Discours – à Pierre L’Escot

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This ought to be, approximately, the 300th poem I’ve posted. So to mark this ‘special occasion’ I thought I’d post a tongue-in-cheek follow-up to Ronsard’s autobiographical Elegy which was my 200th post.  This time it’s from book 2 of his “Poems”, and one of many longer poems which Ronsard called ‘discours’ – discourses. Here his father lectures him – in perfect Alexandrines! – about why almost anything is better than being a poet…

It’s addressed to Pierre L’Escot, architect and friend of Ronsard. In Marty-Laveaux’s edition he is identified just as ‘Pierre L’Escot, Lord of Clany’, but in the earlier edition he is given a longer set of titles: ‘Abbot of Cleremont, Lord of Clany, chaplain in ordinary to the King’. Blanchemain further adds: ‘This piece is addressed to Lord L’Escot of Clany, who designed the pavilion of the Louvre. In the 1572 edition, it begins the 2nd book of Poems, which is dedicated as a whole to Pierre L’Escot.’

(I hope this layout works – I’m having trouble getting the ‘stanzas’ lined up 🙂 )
 
Puis que Dieu ne m’a fait pour supporter les armes,
Et mourir tout sanglant au milieu des alarmes
En imitant les faits de mes premiers ayeux,
Si ne veux-je pourtant demeurer ocieux :
Ains comme je pourray, je veux laisser memoire
Que j’allay sur Parnasse acquerir de la gloire,
Afin que mon renom des siecles non veincu,
Rechante à mes neveux qu’autrefois j’ay vescu
Caressé d’Apollon et des Muses aimées,
Que j’ay plus que ma vie en mon âge estimées.
Pour elles à trente ans j’avois le chef grison,
Maigre, palle. desfait, enclos en la prison
D’une melancolique et rheumatique estude,
Renfrongné, mal-courtois, sombre, pensif, et rude,
A fin qu’en me tuant je peusse recevoir
Quelque peu de renom pour un peu de sçavoir.
 
Je fus souventesfois retansé de mon pere
Voyant que j’aimois trop les deux filles d Homere,
Et les enfans de ceux qui doctement ont sceu
Enfanter en papier ce qu’ils avoient conceu :
Et me disoit ainsi, Pauvre sot, tu t’amuses
A courtizer en vain Apollon et les Muses :
Que te sçauroit donner ce beau chantre Apollon,
Qu’une lyre, un archet, une corde, un fredon,
Qui se respand au vent ainsi qu’une fumée,
Ou comme poudre en l’air vainement consumée ?
Que te sçauroient donner les Muses qui n’ont rien ?
Sinon au-tour du chef je ne sçay quel lien
De myrte, de lierre, ou, d’une amorce vaine
T’allecher tout un jour au bord d’une fontaine,
Ou dedans un vieil antre, à fin d’y reposer
Ton cerveau mal-rassis, et béant composer
Des vers qui te feront, comme pleins de manie,
Appeller un bon fol en toute compagnie ?
 
Laisse ce froid mestier, qui jamais en avant
N’a poussé l’artizan, tant fust-il bien sçavant :
Mais avec sa fureur qu’il appelle divine,
Meurt tousjours accueilly d’une palle famine :
Homere que tu tiens si souvent en tes mains,
Qu’en ton cerveau mal-sain comme un Dieu tu te peins,
N’eut jamais un liard ; sa Troyenne vielle,
Et sa Muse qu’on dit qui eut la voix si belle,
Ne le sceurent nourrir, et falloit que sa fain
D’huis en huis mendiast le miserable pain.
 
Laisse-moy, pauvre sot, ceste science folle :
Hante-moy les Palais, caresse-moy Bartolle,
Et d’une voix dorée au milieu d’un parquet
Aux despens d’un pauvre homme exerce ton caquet,
Et fumeux et sueux d’une bouche tonnante
Devant un President mets-moy ta langue en vente :
On peut par ce moyen aux richesses monter,
Et se faire du peuple en tous lieux bonneter.
 
Ou bien embrasse-moy l’argenteuse science
Dont le sage Hippocras eut tant d’experience,
Grand honneur de son isle : encor que son mestier
Soit venu d’Apollon, il s’est fait heritier
Des biens et des honneurs, et à la Poësie
Sa sœur n’a rien laissé qu’une lyre moisie.
 
