Sonnet 119


A number of poems around this one are already on the blog:  118, 120 and 121. So today is 119 then we skip to 122.

D’Amour ministre, et de perseverance,
Qui jusqu’au fond l’ame peux esmouvoir,
Et qui les yeux d’un aveugle sçavoir,
Et qui les cœurs voiles d’une ignorance :
Va t’en ailleurs chercher ta demeurance,
Va t’en ailleurs quelqu’ autre decevoir :
Je ne veux plus chez moy te recevoir,
Malencontreuse et maudite esperance.
Quand Jupiter, ce Tyran criminel,
Teignit ses mains dans le sang paternel,
Dérobant l’or de la terre où nous sommes,
II te laissa, comme un monstre nouveau,
Seule par force au profond du vaisseau
Que Pandore eut pour decevoir les hommes.
                                                                            You agent of love and of persistence,
                                                                            Who can rouse the depths of our souls,
                                                                            Who can make the eyes of a blind man see,
                                                                            Who veils hearts with ignorance;
                                                                            Go elsewhere to look for a residence!
                                                                            Go elsewhere to deceive some other man!
                                                                            I no longer want to welcome you at my house,
                                                                            Unlucky, accursed hope!
                                                                            When Jupiter, that wicked tyrant,
                                                                            Dyed his hands with his father’s blood,
                                                                            Stealing the gold from the earth where we are,
                                                                            He left you, like some new strange thing,
                                                                            Just you, forced down at the bottom of the pot
                                                                            Which Pandora had to deceive men.



A poem addressed to hope – but to hope as enemy not friend! That’s an unusual approach, as is the invocation of Pandora at the end – for in that tale hope is the only good thing to come out of Pandora’s box. Line 9 refers to Jupiter (or, rather, his Greek equivalent Zeus) killing and usurping his father Cronos, as Cronos had usurped his own father Uranus. The stealing of gold in line 11 has me confused, unless it is metaphorical. In myth, Pandora was sent (with her box full of plagues, illnesses and evils) to earth by the gods as retribution for Prometheus stealing and giving to mankind the secret of fire. So I think we have to interpret ‘stealing the gold from the earth’ as something like ‘stealing all the joy & brightness from earth [by letting loose all those plagues]’.
Incidentally, it wasn’t until Erasmus that we acquired the image of ‘Pandora’s box’; in Greek myth she has a jar not a box. I suspect Ronsard’s use of “vaisseau” (vessel or pot, though perhaps at a stretch ‘casket’) is another small example of his classical learning – he knows his Greek, and therefore knows Erasmus got it wrong!
The “nouveau monstre” of line 12 which I have translated as a ‘strange new thing’ would translate more directly as a ‘novel monster’ – but the meaning of “monstre” has shifted over the years from something freakish and odd, towards something threatening and hideous, which I don’t think is Ronsard’s meaning even though he is painting hope as a bad thing.  In line 9, Ronsard earlier described Jupiter as “ce lâche criminel” (‘that cowardly villain’); ‘tyrant’ is a more conventional and less shocking description for the king of the gods, and I can’t help thinking this was once again the aged Ronsard toning down the daring youthfulness of his poetry.
The last two lines caused Ronsard some trouble; his earlier version approaches the narrative differently, focusing more on results than on the pot itself. (He also re-uses the “miel – – fiel” sweet-bitter opposition we saw in sonnet 111.)  I suspect he was completely satisfied with neither version, but we have the advantage of being able to hold both versions in mind and in some way combine both those ideas in our memory’s version of the poem…
II te laissa (comme un monstre nouveau)
Croupir au fond du pandorin vaisseau,
Pour enfieller le plus doux miel des hommes.
                                                                            He left you, like some new strange thing,
                                                                            Crouching at the bottom of Pandora’s casket,
                                                                            To embitter man’s sweetest honey.




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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