Monthly Archives: June 2014

Sonnet 111

Standard
Si doux au cœur le souvenir me tente
De la mielleuse et fielleuse saison,
Où je perdi mes sens et ma raison,
Qu’autre plaisir ma peine ne contente.
 
Je ne veux point en la playe de tante
Qu’Amour me fit pour avoir guerison,
Et ne veux point qu’on m’ouvre la prison,
Pour affranchir autre part mon attente.
 
Plus que la mort je fuy la liberté,
Tant j’ay grand peur de me voir escarté
Du doux lien qui doucement m’offense,
 
Et m’est honneur de me voir martyrer,
Sous un espoir quelque jour de tirer
Un seul baiser pour toute recompense.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            So sweetly the memory assaults my heart
                                                                            Of the honey-sweet, bitter-gall season
                                                                            In which I lost my sense and reason,
                                                                            That other pleasures cannot soothe my pain.
 
                                                                            I have no wish for the wound, insofar as
                                                                            Love gave me it, to be healed,
                                                                            And no wish that my prison be opened
                                                                            To grant my desire freedom in some other place.
 
                                                                            More than death I flee liberty,
                                                                            Such great fear I have of being separated
                                                                            From the sweet tie which sweetly shocks me,
 
                                                                            And it is honour to me to be tortured
                                                                            In the hope some day of extracting
                                                                            A single kiss as payment for all.

 

 

 

I’ve always had a weakness for ‘unusual’ numbers, and 111 is a special favourite (!)  Beethoven’s op.111 for instance, his last piano sonata; a Brahms string quintet, Schumann’s Fantasiestücke. [Edit: just discovered a fine set of concert studies by Moscheles, op. 111, as well; and Parsifal is no. 111 in the Wagner Werke-Verzeichnis.][Further edit: I understand Prokofiev deliberately made his 6th Symphony Op.111, in homage to Beethoven!] Psalm 111 is a Hebrew acrostic which is fun, though I feel I’d appreciate it more if I could read Hebrew! 🙂 111 is one of the bus routes out of London’s Heathrow airport…
 
It’s even better if the ‘111’ is actually attached to something precious:  Glenn Gould thought Beethoven’s op. 111 vastly overrated & trivialised the first movement as much as possible in his recording; I feel he might have said something similar about this poem!  It’s not one of Ronsard’s greatest, but fortunately it is a beautiful little poem that carries the ‘weight’ of its arbitrary numbering well!  I like the second line: ‘honey-like and gall-like’ is what it means literally, and both are (perhaps) coinages of Ronsard’s.
 
There are some minor variants in Blanchemain’s version: the penultimate line has the rather anodyne “quelquefois” (‘sometimes’) instead of the rather more arresting “quelque jour”; and the first stanza has several small differences, which the later version again improves with something a little more striking in each case – except in line 4, where I find the image of other sadness (potentially) soothing the pain rather striking.
 
 
Si doucement le souvenir me tente
De la mielleuse et fielleuse saison
Où je perdi la loi de ma raison,
Qu’autre douleur ma peine ne contente.
 
 
                                                                            So sweetly the memory assaults me
                                                                            Of the honey-sweet, bitter-gall season
                                                                            In which I lost the guidance of my reason,
                                                                            That other sadnesses cannot soothe my pain.

 

 
 
 

Sonnet 110

Standard
Amour, si plus ma fièvre se renforce,
Si plus ton arc tire pour me blesser,
Avant mes jours j’ai crainte de laisser
Le verd fardeau de mon humaine escorce.
 
Ja de mon cœur je sens moindre la force
Se transmuer, pour sa mort avancer,
Devant le feu de mon ardant penser,
Non en bois verd, mais en poudre d’amorce.
 
Bien fut pour moy le jour malencontreux,
Où j’avallay le breuvage amoureux,
Qu’à si longs traits me versoit une œillade :
 
O bien-heureux ! si pour me secourir,
Dés le jour mesme Amour m’eust fait mourir
Sans me tenir si longuement malade.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Love, if my fever grows further,
                                                                            If your bow shoots again to wound me,
                                                                            Before my time I fear I’ll leave
                                                                            The young burden of my mortal husk.
 
                                                                            Already I can feel less the strength of my heart –
                                                                            transforming, to advance its death,
                                                                            Before the fire of my ardent thoughts
                                                                            Not into green wood but into the ashes of attraction.
 
                                                                            Truly the day was unlucky for me
                                                                            On which I swallowed the love potion
                                                                            Which, in such long draughts, her glance poured for me;
 
                                                                            How fortunate, if to help me
                                                                            On that same day Love had made me die
                                                                            Without keeping me ill for so long.

