                                                                            Love has in two weeks made me inventive,
                                                                            Throwing into my brain the seed of these lines:
                                                                            Reason now calls me back, and scolds me:
                                                                            I don’t wish to become mad for so long a time.
 
                                                                            I must no longer feed this Child who gnaws at me,
                                                                            Who catches the unwary like a fish on a hook,
                                                                            A pleasing joke, a pretty lie,
 
                                                                            A pleasure which suddenly flies away, replaced by a hundred troubles;
                                                                            But I must be resolute, and remain certain
                                                                            That the man is unhappy who feeds himself on a dream.
 
 
 
 
The last two sonnets – apart from the two on the king’s death – turn sharply towards the futility of love and the foolishness of wasting time on ‘a dream’. But this is Ronsard: while he can see love as ‘a pleasing joke, a pretty lie, / A pleasure which suddenly flies away’, in the next breath he has to remind himself that living this dream leads to unhappiness, and resolve (again) to reject it.
 
It’s very neat: rejection of the dream, but underlining just how seductive it is. A fine balancing act, bringing to an end a finely-balanced book.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Stances de la Fontaine d’Hélène (Helen 2:72b)

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Ronsard heads these ‘stanzas on Helen’s fountain’ with the stage-direction “Pour chanter ou reciter à trois personnes“, ‘for singing or reciting by three people’ – though in fact the third (the poet himself) only appears at the very end.

I.
Ainsi que ceste eau coule et s’enfuyt parmy l’herbe,
Ainsi puisse couler en ceste eau le souci,
Que ma belle Maistresse, à mon mal trop superbe,
Engrave dans mon cœur sans en avoir mercy.
 
II.
Ainsi que dans ceste eau de l’eau mesme je verse,
Ainsi de veine en veine Amour qui m’a blessé,
Et qui tout à la fois son carquois me renverse,
Un breuvage amoureux dans le cœur m’a versé.
 
I.
Je voulois de ma peine esteindre la memoire :
Mais Amour qui avoit en la fontaine beu,
Y laissa son brandon, si bien qu’au lieu de boire
De l’eau pour l’estancher, je n’ay beu que du feu.
 
II.
Tantost ceste fontaine est froide comme glace,
Et tantost elle jette une ardante liqueur.
Deux contraires effects je sens quand elle passe,
Froide dedans ma bouche, et chaude dans mon cœur.
 
I.
Vous qui refraischissez ces belles fleurs vermeilles,
Petits freres ailez, Favones et Zephyrs,
Portez de ma Maistresse aux ingrates oreilles,
En volant parmy l’air, quelcun de mes souspirs.
 
II.
Vous enfans de l’Aurore, allez baiser ma Dame :
Dites luy que je meurs, contez luy ma douleur,
Et qu’Amour me transforme en un rocher sans ame,
Et non comme Narcisse en une belle fleur.
 
I.
Grenouilles qui jazez quand l’an se renouvelle,
Vous Gressets qui servez aux charmes, comme on dit,
Criez en autre part vostre antique querelle :
Ce lieu sacré vous soit à jamais interdit.
 
II.
Philomele en Avril ses plaintes y jargonne,
Et tes bords sans chansons ne se puissent trouver :
L’Arondelle l’Esté, le Ramier en Automne,
Le Pinson en tout temps, la Gadille en Hyver.
 
I.
Cesse tes pleurs, Hercule, et laisse ta Mysie,
Tes pieds de trop courir sont ja foibles et las :
Icy les Nymphes ont leur demeure choisie,
Icy sont tes Amours, icy est ton Hylas.
 
II.
Que ne suis-je ravy comme l’enfant Argive ?
Pour revencher ma mort, je ne voudrois sinon
Que le bord, le gravois, les herbes et la rive
Fussent tousjours nommez d’Helene, et de mon nom !
 
I.
Dryades, qui vivez sous les escorces sainctes,
Venez et tesmoignez combien de fois le jour
Ay-je troublé vos bois par le cry de mes plaintes,
N’ayant autre plaisir qu’à souspirer d’Amour ?
 
II.
Echo, fille de l’Air, hostesse solitaire
Des rochers, où souvent tu me vois retirer,
Dy quantes fois le jour lamentant ma misere,
T’ay-je fait souspirer en m’oyant souspirer ?
 
