Sonnet 32

Standard
J’ay pour maistresse une estrange Gorgonne
Qui va passant les Anges en beauté :
C’est un vray Mars en dure cruauté,
En chasteté la fille de Latonne.
 
Quand je la voy mille fois je m’estonne,
La larme à l’œil, ou que ma fermeté
Ne la flechit, ou que sa dureté
Ne me conduit d’où plus on ne retourne.
 
De la nature un cœur je n’ay receu,
Ainçois plustost pour se nourrir en feu
En lieu de luy j’ay une Salamandre :
 
Mon corps n’est point ny de terre ny d’eau
Ny d’air leger, il est fait d’un flambeau
Qui se consume et n’est jamais en cendre.
 
 
 
                                                                                            I have as mistress a strange Gorgon
                                                                                            Who surpasses the angels in beauty;
                                                                                            She’s a true Mars in her harsh cruelty,
                                                                                            In chastity she’s the daughter of Latona.
 
                                                                                            When I see her, I am astounded every time,
                                                                                            A tear in my eye, either that my constancy
                                                                                            Does not move her, or that her harshness
                                                                                            Does not lead me to that place from which none returns.
 
                                                                                            I did not receive from nature a heart,
                                                                                            Since rather, so that it can be fed in the fire,
                                                                                            In its place I have a Salamander;
 
                                                                                            My body is made not of earth or water
                                                                                            Nor of thin air, it is made of a fire
                                                                                            Which feeds on itself and is never reduced to ashes.
 
 
Although the three Gorgons were killers, and had snaky hair (Medusa being one of them), it is unusual but not unparalleled to have them presented as beautiful in appearance (even if terrible in action) as Ronsard does here.   The daughter of Latona is Diana, the famously-chaste huntress.  Though we know the salamander as a variety of amphibian, in classical and popular thought the Salamander was a mysterious fiery creature, its name of obscure origin but thought to refer to its fiery nature. Like other mysterious fiery things (Moses’ burning bush, the Balrog in Lord of the Rings) the salamander burned without ever being reduced to ashes. (According to Wikipedia, which may even be right, the association with fire is because salamanders often live in old logs, and would emerge quickly when the log was put on the fire…!)
 
Blanchemain has a different final tercet, which makes more sense if we’re being strict (here the salamander-heart doesn’t burn, rather than the body remaining unburned with a salamander-heart in it). But it has slightly the feeling of stating the obvious at length, compared with the later version above; and then that later version also also manages to get in the reference to the four elements of earth, air, fire and water. 
 
Here’s the earlier tercet:
 
 
Car, si j’avois de chair un cœur humain,
Long temps y a qu’il fust reduit en cendre,
Veu le brasier qui se cache en mon sein.
 
 
                                                                                             For, if I had a human heart of flesh,
                                                                                             It would long ago have been reduced to ashes
                                                                                             Because of the furnace hidden in my breast.
 
 
 
 
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About fattoxxon

Who am I? Lover of all sorts of music - classical, medieval, world (anything from Africa), world-classical (Uzbek & Iraqi magam for instance), and virtually anything that won't be on the music charts... Lover of Ronsard's poetry (obviously) and of sonnets in general. Reader of English, French, Latin & other literature. And who is Fattoxxon? An allusion to an Uzbek singer - pronounce it Patahan, with a very plosive 'P' and a throaty 'h', as in 'khan')

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