 

 

 

 Today is one of Ronsard’s ‘tinkering’ days: the earlier version of the poem is substantially the same, he has just re-worked the language and tightened up or changed some words for improved sound. So we have in lines 3-4
 
 
Avant mes jours j’ai grand’peur de laisser
Le verd fardeau de ceste jeune escorce
 
 
                                                                            Before my time I am much afraid I’ll leave
                                                                            The young burden of this youthful husk.

 

(Though Ronsard avoids the solecism of my translation, not repeating the same word (‘young’) – the ‘green burden’ is an image of spring-like freshness but I’m struggling to find an alternative word that conveys the thought well in English!)
 
Other changes are: “Quand je humai le breuvage amoureux” in line 10 (‘When I supped the love potion’); and “O fortuné si, pour me secourir” in line 12 (‘How lucky if to help me…’)

 

 

 
 
 

Sonnet 109

Standard
Le mal est grand, le remede est si bref
A ma douleur dont l’aigreur ne s’alente :
Que bas ne haut, dés le bout de la plante
Je n’ay santé jusqu’au sommet du chef.
 
L’œil qui tenoit de mes pensers la clef,
En lieu de m’estre une estoile drillante
Parmi les flots de l’amour violente,
Contre un despit a fait rompre ma nef.
 
Le soin meurtrier, soit que je veille ou songe,
Tigre affamé, de mille dents me ronge,
Pinçant mon cœur, mes poumons et mon flanc.
 
Et le penser importun qui me presse
Comme un vautour affamé, ne me laisse
Second Protée aux despens de mon sang.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            The pain is great, the remedy so quick,
                                                                            For my sadness whose bitterness does not lessen;
                                                                            So bottom to top, from the sole of my feet
                                                                            To the top of my head my health is gone.
 
                                                                            The eye which holds the key to my thoughts,
                                                                            Instead of being for me a dazzling star
                                                                            Amidst the surges of violent love,
                                                                            On resentment has wrecked my ship.
 
                                                                            Murderous grief, whether I wake or dream,
                                                                            Like a hungry tiger gnaws me with a thousand teeth,
                                                                            Nipping my heart, my breast, my guts.
 
                                                                            And the tiresome thoughts which press around me
                                                                            Like hungry vultures never leave me,
                                                                            A second Proteus shedding my blood.

 

 

 

I think this is a little gem, a great little poem with an arresting opening.
 
The reference to Proteus in the last line looks a little odd at first glance, for it was Prometheus the vulture attacked (and there was only one of it) while Proteus is defeated by Aristaeus (in Virgil) or Menelaus (in Homer). But Ronsard’s point is that the ‘tiresome thoughts’ are in many forms, as Proteus took many forms while fighting Aristaeus/Menelaus. So the thoughts are like a multiple Promethean vulture, constantly ripping at his guts, and take many forms like Proteus.
 
In his earlier version, the simile is simpler, limiting itself to the Promethean image. It is also clear that Ronsard spent time tightening up the poem as he worked on the later version: all the changes in the first dozen lines are improvements; in the last couplet Ronsard recognises as we have seen that he can be much more economical with his Promethean simile, and then double up in the final line.
 
 
Le mal est grand, le remede est si bref
A ma douleur, qui jamais ne s’alente,
Que, bas ne haut, dés le bout de la plante
Je n’ay santé jusqu’au sommet du chef.
 
L’œil qui tenoit de mes pensers la clef,
En lieu de m’estre une estoille drillante
Parmy les flots de l’Amour violente,
Contre un orgueil a fait rompre ma nef.
 
Un soin meurtrier, soit que je veille ou songe,
Tigre affamé, le cœur ne mange et ronge,
Suçant toujours le plus doux de mon sang.
 
Et le penser importun qui me presse
Et qui jamais en repos ne me laisse,
Comme un vautour me mord toujouors au flanc.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            The pain is great, the remedy so quick,
                                                                            For my sadness which never lessens;
                                                                            So bottom to top, from the sole of my feet
                                                                            To the top of my head my health is gone.
 
                                                                            The eye which holds the key to my thoughts,
                                                                            Instead of being for me a dazzling star
                                                                            Amidst the surges of violent love,
                                                                            On pride has wrecked my ship.
 
                                                                            A murderous grief, whether I wake or dream,
                                                                            Like a hungry tiger chews and gnaws my heart,
                                                                            Sucking always the sweetest of my blood.
 
