Sonnet 87

Standard
Si l’escrivain de la Gregeoise armée
Eust veu tes yeux qui serf me tiennent pris,
Les faits de Mars n’eust jamais entrepris,
Et le Duc Grec fust mort sans renommée.
 
Et si Paris qui veit en la valée
La Cyprienne et d’elle fut épris,
T’eust veu quatriesme, il t’eust donné le pris,
Et sans honneur Venus s’en fust allée.
 
Mais s’il advient ou par le vueil des Cieux,
Ou par le trait qui sort de tes beaux yeux,
Que d’un haut vers je chante ta conqueste
 
Et nouveau cygne on m’entende crier,
Il n’y aura ny myrte ny laurier
Digne de toy, ny digne de ma teste.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            If the poet of the Grecian army
                                                                            Had seen your eyes, which hold me bound as a serf,
                                                                            He would never have undertaken the deeds of Mars [war]
                                                                            And the Greek general would have died without fame.
 
                                                                            And if Paris, who glimpsed in the garden
                                                                            The Cyprian [Venus] and fell in love with her,
                                                                            Had seen you as the fourth, he would have given you the prize
                                                                            And Venus would have left without reward.
 
                                                                            But if it happens, by the will of Heaven
                                                                            Or by the wound given by your fair eyes,
                                                                            That in fine poetry I sing of your conquest
 
                                                                            And like a new swan I am heard singing,
                                                                            There will be no myrtle or laurel
                                                                            Worthy of you, nor worthy as my crown.

 

 

Ronsard has a way of turning a compliment, doesn’t he – and often deftly turning it to himself! If ever a poet was secure in his knowledge of his own worth, it’s Ronsard. But of course this poem is about the surpassing charms of Cassandre, greater than any inspiration to any poet before…
 
The ‘poet of the Grecian army’ is of course Homer, the war is the Trojan War, his poem the Iliad, and the Greek general who dies is Achilles. Paris was chosen to judge the contest between Juno, Venus and Minerva and naturally decided the prettiest was best – so Ronsard says Cassandre is prettier than the goddess of love herself. Myrtles and laurels are the prize for poets, and indeed the victors of any contest, in the classical world – though not good enough as a prize for Ronsard apparently!
 
I must admit to some paraphrasing in this translation:  in line 5 Paris actually “saw [Venus] in the valley”, but ‘glimpsed … garden’ offers an alliterative effect similar to “veit en la valée”.  In line 14 Ronsard actually says no myrtle is ‘worthy of you, nor worthy of my head’, but I have changed this (with less excuse) to the more explanatory ‘crown’.
 
Blanchemain’s version shows how Ronsard’s self-confidence had grown later in life: for in this version he ends by receiving (and being pleased to receive) the best of myrtle crowns…
 
 
 
Si l’escrivain de la Gregeoise armée
Eust veu tes yeux qui serf me tiennent pris,
Les faits de Mars il n’eust jamais empris,
Et le duc grec fust mort sans renommée.
 
Et si Pâris, qui vit en la valée
La grand’ beauté dont son cœur fut épris,
Eust veu la tienne, il t’eust donné le pris,
Et sans honneur Venus s’en fust allée.
 
Mais s’il advient, ou par le vueil des cieux,
Ou par le trait qui sort de tes beaux yeux,
Qu’en publiant ma prise et ta conqueste,
 
Outre la Tane on m’entende crier,
Io ! Io ! quel myrte ou quel laurier
Sera bastant pour enlacer ma teste !
 
 
 
                                                                            If the poet of the Grecian army
                                                                            Had seen your eyes, which hold me bound as a serf,
                                                                            He would never have taken up the deeds of Mars [war]
                                                                            And the Greek general would have died without fame.
 
                                                                            And if Paris, who glimpsed in the garden
                                                                            That great beauty by which his heart was seized,
                                                                            Had seen yours, he would have given you the prize
                                                                            And Venus would have left without reward.
 
                                                                            But if it happens, by the will of Heaven
                                                                            Or by the wound given by your fair eyes,
                                                                            That in speaking out of my capture and your conquest,
 
                                                                            Beyond Tanais they hear me singing
                                                                            “Io! Io!”, what myrtle or what laurel
                                                                            Will be woven to twine around my head!
 
 
 
 In the second quatrain his first version is more allusive than the later one – perhaps unusually! – explaining itself only in line 8; but the later version, while making the allusion clearer in line 5, does end up repeating itself if we recognise Cypris and Venus to be the same person. In the final lines, Blanchemain says ‘I believe “la Tane” is Tanais’; this was a city at the southern end of the [modern] river Don, that is to say NE of the Crimea at the top-right of the Black Sea – – or, in classical terms, the far end of the known world. So those beyond Tanais are in effect at or beyond the edges of the known world.  ‘Io’ was a representation of the shouting (or ululation) of Bacchantes and others in the throes of some form of ecstatic dance-trance – again, associated with the mystic east.
 
 
 
 
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