Ne sois donq paresseux d’apprendre ce que peut
La Nature en nos corps, tout cela qu’elle veut,
Tout cela qu’elle fuit : par si gentille adresse
En secourant autruv on gaigne la richesse.
 
Ou bien si le desir genereux et hardy,
En t’eschauffant le sang, ne rend acoüardy
Ton cœur à mespriser les perils de la terre,
Pren les armes au poing, et va suivre la guerre,
Et d’une belle playe en l’estomac ouvert
Meurs dessus un rempart de poudre tout couvert :
Par si noble moyen souvent on devient riche,
Car envers les soldats un bon Prince n’est chiche.
 
Ainsi en me tansant mon pere me disoit,
Ou fust quand le Soleil hors de l’eau conduisoit
Ses coursiers gallopans par la penible trette,
Ou fust quand vers le soir il plongeoit sa charrette,
Fust la nuict, quand la Lune avec ses noirs chevaux
Creuse et pleine reprend l’erre de ses travaux.
 
« O qu’il est mal-aisé de forcer la nature !
« Tousjours quelque Genie, ou l’influence dure
« D’un Astre nous invite à suivre maugré tous
« Le destin qu’en naissant il versa desur nous.
 
Pour menace ou priere, ou courtoise requeste
Que mon pere me fist, il ne sceut de ma teste
Oster la Poesie, et plus il me tansoit,
Plus à faire des vers la fureur me poussoit.
 
Je n’avois pas douze ans qu’au profond des vallées,
Dans les hautes forests des hommes recullées,
Dans les antres secrets de frayeur tout-couvers,
Sans avoir soin de rien je composois des vers :
Echo me respondoit, et les simples Dryades,
Faunes, Satyres, Pans, Napées, Oreades,
Aigipans qui portoient des cornes sur le front,
Et qui ballant sautoient comme les chévres font,
Et le gentil troupeau des fantastiques Fées
Autour de moy dansoient à cottes degrafées.
 
Je fu premierement curieux du Latin :
Mais voyant par effect que mon cruel destin
Ne m’avoit dextrement pour le Latin fait naistre,
Je me fey tout François, aimant certes mieux estre
En ma langue ou second, ou le tiers, ou premier,
Que d’estre sans honneur à Rome le dernier. 
 
Donc suivant ma nature aux Muses inclinée,
Sans contraindre ou forcer ma propre destinée,
J’enrichy nostre France, et pris en gré d’avoir,
En servant mon pays, plus d’honneur que d’avoir. 
 
Toy, L’Escot, dont le nom jusques aux Astres vole,
As pareil naturel : car estant à l’escole,
On ne peut le destin de ton esprit forcer
Que tousjours avec l’encre on ne te vist tracer
Quelque belle peinture, et ja fait Geomettre,
Angles, lignes et poincts sur une carte mettre :
Puis estant parvenu au terme de vingt ans,
Tes esprits courageux ne furent pas contans
Sans doctement conjoindre avecques la Peinture
L’art de Mathematique et de l’Architecture,
Où tu es tellement avec honneur monté,
Que le siecle ancien est par toy surmonté. 
 
Car bien que tu sois noble et de mœurs et de race,
Bien que dés le berceau l’abondance te face
Sans en chercher ailleurs, riche en bien temporel,
Si as-tu franchement suivi ton naturel :
Et tes premiers Regens n’ont jamais peu distraire
Ton cœur de ton instinct pour suivre le contraire. 
 
On a beau d’une perche appuyer les grands bras
D’un arbre qui se plie, il tend tousjours en bas :
La nature ne veut en rien estre forcée,
Mais suivre le destin duquel elle est poussée.
 
Jadis le Roy François des Lettres amateur,
De ton divin esprit premier admirateur,
T’aima par dessus tous : ce ne fut en son âge
Peu d’honneur d’estre aimé d’un si grand personnage,
Qui soudain cognoissoit le vice et la vertu,
Quelque desguisement dont l’homme fust vestu.
 