                                                                            And the tiresome thoughts which press around me
                                                                            And which never leave me in peace,
                                                                            Like a vulture is always gnawing my side.
 
 
 
Blanchemain also offers a variant on the final couplet, which I take to be still earlier: it is weaker, its vocabulary flatter, it avoids the classical allusions, and it reduplicates the line ending in “sang” (‘blood’) at the end of both tercets which looks a little unimaginative!
 
 
Comme un mastin eschappé de sa laisse
Mange ma vie, et se noie en mon sang.
 
 
                                                                            Like a mastiff escaped from his leash
                                                                            Eats up my life, and steeps himself in my blood.
 
 
 
 
 

Sonnet 108

Standard
Depuis le jour que le trait ocieux
Grava ton nom au roc de ma mémoire,
Quand ton regard (où flamboyoit ta gloire)
Me fit sentir le foudre de tes yeux :
 
Mon cœur attaint d’un éclair rigoureux
Pour eviter ta nouvelle victoire,
S’alla cacher sous tes ondes d’yvoire,
Et sous l’abri de ton chef amoureux.
 
Là se mocquant de l’aigreur de ma playe,
En seureté par tes cheveux s’égaye,
Tout resjouy des rais de ton flambeau :
 
Et tellement il aime son hostesse
Que pale et froid sans retourner, me laisse,
Comme un esprit qui fuit de son tombeau.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Since the day when the frustrating blow
                                                                            Engraved your name on the tablets of my memory,
                                                                            When your glance, in which your glory dazzled,
                                                                            Made me feel the thunderbolt of your eyes,
 
                                                                            My heart, struck by harsh lightning,
                                                                            To escape your fresh victory
                                                                            Went to hide beneath your waves of ivory
                                                                            And beneath the shelter of your lovely hair.
 
                                                                            There, laughing at the bitterness of my wound,
                                                                            In safety among your locks it grew happy,
                                                                            Delighted by the rays of your flaming-gold;
 
                                                                            And so much does it love its hostess
                                                                            That it leaves me pale and cold, without returning,
                                                                            Like a spirit which flees its tomb.
 
 
 
Here again Ronsard pursues his metaphor through the whole poem; and as seems to happen regularly, that gives him trouble. The earlier version is quite substantially different, and Blanchemain offers four different versions of one line!  Here’s the whole poem in the early version:
 
 
Depuis le jour que le trait ocieux
Grava ton nom au roc de ma memoire,
Et que l’ardeur qui brilloit en ta gloire
Me fit sentir le foudre de tes yeux,
 
Mon cœur, atteint d’un eclair rigoreux
Pour éviter ta nouvelle victoire,
S’alla cacher dans tes ondes d’yvoire,
Et sous l’abri de tes flancs amoureux.
 
point ou peu soucieux de ma playe,
De çà, de là, par tes flots il s’egaye,
Puis il se sèche aux rays de ton flambeau ;
 
Et s’emmurant dedans leur forteresse,
Seul, pâle et froid, sans retourner me laisse,
Comme un esprit qui fuit de son tombeau.
 
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Since the day when the frustrating blow
                                                                            Engraved your name on the tablets of my memory,
                                                                            And when the heat that shone out in your glory,
                                                                            Made me feel the thunderbolt of your eyes,
 
                                                                            My heart, struck by harsh lightning,
                                                                            To escape your fresh victory
                                                                            Went to hide in your waves of ivory
                                                                            And beneath the shelter of your lovely form.
 
                                                                            There, caring little or nothing for my wound,
                                                                            Here and there in your flowing [locks] it grew happy,
                                                                            Then dried itself by the rays of your flaming-gold;
 
                                                                            And walling itself up within their fortress,
                                                                            It leaves me alone, pale and cold, without returning,
                                                                            Like a spirit which flees its tomb.
 
 
 
And here are the extra versions of line 12 Blanchemain offers in a footnote:
 
 
1567: Et me quittant pour voir telle déesse
1584 : Et tellement il aime son hôtesse [= the Marty-Laveaux version, top]
1587 : Puis pour coustume aimé de son hôtesse
 
 
                                                                           1567: And abandoning me to see such a goddess
                                                                           1584: And so much does it love its hostess
                                                                           1587: Then as usual beloved by its hostess
 
 
 
 
 

Sonnet 106

Standard
Je suis larron pour vous aimer, Madame :
Si je veux vivre, il faut que j’aille embler
De vos beaux yeux les regars, et troubler
Par mon regard le vostre qui me pâme.
 
