Sonnet 109

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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.
 
 
 
 
 
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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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