Henry qui apres luy tint le sceptre de France,
Ayant de ta valeur parfaite cognoissance
Honora ton sçavoir, si bien que ce grand Roy
Ne vouloit escouter un autre homme que toy,
Soit disnant et soupant, et te donna la charge
De son Louvre enrichi d’edifice plus large,
Ouvrage somptueux, à fin d’estre montré
Un Roy tres-magnifique en t’ayant rencontré.
 
Il me souvient un jour que ce Prince à la table
Parlant de ta vertu comme chose admirable,
Disoit que tu avois de toy-mesmes appris,
Et que sur tous aussi tu emportois le pris,
Comme a fait mon Ronsard, qui à la Poësie
Maugré tous ses parens a mis sa fantaisie.
 
Et pour cela tu fis engraver sur le haut
Du Louvre, une Déesse, à qui jamais ne faut
Le vent à joüe enflée au creux d’une trompete,
Et la monstras au Roy, disant qu’elle estoit faite
Expres pour figurer la force de mes vers,
Qui comme vent portoyent son nom par l’Univers.
 
Or ce bon Prince est mort, et pour faire cognoistre
Que nous avons servi tous deux un si grand maistre,
Je te donne ces vers pour eternelle foy,
Que la seule vertu m’accompagna de toy.
Although God did not make me to take up arms
And die all bloodied in the midst of alarms
Mimicking the deeds of my earliest ancestors,
Yet do I not want to remain useless:
However I can I want to leave a memorial
That I went up Parnassus to gain glory,
That my fame, unconquered by the centuries,
Should sing to my descendants that I lived
Cherished by Apollo and his beloved Muses,
Whom I have honoured more than my life in this age.
For them, I was grey-haired at thirty,
Thin, pale, defeated, shut up in the prison
Of melancholic and arthritic study,
Scowling, discourteous, gloomy, pensive and coarse,
So that in killing myself I might have gained
Some little fame for little understanding.
 
 
 
I was many times scolded by my father
Who saw I loved too much Homer’s two daughters,
And the children of those who learnedly were able
To give birth on paper to what they’d conceived;
And he would say to me, “You poor fool, you amuse yourself
With courting – in vain! – Apollo and the Muses ;
What can he give you, that fine singer Apollo,
But a lyre, a bow on a string, a murmur
Which will be lost in the wind like smoke,
Or like ash in the air burned up without gain?
What can the Muses give you, who have nothing themselves?
Perhaps around your head some thread
Of myrtle, or ivy? Or with empty attraction
Luring you all day beside a fountain,
Or in some ancient cave, so that there you can rest
Your un-calm head, and gaping compose
Some verses which, as if full of madness, will get you
Called a right fool in all company?
 
 
 
 
“Leave this cold career, which has never brought
To the fore the artisan, however skilled he is;
But rather, in that passion he calls divine,
He always dies, welcomed by pale famine.
That Homer you have so often in your hands,
Whom you paint as some sort of god in your unsound brain,
Never had a farthing; his Trojan fiddle,
And his Muse whom they say had so fair a voice,
Could not feed him, and his hunger had
To beg from door to door for the wretched pain.
 
 
“Leave this foolish study for me, you poor fool;
Haunt palaces for me, caress Bartolle for me;,
Either carry on your cackle with your golden voice
In the middle of the floor [=centre-stage?] at the expense of some poor man,
Or smoky and sweaty, with thundering lips,
Put your tongue on sale for me before some president;
In this way one can arrive at riches
And make oneself lionised by people in all places.
 
 
“Or else embrace for me that silvery learning
Of which the wise Hippocras had such experience,
The great honour of his island; though his path too
Came from Apollo, he became the heir
Of goods and honours, while to Poetry
His sister left nothing but a mildewed lyre.
 
 
“Or be not idle in learning what Nature
Can do in our bodies, all that she favours,
All that she rejects; through noble address
In helping others, you can win riches.
 
 
“Or even, if noble and bold desire
Does not, as it warms your blood, make your heart
Too afraid to undertake earthly dangers.
Take arms in your fist, go follow war,
And with a fine wound opened in your stomach
Die upon some rampart, covered in dust;
By such noble means people often become rich,
For to his soldiers a good Prince is not stingy.”
 
