Sonnet 12

Je veux me souvenant de ma gentille Amie,
Boire ce soir d’autant, et pource, Corydon,
Fay remplir mes flacons, et verse à l’abandon
Du vin pour resjouir toute la compaignie.
Soit que m’amie ait nom ou Cassandre ou Marie,
Neuf fois je m’en vois boire aux lettres de son nom,
Et toy si de ta belle et jeune Madelon,
Belleau, l’amour te poind, je te pri’ ne l’oublie.
Apporte ces bouquets que tu m’avois cueillis,
Ces roses, ces oeillets, ce josmin et ces lis :
Attache une couronne à l’entour de ma teste.
Gaignon ce jour icy, trompon nostre trespas :
Peult estre que demain nous ne reboirons pas.
S’attendre au lendemain n’est pas chose trop preste.
                                                                      Thinking of my noble Beloved, I want
                                                                      To drink so much tonight; so, Corydon,
                                                                      Fill my flagons, and pour wine with abandon
                                                                      To delight the whole company.
                                                                      Whether my beloved is named Cassandre or Marie,
                                                                      I want to drink nine times to the letters of her name,
                                                                      And you too, Belleau – if love for your fair
                                                                      Young Maddy pricks you, I beg you don’t forget her!
                                                                      Bring those bouquets you’ve cut for me,
                                                                      Those roses, carnations, jasmine and lilies;
                                                                      Fix a crown around my head.
                                                                      Let’s seize the day, let’s cheat death:
                                                                      Perhaps tomorrow we shall not drink again.
                                                                      Waiting for tomorrow is not a smart thing.
Interesting that Ronsard uses Corydon as a servant’s name; it’s of course a perfectly good name in classical, pastoral poetry, but it’s usually a shepherd-lover rather than the boy bringing the drinks around.  I’m sure line 12 is a reference to Horace’s famous ‘seize the day’ (Carpe diem). And not for the first or last time in Amours II, he couples Marie’s name with Cassandre’s: elsewhere this usually is Marie accusing him of still thinking of Cassandre; yet here he gives us some evidence that it was not just her jealous nature that brought such accusations on him!
I’ve translated Belleau’s girl’s name as Maddy, though perhaps it could be Magda; Madelon (or Magdelon, in Blanchemain) is a pet-name, though it is believed Belleau’s girl was invented. She is Madelon in the 1555 Amours, but in Belleau’s 1560 (and 1565) edition he amends it to ‘Catelon’ (Cathy), before it changes back to ‘Madelon’ in 1572. A 1559 wedding-hymn (Chant pastoral sur les Noces de Mgr Charles duc de Lorraine et de Madame Claude) by Ronsard has the lines,
        “Belin me l’a donné, houpé tout à l’entour
         Des couleurs qu’il gaigna de Caton l’autre jour”
Assuming Belin is a pet-name for Belleau, this suggests that the real girl – if there was one – may have been Cathy not Maddy, and ‘Madelon’ may have been a disguise!   [ Info from Google Books which unfortunately won’t tell me whose work I am quoting here! ]
The second half of Blanchemain’s version is completely re-written; as well as a minor change in line 6 “je m’en vais boire” for “je m’en vois boire” (I’m going to drink, instead of I want to drink). Here are the final 6 lines in his edition; I have to say this is one case where as far as I’m concerned the chnages in M-L’s late version are a significant improvement, especially the last tercet…
Qu‘on m‘ombrage le chef de vigne et de lierre,
Les coudes et le col ; qu‘on enfleure la terre
De roses et de lys, de lavands et de jonc.
Sus ! verse dans ma coupe et boivon à notre aise.
Quoi ! n’est-ce pas bien fait ? Or sus ! commençons donc,
Et chassons loing de nous tout soin et tour malaise.
                                                                      Shade my head with vines and ivy,
                                                                      My shoulders and neck too; cover the ground in flowers,
                                                                      Roses and lilies, lavender and rushes.
                                                                      Up! Pour wine in my cup, let‘s drink at ease.
                                                                      What – wasn‘t it done properly? Come on! Let‘s start,
                                                                      And chase far from us all care and unease.

