Poems 1.20 – the Nightingale

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LE ROSSIGNOL
chantant et faisant son nid dedans un genèvre
 
Gay Rossignol honneur de la ramée,
Qui jour et nuit courtise ton aimée
Par mon jardin hoste de sa verdeur,
Quarante jours desgoisant ton ardeur
Et t’esclatant d’une voix qui gringote
Ores en haute ores en basse note,
A bec ouvert d’un siffletis trenchant,
Hachant coupant entrerompant ton chant
De cent fredons, tu donnes à ta femme
Un doux martel, amoureux de ma Dame.
 
Tu n’aurois point tant de faveur sinon
Que les vieux Grecs t’ont nommé d’un beau nom :
Mais bien de deux, t’appellent ce me semble,
D’un mesme mot, Chantre et Poëte ensemble.
 
Et je dirois, si j’estois un bragard,
Que Rossignol vient du nom de Ronsard.
 
Mais ce n’est moy qui ma Musique vante :
Soit bien soit mal, Rossignolet, je chante
Ainsi que toy pour me donner plaisir,
Quand j’ay Madame argent et le loisir.
Quoy ? qui t’esmeut de courtiser sans cesse
Et d’enchanter Genévre ma Maistresse ?
 
En ce Genévre où tu chantes de nuit,
Dessous l’escorce une pucelle vit,
A qui l’amour la peur et l’avanture
Ont fait changer de face et de nature.
 
Un jour ce Dieu tout bouquin par le front
La poursuivoit d’un pied de chévre pront.
Elle courant d’une fuite legere
Ainsi pria Diane bocagere :
Ou me transforme, ou bien fay moy mourir :
La seule mort me pourra secourir
Ains que l’ardeur de ce Bouquin je sente.
 
A-peine eut dit, qu’elle fut une plante :
Ses doigts longuets, ses bras veneux et beaux,
Comme ils estoyent, se changent en rameaux.
Son pied devint une morne racine,
Et une escorce entourna sa poitrine.
Puis ses cheveux de crainte reboursez
Espars se sont en fueilles herissez,
Et la palleur qu’elle avoit en sa fuite,
Vit sur l’escorce et tousjours y habite.
 
Un jour lassé de la chasse des loups,
Seul à l’escart je m’endormi dessous
L’ombre fatal de ce Genévre, et elle
En corps humain m’apparut toute telle
Qu’elle fut lors que le Bouc amoureux
La poursuivoit par un taillis ombreux,
Tant il avoit de flames dedans l’ame
Pour la beauté d’une si jeune Dame.
Depuis ce jour jamais je n’ay cessé
D’avoir le cœur de son amour blessé,
Et de languir pour un si beau visage.
 
Et toutefois brave de ton ramage
Chantant sifflant et faisant mille tours,
Tu veux tout seul jouyr de mes amours,
Que de bon cœur, Rossignol, je te laisse :
Car tu vaux mieux que ne fait ma Maistresse.
 
Et qui plus est, comme on voit un mary
Plein de finesse entre Dames nourri,
Faire secret l’amour à sa voisine :
Quand il n’a pas une femme trop fine,
La persuade avec un beau parler,
De la hanter, visiter et d’aller
Boire et manger souvent avecques elle,
A fin d’avoir (par une ruse telle)
Plus de moyen d’œillader les beaux yeux
Qui de son cœur se font victorieux.
 
Ainsi rival ta femme tu ameines
Dedans cest arbre, où d’un nid fait de laines
Mousses, duvets, ses petits elle pond,
Esclost, escouve, et qui apres se font
Ainsi que toy au retour des fueillages
Quarante jours Sereines des bocages.
 
Quoy ? Rossignol, la voix ne te defaut !
Et par despit tu t’efforces plus haut !
 
Puis qu’autrement ma verve poëtique
Ne peut gaigner ton ramage rustique,
Va, Rossignol, je laisse seul pour toy
L’arbre amoureux qui n’a souci de moy,
L’arbre gentil, et toutefois farouche,
Qui fait saigner aussi tost qu’on le touche.
 
Tandis, Girard, que la fiévre me tient
Reins, teste, flanc, la Muse m’entretient,
Et de venir à mon lit n’a point honte.
 