I.
Ny Cannes ny Roseaux ne bordent ton rivage,
Mais le gay Poliot, des bergeres amy :
Tousjours au chaud du jour le Dieu de ce bocage,
Appuyé sur sa fleute, y puisse estre endormy.
 
II.
Fontaine à tout jamais ta source soit pavée,
Non de menus gravois de mousses ny d’herbis :
Mais bien de mainte Perle à bouillons enlevée,
De Diamans, Saphirs, Turquoises et Rubis.
 
I.
Le Pasteur en tes eaux nulle branche ne jette,
Le Bouc de son ergot ne te puisse fouler :
Ains comme un beau Crystal, tousjours tranquille et nette,
Puissees-tu par les fleurs eternelle couler.
 
II.
Les Nymphes de ces eaux et les Hamadryades,
Que l’amoureux Satyre entre les bois poursuit,
Se tenans main à main, de sauts et de gambades,
Aux rayons du Croissant y dansent toute nuit.
 
I.
Si j’estois un grand Prince, un superbe edifice
Je voudrois te bastir, où je ferois fumer
Tous les ans à ta feste autels et sacrifice,
Te nommant pour jamais la Fontaine d’aimer.
 
II.
Il ne faut plus aller en la forest d’Ardeine
Chercher l’eau, dont Regnaut estoit si desireux :
Celuy qui boit à jeun trois fois ceste fonteine,
Soit passant ou voisin il devient amoureux.
 
I.
Lune qui as ta robbe en rayons estoillée,
Garde ceste fonteine aux jours les plus ardans :
Defen-la pour jamais de chaud et de gelée,
Remply-la de rosée, et te mire dedans.
 
II.
Advienne apres mille ans qu’un Pastoureau desgoise
Mes amours, et qu’il conte aux Nymphes d’icy pres,
Qu’un Vandomois mourut pour une Saintongeoise,
Et qu’encores son ame erre entre ces forests.
 
Le Poete.
Garsons ne chantez plus, ja Vesper nous commande
De serrer nos troupeaux, les Loups sont ja dehors.
Demain à la frescheur avec une autre bande
Nous reviendrons danser à l’entour de tes bords.
 
Fontaine, ce-pendant de ceste tasse pleine
Reçoy ce vin sacré que je renverse en toy :
Sois ditte pour jamais la Fontaine d’Heleine,
Et conserve en tes eaux mes amours et ma foy.
I.
Just as this water flows and runs off amidst the grass,
So let flow in this water the care
Which my fair mistress, to my too magnificent harm,
Engraves in my heart without any mercy.
 
II
Just as in this water I pour some of the same water,
So from vein to vein Love who has hurt me,
And who all at once overturns his quiver for me,
Has poured into my heart his drink of love.
 
I
I wished to extinguish the memory of my pain:
But Love who had drunk in the fountain
Left there his brand so firmly that, instead of drinking
Of the water to quench it, I have drunk only fire.
 
II
Sometimes this fountain is cold as ice,
And sometimes it throws up a burning liquid:
Two opposite effects I feel as it passes,
Cold within my mouth, and warm in my heart.
 
I
You who refresh these fair crimson flowers,
Little winged brothers, Fauns and Zephyrs,
Bear to the ungrateful ears of my mistress,
Flying through the air, some one of my sighs.
 
II
You children of the Dawn, go and kiss my lady:
Tell her that I am dying, recount my sadness to her,
And how Love is transforming me into a soul-less rock,
Not, like Narcissus, into a fair flower.
 
I
You frogs who gossip as the year renews itself,
You tree-frogs who act as charms, as they say,
Shout your ancient quarrels in some other place:
May this sacred place be forbidden to you forever.
 
II
Let Philomela [the nightingale] in April chatter her lament there,
Let your banks never be found song-less:
The swallow in summer, the pigeon in autumn,
The chaffinch at all times, the robin in winter.
 
I
Stop weeping, Hercules, leave your Mysia,
Your feet from too much running are now week and tired:
Here the nymphs have chosen their home,
Here are your Loves, here is your Hylas.
 
II
Why am I not in love like the Argive child?
To avenge my death, I would wish only
That the shore, the gravel, the grass and the banks
Should always be named after Helen and my own name!
 
I
Dryads who live beneath the holy bark,
Come and bear witness, how many times a day
Have I troubled your woods with the cry of my laments,
Having no other pleasure than to sign of Love?
 
