Sonnet 54

O doux parler dont les mots doucereux
Sont engravez au fond de ma memoire :
O front, d’Amour le Trofée et la gloire,
O doux souris, ô baisers savoureux :
O cheveux d’or, ô coutaux plantureux,
De lis, d’œillets, de porfyre, et d’yvoire :
O feux jumeaux d’où le Ciel me fit boire
A si longs traits le venin amoureux :
O dents, plustost blanches perles encloses,
Lévres, rubis, entre-rangez de roses,
O voix qui peux adoucir un Lion,
Dont le doux chant l’oreille me vient poindre :
O corps parfait, de tes beautez la moindre
Merite seule un siege d’Ilion.
                                                                           O sweet speech whose soft words
                                                                           Are engraved deep in my memory;
                                                                           O brow, the trophy and glory of Love;
                                                                           O sweet smile, and sweet-tasting kisses;
                                                                           O golden hair, o bounteous hills
                                                                           Of lilies and pinks, of porphyry and ivory;
                                                                           O twin fires from which Heaven made me drink
                                                                           Such long draughts of love’s poison;
                                                                           O teeth, or rather a row of white pearls.
                                                                           Rubies for lips, interspersed with roses,
                                                                           O voice which could tame a lion,
                                                                           Whose sweet song has just come to my ear;
                                                                           O perfect form, the least of your beauties
                                                                           Alone would justify the siege of Troy.
A sonnet provides enough space to describe the lady’s face, but not get much further! What intrigues me about this sonnet is how Ronsard changed the ending from the earlier version (Below). What began as a ‘standard’ run-through of features with a longing final couplet, becomes in the late version above twisted into a mythological context. Twisted rather than transformed: the reference to the beautiful Helen of Troy [Ilion/Ilium], ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’, looks as if it has been imposed on the poem rather than growing organically from it, I feel. Working backwards, Ronsard has then incorporated lion-taming to give the poem a gentle push in the direction of myth, and justify that ending: I can’t think of a myth where a lion is tamed by singing, other than the generic Orpheus tale, but maybe there isn’t anything more than a generic reference here.
So, time to look at Blanchemain’s more conventional early version.  There is a minor change in line 4, “sourcis” (‘eyebrows’) for “souris” (‘smile’), but the second half is radically different: here is the final sestet in Blanchemain’s version:
O vermeillons ! ô perlettes encloses,
O diamants ! ô lis pourprés de roses,
O chant qui peux les plus durs émouvoir,
Et dont l’accent dans les âmes demeure.
Eh ! dea ! beautés, reviendra jamais l’heure
Qu’entre mes bras je vous puisse ravoir ?
                                                                           O crimson [lips] , o row of little pearls,
                                                                           O diamonds, o lilies crimsoned with roses,
                                                                           O song which could move the hardest,
                                                                           Whose tones remain in the soul.
                                                                           Oh heavens, you beauties, will the time ever come
                                                                           That I may hold you again in my arms?
The use of “vermeillons” in line 9 as a substantive is unusual, even drawing attention from lexicographers.
In a footnote Blanchemain also gives us an intermediate(?) version of the final four lines, where Ronsard achieves (in my view) a rather better transition to a less extreme mythological end-point:  for me, perhaps, the most attractive version of the ending despite it being the ‘chosen’ text of neither of my editions!!
… O voix qui peux ainsi qu’un enchanteur,
Coup dessus coup toute mon ame esteindre !
Pour son pourtrait Nature te fit peindre :
L’outil la Grace, Amour en fut l’autheur.
                                                                          … O voice which could like an enchanter
                                                                          Overcome all my soul blow by blow!
                                                                          Nature had you painted as her portrait;
                                                                          Grace was the brush, Love the artist.

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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