De vos beaux yeux seulement je m’affame,
Tant double force ils ont de me combler
Le cœur de joye, et mes jours redoubler,
Ayant pour vie un seul trait de leur flame.
 
Un seul regard qu’il vous plaist me lascher,
Me paist trois jours, puis j’en reviens chercher,
Quand du premier la pasture est perdue,
 
Emblant mon vivre en mon adversité,
Larron forcé de chose defendue,
Non par plaisir, mais par necessité.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            I am a thief for loving you, my Lady ;
                                                                            If I wish to live, I must keep stealing
                                                                            Glances from your fair eyes, and troubling
                                                                            With my own that look of yours which make me swoon.
 
                                                                            For your fair eyes alone I am hungry,
                                                                            Such double-strength they have to fill
                                                                            My heart with joy, and to lengthen my days
                                                                            With enough to live on from just one touch of their flame.
 
                                                                            One single look that you are pleased to throw me
                                                                            Feeds me for three days, and then I come back to seek another
                                                                            When the nourishment of the first is gone,
 
                                                                            Stealing my living in my troubles,
                                                                            A thief forced to forbidden things
                                                                            Not by pleasure but by necessity.
 
 
 
 
Ronsard pursues his metaphor with unusual consistency here; though (in truth) that only means he links the opening and the close closely through the metaphor!  I should admit that I have paraphrased rather than translated in line 8, more literally, ‘Through having, as [the material for] life, a single touch of their flame’.
 
Blanchemain admits that he shouldn’t be printing this poem (it didn’t appear till the 1572 edition), but he obviously doesn’t want to exclude it – a good choice! His version is identical except for line 11, in which (after 3 days) “la puissance est perdue” (when the ‘power’ rather than the ‘nourishment’ he has gained runs out). Here, though, I think the older Ronsard came up with a finer word.
 
 
The next poem, sonnet 107, is already available as well.
 
 
 

Sonnet 105

Standard
Apres ton cours je ne haste mes pas
Pour te souiller d’une amour deshonneste :
Demeure donq, le Locrois m’admonneste
Aux bors Gyrez de ne te forcer pas.
 
Neptune oyant ses blasphemes d’abas,
Luy accabla son impudique teste
D’un grand rocher au fort de la tempeste :
« Le meschant court luy mesme à son trespas. »
 
Il te voulut le meschant violer,
Lors que la peur te faisoit accoler
Les pieds vangeurs de la Greque Minerve :
 
Et je ne veux qu’à ton autel offrir
Mon chaste cœur, s’il te plaist de souffrir
Qu’en l’immolant de victime il te serve.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            I do not hurry behind you
                                                                            To soil you with a dishonourable love;
                                                                            Stay then, the Locrian warns me
                                                                            At the borders of Gyrea not to compel you.
 
                                                                            Neptune hearing his swearing from down in the deeps
                                                                            Heaped on his shameless head
                                                                            A great rock in a powerful tempest;
                                                                            “The wicked man rushes to his own death.”
 
                                                                            He wanted – that wicked man – to rape you
                                                                            When fear made you embrace
                                                                            The avenging feet of Grecian Minerva;
 
                                                                            Yet I wish only to offer at your altar
                                                                            My chaste heart, if it will please you to allow
                                                                            It, sacrificed as victim, to serve you.

 

 

 

Some commentary first:  ‘the Locrian’ in line 3 is Ajax the Lesser (of Locris), one of the warriors who conquered Troy. In so doing he raped Cassandra – the Trojan one – before the altar in a temple, and so outraged the gods. Variants of his death exist, but one of them has him shipwrecked and cast onto a sharp rock, then buried by Neptune under a mountain or rocks. Muret, in his footnote (quoted by Blanchemain) refers to this version of the story: ‘Ajax, son of Oileus, for having tried to rape Cassandra who had hidden in the temple of Minerva, was on his return to Greece struck down by the goddess and crushed beneath a part of some rocks which were called the ‘Gyrez’ rocks.’  After much searching I’ve been unable to locate any ‘Gyrean’ rocks. The place where Ajax was wrecked is generally said to be cape Capharea (modern: Cafirias) at the southern end of the island of Euboea (Evia), and I think it’s safe to assume this is what Ronsard is thinking of. (As an aside, ‘gyrez’ to modern Greeks is likely to call to mind ‘gyros’ which are the vertical spits on which kebabs rotate and cook, and by extension the meal-in-a-pitta-bread snacks that are served by those kebab bars!)
 
