Sonnet 23



Estant pres de ta face, où l’honneur se repose,
Tout ravy je humois et tirois à longs traicts
De ton estomac sainct un millier de secrets,
Par qui le ciel en moy ses mysteres expose.
J’appris en tes vertus n’avoir la bouche close,
J’appris tous les secrets des Latins et des Grecs :
Tu me fis un Oracle, et m’esveillant apres
Je devins un Démon sçavant en toute chose.
J’appris que c’est Amour , du Ciel le fils aisné.
O bon Endymion, je ne suis estonné
Si dormant pres la Lune en son sommeil extrème
La Lune te fist Dieu ! Tu es un froid amy.
Si j’avois pres ma Dame un quart d’heure dormy,
Je serois, non pas Dieu : je ferois les Dieux mesme.
                                                                                Being near beside your face, where honour itself rests,
                                                                                Delighted I breathed in, in long draughts
                                                                                From your holy breast thousands of secrets
                                                                                Through which heaven revealed to me its mysteries.
                                                                                I learned not to keep my mouth closed about your virtues
                                                                                I learned all the secrets of the Latins and Greeks;
                                                                                You were an Oracle to me, and as I woke afterwards
                                                                                I became a Demon wise in all things.
                                                                                I learned what Love is, the eldest child of Heaven.
                                                                                O fair Endymion, I am not surprised
                                                                                If, as you slept beside the Moon in her [your?] deep sleep
                                                                                The Moon made you a god! You are a cold lover.
                                                                                If I had slept beside my Lady for a quarter-hour,
                                                                                I should have been not a god but all the gods indeed.


The second uatrain perhaps deserves a little commentary:  the ‘secrets of the Latins & Greeks’ clearly means their poetic secrets, the rediscovery of their literature being the essence of humanism; an Oracle need not in this case mean foretelling the future, for oracles were more simply truth-tellers (an oracle revealed hidden things, whether past, present or future); and likewise a Demon need not carry Christian connotations of evil – the ‘daimon’ in Greek could be simply ‘inspiration’, though here (as it can also in ancient literature) it carries a wider meaning of a supernaturally-learned being – morally neutral, though.
Endymion was a shepherd (or in later versions an astronomer!) with whose beauty Selene, the moon-goddess, fell in love. Generally the story goes that she begged Zeus for him to have eternal life so he could remain her lover; and Zeus put him into eternal sleep. Selene visited him each night (or should that be, each day?) and they had (despite his sleep) 50 daughters. In line 11 it really should be Endymion who is sleeping but with the address to him in line 10, and the ‘ton’ (‘your’) pronoun in line 12, the ‘son’ (‘his/her’) in line 11 can only really to refer to the moon. As the moon wasn’t asleep, and as there seems no need for Ronsard to have reversed the metaphor, I’d prefer to think of this as a minor slip.  On the other hand it is possible he is thinking of his mistress dozing beside him (as he also is dozing) and consequently IS reversing, or at least adapting, the metaphor of Endymion’s sleep. It is certainly the case that both my sources – Marty-Laveaux and Blanchemain – print ‘son’.
While we’re on the subject of tricky translations, Blanchemain’s only variant is in the opening, where he offers “Someillant sur ta face…”. It is tempting to translate literally, ‘Dozing on your face'(!), but I’m going to translate it ‘Lying across your chest’ with ‘face’ simply meaning the ‘front’ of her body. I’d have preferred ‘breast’ but am using that for ‘estomac’ in line 3 – we tend to think of virtue residing in the breast, whereas in medieval style Ronsard locates courage and virtue in the stomach.  I could have used the same translation in M-L’s version (honour must still repose in the ‘face’, but is that the face or the breast?) but decided to retain ‘face’ although I suspect Ronsard felt that honour resided in the breast not the face: it is nonetheless possible to consider the alternative.  So in my version of M-L it’s the breathing in line 3 that links the two lines; whereas my Blanchemain version (the quatrain is printed below) links them through the physical body in both lines not the breathing! Frankly I suspect the version below is more ‘right’; but I hope it’s interesting to have both options!

                                                                                Lying across your chest, where honour itself rests,
                                                                                Delighted I breathed in, in long draughts
                                                                                From your holy breast thousands of secrets
                                                                                Through which heaven revealed to me its mysteries.

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')

3 responses »

  1. Another good post David. It’s always such a challenge to convey all of the original meaning, mood, intent and colour when translating, I think you do a fine job. Ronsard’s work is fascinating and you are truly bringing it to life here on this blog, which, in my opinion, is laudible of you and inspiring for me.

    Mythology, and Selene in particular, has featured as a protagonist in several of my sonnets and other forms too in recent work (Must be the time of year effecting my brain!). Though not in reference to the moon, a little fun can be had in this playful duo–

    By the way, I finally kept my word and posted the ‘Fly in the Glass of Water’ in Doggerel! Brilliant, thank you for that. I’d so like to learn who wrote it…

    • I’m flattered – thank you! – but I think you’re over-stating what I try to do, let alone achieve! Mood and colour in particular I find the hardest part about any translation, and especially poetry. My daughter loves Baudelaire & has attempted to translate some of his work; but I can’t even begin to find the right words for his poetry which is (for me) defined by mood and colour. Where I’m dealing with more ‘classical’ poetry, where content and style and meaning are perhaps uppermost – well, those are things I can grapple with and at least make an attempt to convey 🙂

      • Then it is only to your further credit that such virtues are conveyed in your translations! I am fluent English /Spanish, yet even translating my own work from one to the other is at best a compromise that falls short.

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