II
Echo, daughter of the Air, solitary inhabitant
Of the rocks, where often you see me retiring,
Say how many times a day, lamenting my wretchedness,
Have I made you sigh as you see me sigh?
 
I
Neither sticks nor reeds border your banks,
But rather the gay iris, friend of shepherdesses;
Always in the heat of the day the god of this wood,
Playing on his flute, can sleep there.
 
II
Fountain, may your spring be forever paved
Not with small gravel-stones from the foaming water, nor grass;
But rather with many a pearl lifted by the waves,
With diamonds, sapphires, turquoises and rubies.
 
I
May the shepherd throw no branches in your waters,
May the buck not be able to tread in you with his spurs;
So, like a fine crystal, always calm and clear,
May you be able to flow eternal among the flowers.
 
II
The Nymphs of these waters and the Hamadryads
Whom the amorous Satyr pursues in the woods,
Holding one another’s hands, in leaps and gambols
Dance all night in the rays of the crescent moon.
 
I
If I were a great prince, I would want to build you
A proud edifice, where I would make every year
Altars and sacrifices smoke at your festival,
Naming you forever the Fountain of Love.
 
II
We need no longer go to the forest of Ardenne
To seek the water for which Rinaldo was so eager:
He who when young drinks thrice from this fountain,
Be he passer-by or neighbour, will fall in love.
 
I
O moon, who have your robe spangled in moonbeams,
Protect this fountain in the hottest days;
Defend it forever from heat and ice,
Fill it with dew, and admire yourself in it.
 
II
May it happen that, after a thousand years , a
shepherd acts out
My love-affairs, and recount to the Nymphs nearby
How a man of Vendôme died for a lady from Saintonge,
And how still his soul wanders in these forests.
 
The Poet
Boys, sing no more, already the Evening Star
commands us
To draw up our troop, the wolves are now out.
Tomorrow in the freshness [of morning], with another band
We shall return to dance around your banks.
 
Fountain, now from this full glass
Receive this sacred wine which I pour into you;
Be called forever the Fountain of Helen,
And preserve in your waters my love and my faithfulness.
 
 
 I find the ‘tone’ of this poem a little hard to read: yes, it is obviously another nature poem, or rather one of those ‘nature filled with myth’ poems, where everything is imbued with the flavour of classical mythology. Yet overall it seems to jar slightly with the surrounding love poems, at least to me.
 
We begin with the familiar lovers’ opposites – pain and happiness together, hot and cold, ice and fire. The ungrateful mistress is invoked (and mythological messengers sent to visit her). But by the end this is a fountain sanctified to Helen, rather than simply reflecting the opposites.
 
The tale of Narcissus is beautifully transformed – Helen’s obduracy makes her lover a hard rock, rather than a soft flower. But then the nature poetry takes over – oddly, at first, with frogs, but then with a large cast of carefully-identified birds appropriate to the seasons. Then suddenly Hercules is invoked (he is presumably also the ‘Argive child’, being a native of that city), and we’re back to the spurned lover – though quite why his death should be memorialised by naming the fountain after Helen is not obvious.
 
Echo, of course, is also known for laments: but then the context suddenly shifts to the sanctification of the fountain – its rocks replaced by precious jewels, its waters undisturbed by sticks or animals. The reference to Rinaldo (Regnaut in the French version) recalls the entire plot of ‘Orlando furioso’, which opens with Rinaldo drinking from an enchanted fountain and falling in love with Angelica, and ends with the spell lifted by drinking from another magic fountain. (As Richelet explains, ‘Ariosto in his first canto says that in this forest there are two fountains so different in effect that whoever drinks from the one falls in love, and from the other loses his love’.) And then the heavens are called on to protect the newly-sanctified spring, before the poet sacrifices wine as a sign of its holiness.
 
Something of a developing train of thought, then …
 
Gilbert Gadoffre makes the point that Ronsard is not like the seventeenth-century poets, ‘mathematicians and logicians’ who structure their poems accordingly; he is a poet of nature, whose poems grow like nature, developing almost in random directions as the moment takes them. I think this is a helpful way to look at this poem and it’s shifting focus. 
 
Worth adding, too, that for Gadoffre this is the high point of French poetry before about 1650: “With this poem he gives us the most miraculously beautiful stanzas before Racine in the French repertoire.”
 