 
 
Reproaching me thus my father spoke to me,
Whether when the Sun leads from the waters
His chargers galloping on their arduous course,
Or when towards evening he submerges his chariot,
Or at night, when the Moon with her dark horses,
Both hollow and full, takes up the course of her labours.
 
 
 
“Oh how uncomfortable it is to force nature!
Always some spirit, or the harsh influence
Of some star, invites us to follow, despite everything,
The fate which it poured upon us at our birth.”
 
Whatever threat or prayer or courteous request
My father made me, he could not drive
Poetry from my head, and the more he reproached me,
The more the passion to write verse drove me on.
 
I was not yet twelve when, in deep valleys,
In the high forests from which men shrink,
In hidden caves entirely swathed in dread,
Without a care for anything I composed verses;
Echo replied to me, and the simple Dryads,
Fauns, Satyrs, Pans, Naiads, Oreads,
Goat-Pans who bear horns on their brows
And who in their dances leap as stags do,
And the gentle troop of fantastical Fairies
Danced around me, their skirts unfastened.
 
 
I was at first intrigued by Latin;
But seeing by trying that my cruel fate
Had not made me naturally skilful in Latin,
I made myself entirely French, preferring far to be
In my own tongue the second, or third, or first,
Than to be the last, and without honour, in Rome.
 
 
So, following my nature inclined to the Muses,
Without constraining or forcing my own fate,
I enriched our France, and made the choice to have
In serving my country more honour than wealth.
 
 
You too, L’Escot, whose name flies high as the stars,
Have a similar nature: for when you were at school
They could not compel your mind’s destiny,
So that you could always be seen with ink tracing
Some fine painting, or now doing Geometry,
Making angles, lines and points upon some sheet;
Then when you reached the end of twenty years,
Your brave spirits were not content
Till learnedly joining together with Painting
The arts of Mathematics and Architecture,
In which you have risen so high with honour
That ancient times are surpassed by you.
 
 
 
For though you are noble in manner and family,
Although since the cradle abundance has been yours
Without seeking it from outside, rich in worldly goods,
Yet have you boldly followed your nature;
And your first regents never could distract
Your heart from your instinct to oppose them.
 
 
 
 
One might as well prop up with a pole the great limbs
Of a tree which bends over, it will still tend downwards;
Nature does not wish anywhere to be compelled,
But to follow the destiny by which she is impelled.
 
 
Previously King François, a lettered man,
The first admirer of your divine spirit,
Loved you above all others; there was not in his time
Little honour in being loved by so great a personage
Who could immediately recognise vice and virtue
Whatever disguise a man was dressed in.
 
 
Henry who after him took up the sceptre of France,
Having perfect understanding of your worth,
Honoured your learning so well that that great King
Wanted to hear no other man than you,
Whether at dinner or supper, and gave you the charge
Of enriching his Louvre with a larger building,
A sumptuous work, that he might be shown to be
A most magnificent King in having encountered you.
 
I recall a day when that Prince, speaking
At table of your virtue as a thing to be wondered at,
Said that you had learned from yourself
And that beyond all others too you took the prize,
As has done my Ronsard who to Poetry
Despite all his family has set his imagination.
 
And therefore you had sculpted at the top
Of the Louvre a goddess, never short of breath,
Her cheek puffed out at the mouthpiece of a trumpet,
And showed it to the King, saying that she had been made
Expressly to symbolise the power of my verse,
Which like the wind bore his name throughout the world.
 
 
Now that good Prince is dead, and that it should be known
That both of us have served so great a master
I give you these verses as an everlasting oath
That virtue alone accompanies me from you.
 
 
In the second ‘stanza’, Homer’s two daughters are the epic poems Iliad and Odyssey. In the fourth, the advice to ‘caress Bartolle’ apparently refers to a ‘spiky’ senior lawyer (he’s referred to elsewhere as “l’espineux Bartolle”). 
 
In the 5th ‘stanza’, Marty-Laveaux’s text has “Hippocras”: hippocras is a drink, but Ronsard (or his father) here clearly means Hippocrates the Greek physician. I’m not sure whose mistake this is – I suppose Ronsard is making fun of his father for not quite getting the name right?! Blanchemain’s version has “Hippocrate” so Ronsard (or his father, or Blanchemain) obviously had got the right one at some stage… The island Hippocrates honours is Cos, where he was born. His medical learning comes from Apollo, because Aesculapius was Apollo’s son; Apollo’s sister is Minerva.
 
