Sonnet 53

J’errois à la volee, et sans respect des lois
Ma chair dure à donter me commandoit à force,
Quand tes sages propos despouillerent l’escorce
De tant d’opinions que frivoles j’avois.
En t’oyant discourir d’une si saincte vois,
Qui donne aux voluptez une mortelle entorce,
Ta parole me fist par une douce amorce
Contempler le vray bien duquel je m’esgarois.
Tes mœurs et ta vertu, ta prudence et ta vie
Tesmoignent que l’esprit tient de la Deité :
Tes raisons de Platon, et ta Philosophie,
Que le vieil Promethee est une vérité,
Et qu’apres que du ciel eut la flame ravie
Il maria la Terre à la Divinité.
                                                                              I was wandering at random, and respecting no laws
                                                                              My flesh, hard to tame, was compelling me by force,
                                                                              When your wise words peeled away the rind
                                                                              From those many frivolous thoughts I had.
                                                                              Hearing you air these ideas in so saintly a voice
                                                                              Which gives to pleasure a fatal twist,
                                                                              Your words like sweet bait made me
                                                                              Reflect on that true good whose way I had lost.
                                                                              Your manners, your virtue, your prudence, your life
                                                                              All witness that the spirit holds something of the divine;
                                                                              Your reasoning from Plato, and your Philosophy,
                                                                              [Witness] that old Prometheus is a fact,
                                                                              And that after he had torn fire from heaven
                                                                              He married Earth to the Divine.
Frankly I find, in the metaphysics of the first half, that the sound is at least as important as the meaning!  Specifically, I’m not sure how to visualise ‘peeling the rind from my varied thoughts’, or how discussing wise ideas in a saintly voice gives the pleasure of hearing them ‘a fatal twist’. But there is no denying that there is resonance and weight in those lines.
In the second half, Ronsard no doubts expects us to associate Plato with ‘platonic love’ (i.e. unconsummated), as well as to understand the more direct reference to Platonic ‘Forms’ – that is, the idealised (heavenly) versions of imperfect earthly things. Ronsard of course wants to imply that Helene’s perfections are un-Platonic in the sense that they are as perfect as the heavenly versions: that is what his last couplet is about.  Prometheus was of course punished eternally by the gods for stealing fire and giving it to mankind – a symbol of mankind’s inventiveness and advancement, bringin man near to being godlike; in the myth, neither the gods nor the ancients provide any real sense of a ‘marriage of heaven and earth’, rather more a continued struggle between them, but that is not Ronsard’s point here!
Blanchemain offers us two variants of the last couplet, as Ronsard worked on its weight and sonority over the years. The earliest version is the one he prints in his text:
Et qu’en ayant la flame à Jupiter ravie,
Il maria la Terre à la Divinité.
                                                                              And that having torn fire from Jupiter
                                                                              He married Earth to the Divine.
In a footnote he provides a later version which approaches, but is not yet, the final form printed by Marty-Laveaux:
Et qu’apres que du ciel la flame il eut ravie
Il maria la Terre à la Divinité.
                                                                              And that after he had torn fire from heaven
                                                                              He married Earth to the Divine.
Losing the weak participle ‘ayant’ from the line was obviously a good thing; and it is interesting to see the subtle search for weight and resonance in the penultimate line in the two versions of the same words – finally achieving greater weight by eliminating the elisions (‘ciel_la’ and ‘flame_il’).  Here, clearly I think, the latest version is the winner!

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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