Personally I find it slightly surprising that Ronsard feels ‘safe’ contrasting himself and Cassandre so bluntly with Cassandre’s namesake & her rapist! But the rhetoric of the poem is beautifully balanced, to refer so bluntly to the rape and dwell on the violence associated with it, then swing back via the fear of Cassandra to the harmlessness of the present-day situation.
 
I may be wrong in detecting a fleeting reference to one of Horace’s most famous Odes in the final lines: in Odes 1.5, Horace imagines (in a tightly-structured poem not unlike a sonnet) his ‘ex’ enjoying herself with a younger lover, and ends with a metaphor for his retreat from the energetic passions of her love, in which he imagines an old sailor hanging up a sacrificial offering in Neptune’s temple to thank him for safe return from the seas. With Neptune appearing a little earlier in Ronsard’s sonnet, I wonder if he is hinting at the exhaustingly-passionate love he would like to share with Cassandre?!
 
What of Blanchemain’s earlier version? Happily, Ronsard  didn’t feel the need for major change in this poem, for it is a fine poem. His changes are designed to improve the poetry, rather than change the sense (and in my view do just that). In line 8 there is a different version of the homily: “Le Ciel conduit le meschant au trespas” (‘Heaven brings the wicked man to his death’). In line 4 there are “rocz Gyrez” (‘Gyrean rocks’) instead of “bors Gyrez”. And in the last tercet some minor textuakl variants only:  “Moi, je ne veux qu’à ta grandeur offrir / Ce chaste cœur…” (‘I myself wish only to offer to your greatness / This chaste heart…’)

 

 
 
 

Sonnet 104

Standard
Devant les yeux nuict et jour me revient
Le saint portrait de l’angelique face :
Soit que j’escrive, ou soit que j’entrelasse
Mes vers au Luth, tousjours il m’en souvient.
 
Voyez pour Dieu, comme un bel œil me tient
En sa prison, et point ne me delasse :
Comme mon cœur il empestre en sa nasse,
Qui de pensée, à mon dam, l’entretient.
 
O le grand mal, quand nostre ame est saisie
Des monstres naiz dedans la fantaisie !
Le jugement est tousjours en prison.
 
Amour trompeur, pourquoy me fais-tu croire
Que la blancheur est une chose noire,
Et que les sens sont plus que la raison !
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Before my eyes night and day bring back to me
                                                                            The saintly image of her angelic face;
                                                                            Whether I write or interweave
                                                                            My verses to the [notes of the] lute, always it comes to mind.
 
                                                                            See, by heaven, how a fair eye holds me
                                                                            In its prison, and never lets me relax;
                                                                            How it entangles in its toils my heart
                                                                            Which in its thoughts supports it, to my destruction.
 
                                                                            Oh what a great evil, when our soul is seized
                                                                            By monsters born in the imagination!
                                                                            Our judgement is always in prison.
 
                                                                            Love, you deceiver, why do you make me believe
                                                                            That white is black,
                                                                            And that the senses are greater than reason!

 

 

 

Today is one of Ronsard’s ‘buy one, get one free’ days: the version of the poem he arrived at in late life only shares half its lines with the version he began with, and concludes with a completely different picture – perhaps a less negative one. Blanchemain offers the version above complete in a footnote, while printing the version below:
 
 
Devant les yeux nuict et jour me revient
Le saint pourtrait de l’angelique face ;
Soit que j’escrive, ou soit que j’entrelace
Mes vers au luth, toujours il m’en souvient.
 
Voyez, pour Dieu, comme un bel œil me tient
En sa prison et point ne me délace,
Et comme il prend mon cœur dedans sa nasse
Qui de pensée à mon dam l’entretient.
 
O le grand mal, quand une affection
Peint notre esprit de quelque impression !
J’entends alors que l’Amour ne dedaigne
 
Suttilement l’engraver de son trait ;
Toujours au cœur nous revient ce portrait,
Et maugré nous toujours nous accompaigne.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Before my eyes night and day bring back to me
                                                                            The saintly image of her angelic face;
                                                                            Whether I write or interweave
                                                                            My verses to the [notes of the] lute, always it comes to mind.
 
                                                                            See, by heaven, how a fair eye holds me
                                                                            In its prison, and never lets me relax;
                                                                            And how it captures within its toils my heart
                                                                            Which in its thoughts supports it, to my destruction.
 
                                                                            Oh what a great evil, when attraction
                                                                            Paints upon our spirit some impression!
                                                                            I realise now that Love does not scorn
 
                                                                            Subtly to inscribe his wound on it;
                                                                            Always to our heart returns this picture,
                                                                            And despite ourselves always it accompanies us.