Or des propos que sa bouche me conte
Je t’en fais part, à fin qu’à l’advenir
De ton Ronsard te puisses souvenir.
The Nightingale
singing and making its nest in a juniper-bush
 
Happy nightingale, the branch’s pride,
Who court your beloved day and night
In my garden, the guest of its greenery,
For forty days singing of your passion
And crying out with a voice which chirps
Now with a high, now with a low note,
Your beak open in a piercing whistle,
Chopping, cutting off and interrupting your song
With a hundred twitterings, you give your wife
A sweet jealousy, beloved of my Lady.
 
You’d not have such favour if
The ancient Greeks had not given you a fine name ;
Indeed with two, it seems to me, thay named you
In a single word, Singer and Poet together.
 
And I would say – if I were a braggart –
That ‘Rossignol’ [Nightingale] comes from the name ‘Ronsard’.
 
But it’s not myself my poems boast of :
For good or bad, nightingale, I sing
Like you to give myself pleasure,
Since I have my Lady, money and leisure-time.
What or who [ moved ] you to court unceasingly
And to enchant my mistress, the Juniper ?
 
In that juniper where you sing at night,
Beneath the bark there lives a maiden
Whose form and nature have been changed
By love, fear and mischance.
 
One day that god with horns on his brow
Was pursuing her on his swift stag’s-foot.
As she ran with light fleeing steps,
She prayed thus to Diana, goddess of the woods :
« Transform me, or let me die :
Death alone can help me
Such is this Horned God’s passion I feel. »
 
She had barely spoken when she became a plant :
Her fingers long and thin, her arms veined and fair
As they were, changed into branches.
Her feet became a sad root,
And bark encircled her breast.
Then her hair, standing up in fear,
Was spread out in bristling leaves
And the pallor she had in her flight
Lived on in the bark, and still remains there.
 
One day, tired from hunting wolves,
Alone and apart i fell asleep beneath
The fatal shade of this juniper, and she
Appeared to me in human form just as
She had been when the amorous Horned God
Pursued her through a shady copse,
Such a fire had he in his soul
Because of so young a lady’s beauty.
Since that day i have never ceased
To bear a wound in my heart for her love,
And to pine for so pretty a face.
 
And yet bold in your plumage,
Singing, whistling and turning a thousand times,
You want to be the only one enjoying that love of mine
Which I happily resign to you, nightingale ;
For you are worth more than my mistress !
 
And what is more, as one sees a married man
Full of cunning, fostered among the ladies,
Making secret love to his neighbour ;
if he has a wife who is not too clever,
He persuades her with fine words
To visit and see her frequently, to go
To eat and drink often with her,
So that hem ay have (by such a ruse)
More means of looking into the fair eyes
Which have conquered his heart ;
 
Just so you are bringing your own wife as a rival
To this tree, where in a nest made of wool,
Moss, feathers she lays her little ones,
Hatches, broods them, and after that becomes
Like you, when the leaves come back,
For forty days the Sirens of the woods.
 
May your voice not fail you, nightingale !
In envious competition, force yourself higher !
 
As otherwise my poetic inspiration
Cannot beat your rustic plumage,
Go on, nightingale – I leave for you alone
The tree I love which has no care for me,
The noble tree yet still timid
Which bleeds as soon as it is touched.
 
Yet, Girard, while the fever grips my
Guts, head, body, my Muse converses with me
And is not ashamed to come to my bed.
So, the words which her mouth relates
I share with you, that in the future
You may remember your Ronsard.
 
It’s the story of Daphne, pursued by Apollo, and turned into a laurel tree, which inspires this tale of a nymph turned into a juniper tree. As far as I know there isn’t a classical myth regarding the juniper, just Ronsardian invention.
 
As a footnote, it is possible there was a real lady Genèvre, with whom Ronsard flirted – though probably some time earlier than the late 1560s when he wrote this. There are two Elegies to her (though neither is especially ‘elegiac’ in tone); and she may have been the wife of Blaise de Vigenère, diplomat, scholar, alchemist and the “perfect incarnation of erudite genius in the Renaissance”.  His name may be familiar as the inventor (or rather improver) of the Vigenère cypher, which is an excellent simple cypher still useable today. But in his time he was known as translator of a range of Roman and Greek works, and author of works on alchemy (or perhaps chemistry) and comets, among others. Perhaps it would be appropriate for Ronsard to disguise his wife under a ‘cipher’, in the form of an anagram: Vigenère –> Genièvre.
 
