Élégie à Cassandre (Am. 1.227b)



Mon œil, mon cœur, ma Cassandre, ma vie,
Hé! qu’à bon droit tu dois porter d’envie
A ce grand Roy, qui ne veut plus souffrir
Qu’à mes chansons ton nom se vienne offrir.
C’est luy qui veut qu’en trompette j’echange
Mon luth, afin d’entonner sa louange,
Non de luy seul mais de tous ses ayeux
Qui sont là hault assis au rang des Dieux.
Je le feray puis qu’il me le commande :
Car d’un tel Roy la puissance est si grande,
Que tant s’en faut qu’on la puisse eviter,
Qu’un camp armé n’y pourroit resister.
Mais que me sert d’avoir tant leu Tibulle,
Properce, Ovide, et le docte Catulle,
Avoir tant veu Petrarque et tant noté,
Si par un Roy le pouvoir m’est oté
De les ensuyvre, et s’il faut que ma Iyre
Pendue au croc ne m’ose plus rien dire ?
Doncques en vain je me paissois d’espoir
De faire un jour à la Tuscane voir,
Que nostre France, autant qu’elle, est heureuse
A souspirer une pleinte amoureuse :
Et pour monstrer qu’on la peut surpasser,
J’avois desja commencé de trasser
Mainte Elegie à la façon antique,
Mainte belle Ode, et mainte Bucolique.
Car, à vray dire, encore mon esprit
N’est satisfait de ceux qui ont escrit
En nostre langue, et leur amour merite
Ou du tout rien, ou faveur bien petite.
Non que je sois vanteur si glorieux
D’oser passer les vers laborieux
De tant d’amans qui se pleignent en France :
Mais pour le moins j’avoy bien esperance,
Que si mes vers ne marchoient les premiers,
Qu’ils ne seroient sans honneur les derniers.
Car Eraton qui les amours descœuvre,
D’assez bon œil m’attiroit à son œuvre.
L’un trop enflé les chante grossement,
L’un enervé les traine bassement,
L’un nous depeint une Dame paillarde,
L’un plus aux vers qu’aux sentences regarde,
Et ne peut onq tant se sceut desguiser,
Apprendre l’art de bien Petrarquiser.
Que pleures-tu, Cassandre, ma douce ame ?
Encor Amour ne veut couper la trame
Qu’en ta faveur je pendis au métier,
Sans achever l’ouvrage tout entier.
Mon Roy n’a pas d’une beste sauvage
Succé le laict, et son jeune courage,
Ou je me trompe, a senti quelquefois
Le trait d’Amour qui surmonte les Rois.
S’il l’a senti, ma coulpe est effacee,
Et sa grandeur ne sera corroucee
Qu’à mon retour des horribles combas,
Hors de son croc mon Luth j’aveigne à-bas,
Le pincetant, et qu’en lieu des alarmes
Je chante Amour, tes beautez et mes larmes.
« Car l’arc tendu trop violentement,
« Ou s’alentit, ou se rompt vistement.
Ainsi Achille apres avoir par terre
Tant fait mourir de soudars en la guerre,
Son Luth doré prenoit entre ses mains
Teintes encor de meurdres inhumains,
Et vis à vis du fils de Menetie,
Chantoit l’amour de Brisëis s’amie :
Puis tout soudain les armes reprenoit,
Et plus vaillant au combat retoumoit.
Ainsi, apres que l’ayeul de mon maistre
Hors des combats retirera sa dextre,
Se desarmant dedans sa tente à part,
Dessus le Luth à l’heure ton Ronsard
Te chantera : car il ne se peut faire
Qu’autre beauté luy puisse jamais plaire,
Ou soit qu’il vive, ou soit qu’outre le port,
Leger fardeau, Charon le passe mort.
My eyes, my heart, my Cassandre, my life,
Oh, how rightly you must be envious
Of that great King who no longer wishes to suffer
Your name to put itself forward in my songs.
It is he who wishes that I should change my lute
For a trumpet, to sing out his praises,
And not only his own but those of his ancestors
Who are seated above in the ranks of the gods.
I shall do it, as he commands it :
For the power of such a King is so great
That it is as hard to keep out of its way
As for an armed force to resist it.
What use for me to have read so much of Tibullus,
Propertius, Ovid, and the learned Catullus ;
To have looked over and noted so much of Petrarch,
If by a King the power is taken from me
Of following them, and if my lyre must
Hang from a hook and dare no longer speak ?
