Sonnet 117

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Sur mes vingt ans. pur d’offense et de vice,
Guidé, mal-caut, d’un trop aveugle oiseau,
En jeune sang, en menton damoiseau,
Sain et gaillard je vins à ton service :
 
Mais, ô cruelle, outré de ta malice,
Je m’en retourne en une vieille peau,
En chef grison, en perte de mon beau :
Tels sont d’Amour les jeux et l’exercice.
 
Helas, que dy-je ! où veux-je m’en aller ?
D’un autre bien je ne me puis souler.
Comme la caille, Amour, tu me fais estre,
 
Qui de poison s’engraisse et se repaist.
D’un autre bien je ne me veux repaistre,
Ny vivre ailleurs, tant ta poison me plaist.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            At twenty, free of guilt and vice,
                                                                            Guided incautiously by a purblind bird,
                                                                            With youthful blood and the first beard on my chin,
                                                                            Healthy and merry I came into your service;
 
                                                                            But, cruel one, sorely provoked by your malice,
                                                                            I return from it with my skin old,
                                                                            My hair grey, my handsome looks lost;
                                                                            Such are Love’s games and exercise.
 
                                                                            Alas, what am I saying! Where am I heading?
                                                                            With no other good thing can I be satisfied.
                                                                            Love, you make me act like the quail –
 
                                                                            Growing fat on poison and living on it.
                                                                            On no other good thing do I want to live,
                                                                            Nor live elsewhere, so much does your poison please me.

 

 

 

 In line 3 it’s tempting to translate ‘chin as smooth as a girl’s’, but “damoiseau” is not just a sly male version of “demoiselle” (girl), it really does have a separate meaning – smomething like a ‘young buck’.
 
Today is another of Ronsard’s ‘buy one, get one free’ days: in fact it’s nearly a three-for-one offer!  The version of the poem he arrived at in late life only has four complete lines from the earlier version, has a completely re-thought ending, and altogether over 50% of the poem is changed…  So here’s the version Blanchemain prints:
 
 
Sur mes vingt ans. pur d’offense et de vice,
Guidé mal-caut d’un trop aveugle oiseau,
Ayant encor le menton damoiseau,
Sain et gaillard, je vins à ton service.
 
Ores forcé de ta longue malice,
Je m’en retourne avec une autre peau,
En chef grison, en perte de mon beau ;
Et pour t’aimer il faut que je périsse.
 
Helas ! que dis-je ? où veux-je retourner ?
En autre part je ne puis séjourner,
Ni vivre ailleurs, ni d’autre amour me paistre
 
Demeurons donc dans le camp fortement,
Et puis qu’au moins vainqueur je ne puis estre,
Que l’arme au poing je meure honnestement.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            At twenty, free of guilt and vice,
                                                                            Guided incautiously by a purblind bird,
                                                                            Having still the first beard on my chin
                                                                            Healthy and merry I came into your service;
 
                                                                            Then compelled by your prolonged malice,
                                                                            I return from it with my skin changed,
                                                                            My hair grey, my handsome looks lost;
                                                                            And, to show I love you, I must perish.
 
                                                                            Alas, what am I saying! Where do I want to get back to?
                                                                            In other places I cannot make a home,
                                                                            Nor live elsewhere, nor nourish myself with another’s love.
 
                                                                            So let’s stay bravely in the front line,
                                                                            And since I cannot at least be the victor
                                                                            Let me die nobly, my weapon in my hand.
 
 
But that is not the end of the story. Blanchemain also offers another completely different version of the last 4 lines, from the 1567 edition, and a minor variant on Marty-Laveaux’s version at the top – in line 12 he prints “Qui d’un poison …”.  Here’s the 1567 version of the sestet:
 
 
Helas ! que dis-je ? où veux-je retourner ?
En autre part je ne puis séjourner,
Tels sont d’amour les jeux et l’exercice.
 
Demeurons donc, combattant fortement ;
Puisque vainqueur de toi je ne puis estre,
Que dans le camp je meure honnestement.
 
 
                                                                            Alas, what am I saying! Where do I want to get back to?
                                                                            In other places I cannot make a home,
                                                                            Such are thepractices and exercises of love.
 
                                                                            So let’s stay, fighting bravely;
                                                                            Since I cannot be your conqueror,
                                                                            Let me die truly, in the front line.
 
 

 

 

 
 
 
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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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