The poem is dedicated to Jehan Girard, a friend of Robert Garnier (the tragedian, whom we’ve met before) and a councillor in Le Mans – not the Jehan Girard who  was printing protestant books in Geneva a decade or two earlier!
 
Back to the poetry. It’s odd that something which looks so much like an oocasional poem should have attracted so much revision by Ronsard. But let’s remember that what appears a little playful address to a bird, is in fact closely modelled on episodes in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and aspires to similar heights. Blanchemain’s (early) version is set out below in full, so much variation is there. Note that this version carries a dedication to Claude Binet, poet and Ronsard’s first biographer.  But this is not the first time we’ve seen Ronsard adapt an earlier dedication to another subject later in life, reflecting the changing patterns or networks of influence and patronage over time.
 
 
LE ROSSIGNOL
chantant et faisant son nid dedans un genévre de son jardin
 
A Claude Binet
 
 
Gay Rossignol honneur de la ramée,
Qui jour et nuict courtises ton aimée
Dans mon jardin desgoisant tes amours
Au mois d’avril le père des beaux jours,
Et t’esclatant d’une voix qui gringote
Ores en haute, ores en basse note,
A gorge ouverte, à pleins poulmons trenchant,
Hachant coupant entre-rompant ton chant
De cent fredons, tu donnes à ta femme
Un doux martel. Amoureux de ma Dame,
Tu m’es rival, d’où vient cela ? sinon
Que les vieux Grecs t’ont nommé d’un beau nom :
Mais bien de deux, t’appellant ce me semble,
D’un mesme mot, Chantre et Poëte ensemble.
Et je dirois, si j’estois un bragard,
Que Rossignol vient du nom de Ronsard.
 
Mais ce n’est moy dont ma Muse se vante :
Soit bien soit mal, Rossignolet, je chante
Ainsi que toy pour me donner plaisir,
Quand j’ay maistresse, argent et le loisir.
Quoy ? qui t’esmeut de caresser sans cesse
De tes fredons Genévre ma Maistresse ?
 
En ce Genévre où tu chantes de nuit,
Dessous l’escorce une pucelle vit,
A qui l’amour la peur et l’avanture
Ont fait changer de face et de nature.
 
Un jour ce Dieu, qui a cornes au front
La poursuivoit d’un pied de chévre pront.
Elle courant, ayant recours aux larmes,
Ainsi pria : « Diane, par tes charmes
Ou me transforme, ou bien fay moy mourir :
La seule mort me pourra secourir
Ains que l’ardeur de ce Bouquin je sente. »
 
A-peine eut dit, qu’elle fut une plante :
Ses doigts longuets, ses bras veineux et beaux,
A longs fourchons se fendent en rameaux ;
Son pied devint une morne racine,
Et une escorce entourna sa poitrine.
Ses longs cheveux de crainte rebroussez,
Espars se sont en fueilles herissez,
Et la palleur qu’elle avoit en sa fuite,
Vit sur l’escorce et tousjours y habite.
 
Un jour lassé de la chasse des loups,
Seul à l’escart je m’endormi dessous
L’ombre fatal de ce Genévre, et elle
En corps humain m’apparut toute telle
Qu’elle fut lors que le Bouc amoureux
La poursuivoit par un taillis ombreux,
Tant il avoit de flames dedans l’ame
Pour la beauté d’une si jeune Dame.
Depuis ce jour jamais je n’ay cessé
D’avoir le cœur de son amour blessé,
Et de languir pour un si beau visage.
 
Et toutefois hautain de ton ramage
Chantant sifflant et faisant mille tours,
Tu veux tout seul jouyr de mes amours,
Que de bon cœur, Rossignol, je te laisse :
Car ton fredon merite ma Maistresse.
 
Et qui plus est, comme on voit un mary
Plein de finesse entre Dames nourri,
Faire secret l’amour à sa voisine :
Quand il n’a pas une femme trop fine,
La persuade avec un beau parler,
De la hanter, visiter et d’aller
Boire et manger souvent avecques elle,
A fin d’avoir (par une ruse telle)
Plus de moyen d’œillader les beaux yeux
Qui de son cœur se font victorieux.
 
