Chanson (Am. 1:227d)

D’un gosier masche-laurier
     J’oy crier
Dans Lycofron ma Cassandre,
Qui prophetize aux Troyens
     Les moyens
Qui les reduiront en cendre.
Mais ces pauvres obstinez
Pour ne croire à leur Sibylle,
Virent, bien que tard, apres
     Les feux Grecs
Forcener parmy leur ville.
Ayant la mort dans le sein,
     De la main
Plomboient leur poitrine nue,
Et tordant leurs cheveux gris,
     De longs cris
Pleuroient qu’ils ne l’avoient creuëe.
Mais leurs cris n’eurent pouvoir
Les Grecs si chargez de proye,
Qu’ils ne laisserent sinon
     Que le nom
De ce qui fut jadis Troye.
Ainsi pour ne croire pas,
     Quand tu m’as
Predit ma peine future :
Et que je n’aurois en don,
     Pour guerdon
De t’aimer, que la mort dure :
Un grand brasier sans repos,
     Et mes os,
Et mes nerfs, et mon cœur brûle :
Et pour t’amour j’ay receu
     Plus de feu,
Que ne fit Troye incredule.
With her laurel-chewing throat
     I hear calling
In Lycophron my Cassandra,
Prophesying to the Trojans
     The way
They’ll be reduced to ashes.
But those poor obstinate men,
Not to believe their Sybil,
Saw afterwards, though too late,
     Greek fire
Raging through their town.
With death in their hearts,
     With their hands
They sheathed their naked breasts in lead
And tearing their grey hairs
     With long cries
They wept that they had not believed her.
But their cries had no power
     To move
The Greeks, so laden with loot
That they left nothing
     But the name
Of what once was Troy.
So, for not believing
     When you told me
Of my future pain,
And that I should gain only,
     As trophy
For loving you, the gift of harsh death,
A great fire ceaselessly
My bones and nerves and heart,
And for your love I’ve had
     More fire
Than made Troy astonished.


I’m uncomfortable with the opening line: Ronsard’s “masche-laurier” is hard to capture I feel  (EDIT – see below & Patrice’s useful clarification in the comments). But it would be a pity not to attempt the poem: it’s a marvellous one, I think, with the balance between 4 stanzas of Troy and two of Cassandre (or 2+2+2 if you prefer) and the clear link between the ‘ancient’ Cassandra and the ‘modern’, and the literal burning and the metaphorical.  Most of this is a straightforward and familiar recital of the Trojan legend, but Muret helps us with the odd reference to Lycophron:  ‘Lycophron, a native of Chalcis, was one of the seven poets who flourished in the time of Ptolemy Philadelphus, king of Egypt, and who were called the Pleiade. This Lycophron wrote a poem called Cassandra, which alone has survived to this day, in which he depicts her predicting the evils which are to come to the town of Troy’.  Thus we see Ronsard managing to refer back to the original Pleaid of Alexandrian poets in the Hellenistic period of Greece, which gave its name to the ‘modern’ Pleiade of Ronsard, Baif and the others.
No variants to report from Blanchemain’s earlier version (!)
More on the opening line:  following Patrice’s hint, I have gone and looked up Lycophron. As often with Ronsard, the learned reference isn’t as difficult to locate as you might think: in fact, it’s in the 6th line of the 1500 line poem… The opening, in a Victorian translation I’ve borrowed from, goes: “All will I tell truly that thou askest from the utter beginning, and if the tale be prolonged, forgive me, master. For not quietly as of old did the maiden loose the varied voice of her oracles, but poured forth a weird confused cry, and uttered wild words from her bay-chewing mouth, imitating the speech of the dark Sphinx.”  The Greek word is “Daphne-phagon” – laurel- or bay-eating – at the beginning of line 6 below
Further edit:  Ronsard also used this concept in Odes 1.11, strophe 5, where he writes of Phoebus (Apollo):
Lequel m’encharge de chanter
Son Du-Bellay, pour le vanter
Sur tous ses enfans qui ont bien
Masché du Laurier Delphien.
                                                           He who charged me to sing
                                                           Of his Du Bellay, to praise him
                                                           Above all those of his children who have
                                                           Well-chewed the Delphic laurel.

2 responses »

  1. Well, masticating laurel (a toxic plant as you know) was a way to put one’s self in conditions to prophetize. And “masche-laurier” (laurel-masticating) is the litteral translation of the word of Lycophron about Alexandra (Cassandra) ‘s throat in his poem (Alexandra)

  2. Wow – impressive learning, thank you for clarifying the origin of the phrase & its use in this context! As you’ll see, I’ve changed the opening line: not a great translation, but it’s closer to the meaning you’ve elucidated. (Should I have simply said ‘laurel-mashing’, I wonder?) I shall have to go and read Lycophron now!!

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