9 responses »

  1. Could
    Soit que m’amie ait nom ou Cassandre ou Marie,
    Neuf fois je m’en vois boire aux lettres de son nom,

    be a joke on the role of 9 in Dante’s writing about Beatrice?

  2. Surely a strong possibility – thanks for the suggestion!

    I wonder, too, whether the fact that Cassandre has 9 letters and Marie doesn’t adds a little spice to Ronsard’s choice of 9 here – a sly ‘dig’ at the jealous Marie?

  3. I would assume this without any doubt – and it would be obvious to Marie, too!
    I sometimes wonder why Dante did not contrive a 9-letter name for Beatrice – an argument in favour of her reality, I guess.

    Amazing people but what you are doing here is also stunning.

    Why do you think Ronsard’s love for Helene was imagined?

    • Imagined in the sense that I don’t believe it was a ‘love affair’: even if he was besotted I doubt she responded (unlike Machaut & Peronne a couple of hundred years earlier), and to be frank I don’t personally believe he was really besotted. My own opinion is that he saw a beautiful young lady at Court, certainly was struck by her but his rational side took over & he thought this was a good basis for a further book of poems, rather than actually falling deeply in love. A literary, courtly gesture (and no doubt some kudos for her in the dedication), but not a genuine affair of the heart.

      But this might be heresy!

      (PS and one day I must read Petrarch & Dante too…)

      • I trust your intuition, based on such a thorough knowledge as it is..But isn’t Ronsard treading a fine line between the biographical and the fictional with all his loves (seducing his readers with this game)? So I imagine he thought: there is the youthful idealistic love (Cassandre), the mature and erotic love (Marie) and to round things up here is one late and unrequited…

  4. I wouldn’t rely on my ‘thoroughness’ too much: there’s a LOT of scholarship on Ronsard & I am just scratching the surface, and enjoying the poems!

    I like the idea of a threefold love – though unrequited love is a theme of all 3… Certainly he enjoys the opportunity the Helen set provides to play with the idea of the grey haired lover, Tithonus & Aurora etc, and the other sets equally have that initial ideal, and the more mature cynicism about them. Yes, there is a delicate balance between the real and the invented, the mundane and the ideal, in these poetic ‘biographies’ of the 3 ladies. For what it’s worth, I think Cassandra really did fire his heart – though 220 sonnets indicates that art took over somewhere along the line; I was initially suspicious that Marie was ‘more art than heart’, though the lovely second book he wrote 20 years later after her death has convinced me that he was genuinely and deeply in love with her – but in a more ‘grown up’ way. If anything, the fact that Marie 2 is short and to the point is the most convincing gesture. I haven’t (yet?) had that epiphany with Helen, and see here rather more wry acknowledgement of his growing old, and a genuine affection as if for a favourite niece or something.

    I suppose we have to take into account that there are (at least) two other important influences shaping the later Helen books (and Marie 2 for that matter): first, Ronsard’s fame later in life and the need to live up to his own standard and reputation; and second, linked with it, his increasing concern for a classicising style, learned references, heightened vocabulary. Comparing early and late versions as I am doing you can’t help seeing the older man spoiling some of the ‘wilder excesses’ of youth as he tidies up his oeuvre for posterity… Either or both of those might have imposed a greater formality on the Helen books, whatever his personal feelings.

    So I could be very wrong about these poems! I don’t claim anything more than a personal interpretation from what I’ve been reading…

    Thanks again for that threefold viewpoint, though – it was a formal ‘shape’ to the Amours I hadn’t consciously noticed before!! (Though I haven’t yet engaged with the ‘other’ Amours (diverses, etc) to have a feel for where they fit into Ronsard’s view of his trajectory…)

    • I have some idea of Ronsard scholarship – Laumonier, Silver …it is huge and your decision to reach back before Laumonier strikes me as not only very informed but, also, liberating.

      One funny effect of scholarship is that people stop reading the original texts. I recently reread Vita Nuova and am pondering – where did the idea that Dante only met Beatrice twice come from? From what I see in his text, he met her many times, whatever meeting in this case is supposed to mean. (For example, when he is 18, she greets him but later there is a moment when she refuses to greet him and he is devastated.)

      • Out of curiosity, do you have an opinion on Ronsard’s story about his origin in Elegie XVI?

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