Odes 1.3


Today one of Ronsard’s early Odes, very formally structured in the classical style with strophes & antistrophes repeating a metrical scheme, and then epodes acting as a ‘refrain’ structure in between pairs of these.

Strophe 1
Je suis troublé de fureur,
Le poil me dresse d’horreur,
D’un effroy mon ame est pleine,
Mon estomac est pantois,
Et par son canal ma vois
Ne se desgorge qu’à peine.
Une deité m’emmeine ;
Fuyez, peuple, qu’on me laisse,
Voicy venir la deesse ;
Fuyez, peuple, je la voy.
Heureux ceux qu’elle regarde,
Et plus heureux qui la garde
Dans l’estomac comme moy !
Antistrophe 1
Elle, esprise de mes chants,
Loin me guide par les champs
Où jadis sur le rivage
Apollon Florence aima,
Lorsque jeune elle s’arma
Pour combattre un loup sauvage.
L’art de filer ny l’ouvrage
Ne plurent à la pucelle,
Ny le lit mignard ; mais elle,
Devant le jour s’éveillant,
Cherchoit des loups le repaire,
Pour les bœufs d’Arne son père
Sans repos se travaillant.
Epode 1
Ce Dieu, qui du ciel la vit
Si valeureuse et si belle,
Pour sa femme la ravit,
Et surnomma du nom d’elle
La ville qui te fit naistre,
Laquelle se vante d’estre
Mere de nostre Junon,
Et qui par les gens étranges
Pour ses plus grandes louanges
Ne celebre que ton nom.
Strophe 2
Là les faits de tes ayeux
Vont flamboyant comme aux cieux
Flamboye l’aurore claire ;
Là l’honneur de ton Julien
Dans le ciel italien
Comme une planette esclaire.
Par luy le gros populaire
Pratiqua l’experience
De la meilleure science,
Et là reluisent aussi
Tes deux grands papes, qui ores
Du ciel, où ils sont encores,
Te favorisent icy.
Antistrophe 2
On ne compte les moissons
De l’esté, ni des glaçons
Qui, l’hiver, tiennent la trace
Des eaux roides à glisser :
Ainsi je ne puis penser
Les louanges de ta race.
Le Ciel t’a peint en la face
Je ne sçay quoy qui nous monstre,
Dès la premiere rencontre,
Que tu passes par grand-heur
Les princesses de nostre âge,
Soit en force de courage,
Soit en royale grandeur.
Epode 2
Le comble de ton sçavoir
Et de tes vertus ensemble
Dit que l’on ne peut icy voir
Rien que toy qui te resemble.
Quelle dame a la pratique
De tant de mathematique ?
Quelle princesse entend mieux
Du grand monde la peinture,
Les chemins de la nature
Et la musique des cieux ?
Strophe 3
Ton nom, que mon vers dira,
Tout le monde remplira
De ta loüange notoire :
Un tas qui chantent de toy
Ne sçavent si bien que moy
Comme il faut sonner ta gloire.
Jupiter, ayant mémoire
D’une vieille destinée
Autrefois determinée
Par l’oracle de Themis,
A commandé que Florence
Dessous les loix de la France
Se courbe le chef soumis.
Antistrophe 3
Mais il veut que ton enfant
En ait honneur triomphant,
D’autant qu’il est tout ensemble
Italien et François,
Qui de front, d’yeux et de vois,
A père et mere resemble.
Déjà tout colere il semble
Que sa main tente les armes,
Et qu’au milieu des alarmes
Jà desdaigne les dangers ;
Et, servant aux siens de guide,
Vainqueur, attache une bride
Aux royaumes estrangers.
Epode 3
Le Ciel, qui nous l’a donné
Pour estre nostre lumiere,
Son empire n’a borné
D’un mont ou d’une riviere.
Le destin veut qu’il enserre
Dans sa main toute la terre,
Seul roy se faisant nommer,
D’où Phébus les Indes laisse,
Et d’où son char il abbaisse
Tout panché dedans la mer.
To the Queen
I am assailed by madness,
My hair stands up with horror,
Panic fills my soul,
My heart is stunned,
And my voice can barely
Pass through my throat.
A deity has seized me.
Run, people, please leave me,
See, here comes the goddess !
Run, people, I see her !
Fortunate the men on whom she looks,
More fortunate the man who keeps her
In his heart, like me !
In love with my songs, she
Guides me far among the fields
Where once on the riverbank
Apollo loved Florence,
When the young [nymph] armed herself
To fight a savage wolf.
Not the art of spinning nor its works
Could please the maid,
Nor her pretty bed ; but she,
Before the breaking day
Would seek the dens of wolves,
Working without rest
For the cattle of her father Arno.
This god, who from heaven saw her
So bold and so fair,
Seized her as his wife
And named from her name
The town which gave you birth.
That town boasts of being
Mother of our Juno [queen],
And amongst foreign peoples
For her greater praise
Celebrates only your name.
There the deeds of your ancestors
Rise blazing, as in the heavens
Blazes the bright dawn ;
There [blazes] the glory of your Guiliano
In the Italian skies
Like a bright planet.
Through him, the rude commons
Gained understanding
Of the best learning,
And there shone forth too
Your two great Popes, who still
From heaven, where they are now,
Favour you here.
We cannot count the harvest
Of summer, nor the icicles
Which in winter mark the route
Of waters stubborn in flowing ;
Just so I cannot encompass
The praises of your family.
Heaven painted something
In your appearance which has shown us,
Since first we met,
That you surpass in the greatnes of your destiny
The princesses of our age,
Whether in the force of your courage
Or in royal grandeur.
The sum of your learning
And of all your virtues
Tells us that we cannot see here
Anyone but you, who is like you.
What lady has the skill
Of so much mathematics ?
What princess understands better
The design of the great world,
The paths of nature
And the music of the heavens ?
Your name, which my verse shall praise,
Will fill the whole world
With your well-known praise ;
A mass of those who sing of you
Do not know as well as I
How we should sound your glory.
Jupiter, recalling
An ancient fate
Once determined
By the oracle of Themis,
Commanded that Florence
Beneath the laws of France
Should bend its submissive head.
But he wanted your child
To have triumphant honour from it
As he is, at the same time,