Ainsi rival ta femme tu ameines
Dedans cest arbre, où d’un nid fait de laines
Mousses, duvet, ses petits elle pond,
Esclost, escouve, et abeche, qui sont
Un an après, au retour des fueillages
Quarante jours Sereines des bocages.
 
Quoy ? Rossignol, la voix ne te defaut !
Et par despit tu t’efforces plus haut !
 
Puis qu’autrement ma verve poëtique
Ne peut gaigner ton ramage rustique,
Va, Rossignol, tu auras seul pour toy
L’arbre amoureux qui n’a souci de moy,
L’arbre gentil, et toutefois farouche,
Qui fait saigner aussi tost qu’on le touche.
 
Tandis, Binet, que la fiévre me tient
Reins, teste, flanc, la Muse m’entretient,
Et de venir à mon lit n’a point honte.
 
Or des propos que sa bouche me conte
Je t’en fais part, à fin qu’à l’advenir
De ton Ronsard te puisse souvenir.
The Nightingale
singing and making its nest in a juniper-bush in his garden
 
To Claude Binet
 
 
Happy nightingale, the branch’s pride,
Who court your beloved day and night
In my garden, singing of your passion
In the month of April, father of fine days,
And crying out with a voice which chirps
Now with a high, now with a low note,
Your throat open, whistling fit to burst,
Chopping, cutting off and interrupting your song
With a hundred twitterings, you give your wife
A sweet jealousy. Beloved of my Lady,
You are my rival – why is that ? unless because
The ancient Greeks gave you a fine name ;
Indeed two, naming you, it seems to me,
In a single word, Singer and Poet together.
And I would say – if I were a braggart –
That ‘Rossignol’ [Nightingale] comes from the name ‘Ronsard’.
 
But it’s not myself my Muse boasts of :
For good or bad, nightingale, I sing
Like you to give myself pleasure,
Since I have a mistress, money and leisure-time.
What or who inspired you to caress unceasingly
With your chirping my mistress, the Juniper ?
 
In that juniper where you sing at night,
Beneath the bark there lives a maiden
Whose form and nature have been changed
By love, fear and mischance.
 
One day that god who has horns on his brow
Was pursuing her on his swift stag’s-foot.
As she ranhaving recourse to tears,
She prayed thus : « Diana, by your charms
Transform me, or let me die :
Death alone can help me
Such is this Horned God’s passion I feel. »
 
She had barely spoken when she became a plant :
Her fingers long and thin, her arms veined and fair
Split into long-forked branches.
Her feet became a sad root,
And bark encircled her breast.
Her long hair, pulled back in fear,
Was spread out in bristling leaves
And the pallor she had in her flight
Lived on in the bark, and still remains there.
 
One day, tired from hunting wolves,
Alone and apart i fell asleep beneath
The fatal shade of this juniper, and she
Appeared to me in human form just as
She had been when the amorous Horned God
Pursued her through a shady copse,
Such a fire had he in his soul
Because of so young a lady’s beauty.
Since that day i have never ceased
To bear a wound in my heart for her love,
And to pine for so pretty a face.
 
And yet proud of your plumage,
Singing, whistling and turning a thousand times,
You want to be the only one enjoying that love of mine
Which I happily resign to you, nightingale ;
For your chirping is worthy of my mistress.
 
And what is more, as one sees a married man
Full of cunning, fostered among the ladies,
Making secret love to his neighbour ;
if he has a wife who is not too clever,
He persuades her with fine words
To visit and see her frequently, to go
To eat and drink often with her,
So that hem ay have (by such a ruse)
More means of looking into the fair eyes
Which have conquered his heart ;
 
Just so you are bringing your own wife as a rival
To this tree, where in a nest made of wool,
Moss, down, she lays her little ones,
Hatches, broods and cuddles those who are
A year later, when the leaves come back,
For forty days the Sirens of the woods.
 
May your voice not fail you, nightingale !
In envious competition, force yourself higher !
 
As otherwise my poetic inspiration
Cannot beat your rustic plumage,
Go on, nightingale – you shall have for yourself alone
The tree I love which has no care for me,
The noble tree yet still timid
Which bleeds as soon as it is touched.
 
Yet, Binet, while the fever grips my
Guts, head, body, my Muse converses with me
And is not ashamed to come to my bed.
 
So, the words which her mouth relates
I share with you, that in the future
It may remind you of your Ronsard.
 
 
 
 
 
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