Blanchemain has a number of variants, beginning with the title: “Stances sur la fontaine…” (though it has no impact on the translation). In the first stanza of the third pair, we have “Portez vers ma Maistresse aux ingrates oreilles”, so that instead of carrying sighs ‘to the ungrateful ears of my mistress’ they are to be carried ‘to my mistress with her ungrateful ears’. In the second stanza of the next pair, “Et ses bords …” seems odd: Helen’s fountain has been ‘you’ so far, so whose are ‘her banks’? Presumably still the same fountain?
 
No such problem at the start of the pair of stanzas featuring Rinaldo: “Si j’estois grand monarque …”, a ‘great monarch’ instead of a great prince. And then in the second of these stanzas, “Celuy qui boit à jeun trois fois à la fonteine”, ‘He who when young drinks thrice at the fountain’. 
 
 
 
 

Helen 2:(75b)

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Dialogue de l’autheur et du Mondain
 
Est-ce tant que la mort ? est-ce si grand mal-heur
Que le vulgaire croit ? Comme l’heure première
Nous faict naistre sans peine, ainsi l’heure dernière,
Qui acheve la trame, arrive sans douleur.
 
— Mais tu ne seras plus ! — Et puis ? quand la palleur
Qui blesmit nostre corps sans chaleur ne lumiere
Nous perd le sentiment ! quand la main filandiere
Nous oste le desir, perdans nostre chaleur !
 
— Tu ne mangeras plus. — Je n’auray plus envie
De boire ne manger : c’est le corps qui sa vie
Par la viande allonge et par refection :
 
L’esprit n’en a besoin. — Venus, qui nous appelle
Aux plaisirs, te fuira. — Je n’auray soucy d’elle :
Qui ne desire plus n’a plus d’affection.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Dialogue of the author and the Worldly Man
 
                                                                            Is that all death is? Is it so great a misfortune
                                                                            As the common folk believe? As our first hour
                                                                            Has us born without pain, so our last hour
                                                                            Which finishes the drama comes without sadness.
 
                                                                            — But you will exist no more!  — So what? When the pallor
                                                                            Which blanches our body, without heat or light,
                                                                            Makes us lose all our sensation? When the hand that weaves the thread
                                                                            Removes all desire from us, as we lose our warmth?
 
                                                                            — You won’t eat any more.  – I shall no longer need
                                                                            To drink or eat: it’s the body which lengthens
                                                                            Its life with food and eating;
 
                                                                            The spirit has no need of it.  – Venus, who calls us
                                                                            To pleasure, will flee from you.  – I shall have no care of her;
                                                                            He who desires nothing more, has no more feelings of love.
 
 
 
 
Here’s the last of those poems added by Blanchemain from posthumous editions. It’s an odd one, seemingly rather out of place . After all, Helen is not dying, and the book is concluding with the light of love still flickering if not strong. (Its dialogue format is also uncommon, but hardly unprecedented in these books.)
 
But on the other hand there are those last two poems mourning the king’s death, and there is the continual worrying in Ronsard’s love poetry about immortality, whether of the written word or of the lovers’ souls. Indeed, while the immortality of the former is often asserted, he seems rather less sure about the latter: in these poems death often means a transition to Hades, bleak, dark, forgetful of life and lonely, rather than a passage to the Christian heaven. Compare also his famous ‘last’ poem to his soul:
 
                        You are going down below weak,
                        Pale, small, thin and lonely,
                        Into the cold kingdom of the dead
 
So it’s not very surprising to find Ronsard musing on death, and a state after death. Here he is, perhaps, a little less fatalistic than elsewhere – but this is still hardly a vision of lovers re-united in death. Even if his vision of desiring nothing more after death is put in the context of classical mythology, with the Fates weaving & cutting the thread of life, I think it is just compatible with the Christian heaven – – a heaven where the soul will spend eternity focused on & praising God rather than focused on its past loves. But might we have expected some sign of comfort that the soul might be re-united with its loved ones even while focusing its praises on God … ? In the end, Ronsard’s fatalism about death being the end, rather than a transition to eternity, still comes through.
 
How all this fits with Ronsard’s official position in the church – he took minor orders, after all – or with his professed Catholic faith is not obvious. In some ways he feels like many an Enlightenment-period priest, performing religious duties while maintaining a personal scepticism: though of course we are a century or so before that time. Perhaps we’ll explore Ronsard’s faith and his relationship with orthodox Catholicism another time.