Sonnet 160

Standard
Or’ que Jupin espoint de sa semence,
Veut enfanter ses enfans bien-aimez,
Et que du chaud de ses reins allumez
L’humide sein de Junon ensemence :
 
Or’ que la mer, or’ que la vehemence
Des vents fait place aux grans vaisseaux armez,
Et que l’oiseau parmi les bois ramez,
Du Thracien les tançons recommence :
 
Or’ que les prez et ore que les fleurs
De mille et mille et de mille couleurs
Peignent le sein de la terre si gaye :
 
Seul et pensif aux rochers plus segrets
D’un cœur muet je conte mes regrets,
Et par les bois je vay celant ma playe.
 
 
 
 
 
                                                                           When Jupiter, aching with his seed,
                                                                           Wishes to give birth to his well-loved children,
                                                                           And with the warmth of his heated hips
                                                                           Sows it in Juno’s moist body;
 
                                                                           When the sea and the violence
                                                                           Of the winds makes space for great armed vessels,
                                                                           And the bird amongst the branchy woods
                                                                           Begins again her dispute with the Thracian;
 
                                                                           When the meadows and when the flowers
                                                                           With thousands and thousands and thousands of colours
                                                                           Paint the earth’s breast so gaily;
 
                                                                           [Then,] alone and thoughtful among the most hidden rocks
                                                                           With silent heart I tell of my regrets,
                                                                           And within the woods I hide my wound.

 

 

There are two ways to look at the Thracian in line 8. Perhaps he is Orpheus, whose singing traditionally competes with that of birds.  Or, as Muret learnedly tells us, perhaps ‘the bird is Philomela, changed into a nightingale, who complains of the assault of Tereus, king of Thrace, her brother in law (in Ovid Metamorphoses book 6)‘. Ronsard’s opening quatrain is based on a Vergilian original (of which more in a moment), but is surprisingly ‘graphic’ in its imagery – I can’t immediately think of another poem in which he virtually describes sexual intercourse as opposed to alluding to it! Perhaps it’s OK because it’s a classical allusion … !  It’s interesting too that he personalises the image much more than Vergil; Jupiter and Juno (a married couple of course – nothing untoward here!) rather than Vergil’s Heaven and Earth – an image which goes back all the way to the Egyptians and beyond.
 
To put it in context, here’s Vergil’s original (Georgics 2, lines 323-8):
 
Ver adeo frondi nemorum, ver utile silvis ;
Vere tument terrae et genitalia semina poscunt.
Tum pater omnipotens fecundis imbribus Aether
Coniugis in gremium laetae descendit, et omnes
Magnus alit magno commixtus corpore fetus.
Avia tum resonant avibus virgulta canoris, …
 
 
                                                                           Spring is so desired by the leaves of the groves, by the woods;
                                                                           Indeed the earth heaves and demands the life-bearing seed.
                                                                           Then the Heaven, the all-powerful father, with his rich rains
                                                                           Descends into the lap of his joyful bride, and the mighty god
                                                                           Joined with her mighty body nourishes all her offspring.
                                                                           Then the pathless woods resound to birdsong …
 
 
For all that Vergil is more impersonal, or less explicit, about the sexual dimension, it’s worth noticing his vocabulary:  the earth’s ‘heaving’ is not far from the the English ‘tumescent’, the ‘lap’ is regularly used as a polite synonym in sexual allusions, ‘commixtus’ (compare ‘commingling’ in English is a standard poetic word for sex, and ‘genitalia’ and ‘semina’ (from ‘semen’) pretty obviously carry similar associations!  So Ronsard in some ways hasn’t stepped far beyond his model… (And, in this context, I find it amusing that poetic allusion requires Jupiter to seed Juno’s ‘breast’ or ‘bosom’ (“sein”) which is q word still further removed than the ‘lap’ that Vergil uses!)
 
What’s interesting is how far we are supposed to reflect on this opening, after the middle sections of the poem slide the focus slightly onto more general springtime events, when we reach the conclusion. The solitude and silence directly reflect the middle of the poem, rather than the lusty opening; but there is clearly a subtext that solitude is more than just the absence of the beloved, it’s the absence of a sexual partner.
 
 There’s not much variation in Blanchemain’s version: the opening quatrain goes as follows:
 
 
Or’ que Jupin, espoint de sa semence,
Hume à longs traits les feux accoustumez,
Et que le chaud de ses reins allumez
L’humide sein de Junon ensemence;
 
 
                                                                            When Jupiter, aching with his seed,
                                                                            Breathes in long breaths of the well-known fires,
                                                                            And when the warmth of his heated hips
                                                                            Seeds Juno’s moist body;

 

 
 
 
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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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