Amours 1.215

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De ses Maris, l’industrieuse Heleine,
L’esguille en main retraçoit les combas
Dessus sa toile : en ce poinct tu t’esbas
D’ouvrer le mal duquel ma vie est pleine.
 
Mais tout ainsi, Maistresse, que ta leine
Et ton fil noir desseignent mon trespas,
Tout au rebours pourquoy ne peins-tu pas
De quelque verd un espoir à ma peine ?
 
Mon œil ne voit sur ta gaze rangé
Sinon du noir, sinon de l’orangé,
Tristes tesmoins de ma longue souffrance.
 
O fier destin ! son œil ne me desfait
Tant seulement, mais tout ce qu’elle fait,
Ne me promet qu’une desesperance.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Her husbands’ battles the industrious Helen,
                                                                            Needle in hand, retraced
                                                                            Upon her cloth; in the same way you enjoy yourself
                                                                            Laying open the pain with which my life is filled.
 
                                                                            But even as, mistress, your wool
                                                                            And your black thread depict my death,
                                                                            Instead why do you not paint
                                                                            With some green a hope in my pain?
 
                                                                            My eyes see nothing arrayed upon your gauze
                                                                            But black and orange colours,
                                                                            Sad witnesses of my long suffering.
 
                                                                            O proud fate! Her eyes do not defeat me
                                                                            By themselves, but everything that she does
                                                                            Promises me nothing but despair.
 
 
 
The allusion to a wife embroidering a husband’s battles perhaps brings more readily to mind Penelope making (and un-making) her tapestry while awaiting the return of Odysseus in Homer’s epic. But here it is the dutiful Helen (hardly our image of her!) who is sitting weaving. The scene comes from Iliad book 3, where the rainbow goddess Iris comes as messenger of the gods to Helen, and finds her weaving scenes of the Trojan War which (Helen recognises) is a fight for possession of her. (Her husband at this point is Paris, though Iris instils a longing for her former husband Menelaus – another reason for Ronsard to speak of her weaving both husbands’ battles … )
 
Of course the precise details are not the point: Ronsard merely needs the image of a wife weaving her husband’s tale – to contrast it with his own tale of woe being woven by Cassandre.
 
Blanchemain’s earlier version differs in a number of details. In line 1, technically both Achaeans and Trojans were ‘Greeks’, although we tend to think of it as a war between ‘Greeks’ and ‘Trojans’. In line 3 Ronsard replaces the vaguely-mediaeval ‘gauze’ with the more common ‘cloth’; and in line 6 also he opts for less recondite words in his later version.
 
 
Des maris grecs l’industrieuse Heleine,
L’aiguille en main retraçoit les combas ;
Dessus ta gaze en ce poinct tu t’esbas,
Traçant le mal duquel ma vie est pleine.
 
Mais tout ainsi, Maistresse, que ta leine
D’un filet noir figure mon trespas,
Tout au rebours pourquoy ne peins-tu pas
De quelque verd un espoir à ma peine ?
 
Las ! je ne vois sur ta gaze rangé
Sinon du noir, sinon de l’orangé,
Tristes tesmoins de ma longue souffrance.
 
O fier destin ! son œil ne me desfait
Tant seulement, mais tout ce qu’elle fait,
Ne me promet qu’une desesperance.
 
 
                                                                            Her Greek husbands’ battles the industrious Helen,
                                                                            Needle in hand, retraced ;
                                                                            Upon your gauze in the same way you enjoy yourself
                                                                            Drawing the pain with which my life is filled.
 
                                                                            But even as, mistress, your wool
                                                                            With its black thread represents my death,
                                                                            Instead why do you not paint
                                                                            With some green a hope in my pain?
 
                                                                            Alas, I see nothing arrayed upon your gauze
                                                                            But black and orange colours,
                                                                            Sad witnesses of my long suffering.
 
                                                                            O proud fate! Her eyes do not defeat me
                                                                            By themselves, but everything that she does
                                                                            Promises me nothing but despair.
 
 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
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