I have therefore vainly fed the hope
Of one day seeing Tuscany,
When our France, as much as it, is happy
To sigh a lover’s plaint ;
And, to show [Italy] can be surpassed
I had already begun to set down
Many an Elegy in the antique fashion,
Many a fine Ode, many a Pastoral.
For to speak the truth, my soul is still
Not satisfied with those who have written
In our language, and their love deserves
Either nothing at all, or very little favour.
Not that I am so vainglorious a boaster
As to venture to surpass the laborious poetry
Of so many lovers who have made their plaints in France ;
But at least I have a fair hope
That, even if my verse does not go first,
It will not be dishonourably last.
For Erato, who discloses love-affairs,
Drew me with a clear eye to her work.
One puffed-up poet sings grossly of love,
Another nervous one drags on in too mean a style ;
One depicts a Lady who is lewd,
Another takes more care over his verse than his meaning
And can never, however he tries to conceal it,
Learn the art of Petrarch-ising well.
Why do you weep, Cassandre, my sweet soul ?
Love does not yet seek to cut off the warp and weft
Which I have hung on my loom for you,
Without completing the whole of my work.
My King has not sucked the milk of some
Savage beast, and his youthful courage too,
Unless I am mistaken, has sometimes felt
The wound of Love which can overcome Kings.
If he has felt it, my [ error ] is erased
And his greatness will not be angered
If, on my return from terrible battles,
I take my lute down from its hook
And pluck it, and instead of loud war
I sing of Love, your beauty, and my tears.
« For the bow which is drawn too tightly
Either weakens [slows] or quickly breaks. »
Just so Achilles, after having across the world
Put so many soldiers to death in war,
Took his golden lute in his hands –
Still stained with inhuman massacres –
And sitting opposite the son of Menetius
Sang of his love for Briseis, his beloved ;
Then as suddenly took up arms again
And returned, more courageous, to battle.
And so, after my master’s ancestor
Withdraws his hand from battle,
Disarming himself within his tent away from the field,
Upon his lute just then your Ronsard will sing
To you ; for it cannot be
That another beauty could ever please him
While he is alive or when, beyond this harbour,
Charon carries his light burden, dead.
The conclusion of the first book of Amours brings with it some weightier material to give it a firm feeling of ending – rather like Beethoven’s 5th, which iterates and reiterates the thumping C-major chords to emphasise that this really is the end of the piece, Ronsard feels (rightly) that he cannot simply end the long run of sonnets without something more definitely marking a conclusion. Perhaps there is, nonetheless, a sense of loss as Ronsard explains how he must stop writing love poetry to focus, by royal command, on his epic Franciad.
The Elegy to Cassandre is an elegy in the classical sense – a description of its form, rather than its mood (as we use it today to mean ‘something noble but sad, in remembrance’). Accordingly, it is full of classical (and neo-classical) references:
 – Tibullus, Propertius, Ovid, and Catullus are all Latin love-poets; and we might detect a glancing reference to one of Horace’s odes in the lines about ‘hanging his lyre on a hook’;
 – Petrarch is of course the shining example of (relatively) modern love-poetry, Tuscany his home;
 – Erato is the muse of lyric poetry;
 – in the Iliad Achilles sings of the slave-girl Briseis whom he loves (and who plays a pivotal role in the development of the action); his other (male) love is Patroclus, the son of Menoetius;
 – Charon is of course the boatman who ferries the dead across the river Styx.
Muret suggests that, in the last ‘stanza’, Ronsard is using the word “ayeul” (ancestor, grandfather) to refer to Francus, the mythical ancestor of the kings of France – and thus to the Franciad, the commission for which has drawn Ronsard forcibly away from writing love-poems.  (The ‘great king’ at the time of the publication of the Amours in the 1550s was Henri II; his direct ancestors were noble rather than royal, his father having come to the throne by virtue of his marriage to Louis XII’s daughter.)
The earlier Blanchemain version has only minor differences:
 – in stanza 3, the list of Roman poets is “Tibulle, / Gallus, Ovide, et Properce et Catulle,” – Cornelius Gallus was a lyric poet contemporary with the others;
 – in stanza 5, the line is “En nostre langue, et leur Muse merite” (‘and their Muse deserves’ instead of ‘their love’);
– towards the end, “Mon Roy n’a pas d’une tigre sauvage …” (a savage tiger’s milk rather than a savage beast’s).

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