In ‘stanza’ 7, I enjoy his father saying ‘go and die in battle – that’s a good way to get rich’… Ronsard poking a little fun at his father again…
 
The statue placed by L’Escot on the Louvre represents Fame. Though Ronsard says that the King ‘gave you the charge / Of enriching his Louvre with a larger building’, he doesn’t say that the original work was undertaken by L’Escot’s rival, Philibert de Lorme, whom Ronsard apparently disliked (perhaps out of loyalty to L’Escot!). In  poems 2.3 he writes
 
Maintenant je ne suis ny veneur, ny maçon
Pour acquerir du bien en si basse façon,
Et si j’ay fait service autant à ma contrée
Qu’une vile truelle à trois crosses tymbrée !
 
 
                                                                         Now I am neither a hunter [ overtones of ‘venal’, arriviste’] nor a mason
                                                                         To gain riches in so base a fashion,
                                                                         And yet I have done as good service to my country
                                                                         As a vile trowel stamped with three bishoprics!
 
The last line is an allusion to the three abbeys enjoyed by Philibert de Lorme; and note that “timbré” also means ‘crack-brained’…
 
 
 

Variants

Naturally there are also plenty of variants in Blanchemain’s version. These are:
 
‘stanza’ 1
line 2, “Et pour mourir sanglant …” (‘And to die bleeding …’)
line 6, “Que les Muses jadis m’ont acquis de la gloire” (‘I want to leave a memorial / That the Muses once gained me glory’)
 
‘stanza’ 3
«  Laisse ce froid mestier qui ne pousse en avant
Celuy qui par sus tous y est le plus sçavant ;
Mais avec sa fureur qu’il appelle divine,
Tout sot se laisse errer accueilly de famine.
Homère, que tu tiens si souvent en tes mains,
Que dans ton cerveau creux comme un Dieu tu te peins,
N’eut jamais un liard ; si bien que sa vielle,
Et sa Muse qu’on dit qui eut la voix si belle,
Ne le sceurent nourrir, et falloit que sa faim
D’huis en huis mendiast le miserable pain.
 
 
                                                                         “Leave this cold career, which does not bring to the fore
                                                                          He who above all others is the most skilled;
                                                                          But rather, in that passion he calls divine,
                                                                          All those fools allow themselves to wander in error, welcomed by famine.
                                                                          That Homer you have so often in your hands,
                                                                          Whom you paint as some sort of god in your empty brain,
                                                                          Never had a farthing; so much so that his fiddle,
                                                                          And his Muse whom they say had so fair a voice,
                                                                          Could not feed him, and his hunger had
                                                                          To beg from door to door for the wretched pain.
 
Later on, the Sun’s chargers are “haletans de la penible trette” (‘panting from their arduous pulling’); and the fairies dance “à cottes agrafées” (‘their skirts pinned up’). As for Ronsard’s Latin, “Mais cognoissant, helas! que mon cruel destin … ” (‘But recognising, alas, that my cruel fate / Had not made me naturally skilful…).
 
When he arrives at the description of L’Escot’s youth, he says:
 
Toy, L’Escot, dont le nom jusques aux astres vole,
En as bien fait ainsi ; car estant à l’escole,
Jamais on ne te peut ton naturel forcer
Que tousjours avec l’encre on ne te vist tracer
Quelque belle peinture, et ja fait geomettre,
Angles, lignes et poincts sur une carte mettre ;
Puis arrivant ton âge au terme de vingt ans,
Tes esprits courageux ne furent pas contens …
 
 
                                                                          You too, L’Escot, whose name flies high as the stars,
                                                                          Have rightly done the same: for when you were at school
                                                                          They could never compel your nature,
                                                                          So that you could always be seen with ink tracing
                                                                          Some fine painting, or now doing Geometry,
                                                                          Making angles, lines and points upon some sheet;
                                                                          Then when your age arrived at the term of twenty years,
                                                                          Your brave spirits were not content …
 
and later “Toutefois si as-tu suivi ton naturel ” (‘Yet always have you followed your nature’).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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