Italian and French,
His brow, eyes and voice
Resembling his father’s and mother’s.
Already full of anger it seems
That his hand tries out arms
And in the midst of alarms
Already disdains danger ;
And, acting as a guide to his men,
As victor places a bridle
On foreign kingdoms.
Heaven, which gave us him
To be our light,
Has not bounded his empire
With hill or river.
Fate wants him to grip
In his hand the whole earth,
Giving him the name of king alone,
From where Phoebus leaves the Indies
To where he brings down his chariot
Sinking into the sea.
We’ve seen Ronsard in panegyric mode before. Obviously it was important to lavish priase on potential patrons, especially royalty; what I think distinguishes Ronsard’s work in this vein is the way he knits so many ideas together into a complex and sophisticated hymn of (undeserved) praise.
So here he adopts a very classical style, with a very un-classical theme; and indeed opens with the singer being ‘possessed’ by a god in a theme harking back to Greek tragedy. Indeed the whole form of the poem echoes tragic choruses in Greek plays.
Antistrophe 1 invents a foundation myth for Florence. The poem is ddressed to Queen Catherine (de Medici), whose family famously rules Florence for much of the renaissance.  Ronsard himself offered some footnotes to help us through the invented myth:  “as in Pausanias Apollo loved the maiden Bolina, after whom is named a town in Achaea. In the style of the ancients, the poet disguises true things with fictions and fables, and invents a nymph who gave her name to the town of Florence, a daughter of Arno, loved and raped by Apollo; which in effect means that this town is full of courage and learning, as in truth many admirable spirits & many great captains have come from it.” Note that, for all his praise of Florence, Ronsard praises France more for having seized the city – strophe 3!
The authorial footnote is less helpful in strophe 2, where – regarding the reference to “Julien” he tells us only ‘See here the history of Florence’!  There are two famous Giuliano de Medicis – brother and son of Lorenzo the Magnificent. The former is famous for being assassinated in the Duomo (cathedral) in Florence; the latter for marrying into the royal family of Savoy and being made Duke of Nemours by king Francis I (of France), before dying prematurely. Both are buried side by side in the Medici chapel in Florence, beneath monuments designed by Michelangelo. I suspect Ronsard is referring to the Duke of Nemours – Catherine’s father’s uncle; but it could be either.
The two great Popes are also, of course, Medicis:  Clement VII, alias Giulio de Medici, the posthumous son of the assassinated Giuliano; and Leo X, alias Giovanni de Medici, nephew of the same Giuliano. Both feature in Raphael’s famous portarit of Leo X (Giulio as a cardinal).
Epode 2 brings an unexpected appearance of the word ‘mathematics’ in poetry…! While the praises here are overdone, there is no doubting that Catherine was cultured and knowledgeable: her patronage of the arts and of public spectacles has left little to remember, but she also spent enormous sums on building programmes, and no doubt took a close interest in the architectural designs (which would have been mathematically proportioned). The authorial footnote in any case tells us that ‘mathematics covers all kinds of science, geometry, astronomy and the others, which are all called mathematics’. Some have read the remaining lines as further evidence of scientific learning: ‘the painting of the great world’ (as it translates literally) might be cosmography, but could equally be a reference to her understanding of the art of perspective etc in painting; the ‘paths of nature’ might refer to an understanding of natural phenomena as much as the knowledge of physics (or perhaps alchemy/chemistry) suggested by some; and the ‘music of the spheres’ need not imply metaphysics any more than an understanding of ‘musical proportion’ etc. But however we read it the message is clear: a clever, learned and cultured queen.
Although the prophecy in strophe 3 is invented, Themis is invoked as the classical (or pre-classical) model of what is ‘right’. The footnote tells us ‘this ancient goddess is, high in the heavens for the gods, what justice is here below for men on the earth’. Themis can be translated as ‘right’, though it carries strong connotations of divine order, natural law, the right way of doing things, the will of the gods…  All of which Ronsard is invoking through his reference, as ordaining France’s conquest of Florence – so that France’s king, Catherine’s son, might have the best of French and Italian spirit and courage.  In the 1550s, this would have been a clear reference to Francis II; but in the following 30 years Catherine was a major power behind the throne for three of her sons, Francis being followed by Charles IX and then Henri III as the Valois dynasty tottered towards its collapse. Ronsard’s decision not to name her son here proved very handy, and kept the poem up-to-date through the rest of his life (Catherine died 4 years after him).
Strophe 3 and Epode 2 (in that order) form the text of Lassus’s 1571 musical setting which, though not openly naming Catherine or dedicated to her, retains the reference to Florence as well as France. As Charles IX had married the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1570, we can be pretty confident that he expected the song to be recognised as a tribute to the most powerful Queen in Europe, and a powerful supporter of the Catholic faith at a time when much of northern Europe was riven by the Protestant-Catholic troubles.

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