Helen 2:10

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Adieu belle Cassandre, et vous belle Marie,
Pour qui je fu trois ans en servage à Bourgueil :
L’une vit, l’autre est morte, et ores de son œil
Le ciel se resjouist dont la terre est marrie.
 
Sur mon premier Avril, d’une amoureuse envie
J’adoray vos beautez : mais vostre fier orgueil
Ne s’amollit jamais pour larmes ny pour dueil,
Tant d’une gauche main la Parque ourdit ma vie.
 
Maintenant en Automne encore malheureux
Je vy comme au Printemps de nature amoureux,
A fin que tout mon âge aille au gré de la peine.
 
Ores que je deusse estre affranchi du harnois,
Mon maistre Amour m’envoye à grands coups de carquois,
R’assieger Ilion pour conquerir Heleine.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Farewell my lovely Cassandre, and you, lovely Marie,
                                                                            For whom I spent three years of servitude in Bourgueil ;
                                                                            The one lives on, the other is dead, and now heaven
                                                                            Rejoices in her eyes, to the earth’s regret.
 
                                                                            In the April of my youth I adored your beauties
                                                                            With an eager love ; but your arrogant pride
                                                                            Never softened for tears or grief :
                                                                            Fate has so left-handedly woven my life.
 
                                                                            Now in my autumn, still unfortunate,
                                                                            I live as in Spring amorous by nature,
                                                                            So that all my age goes at trouble’s wish.
 
                                                                            Now, when I ought to be free of war’s harness,
                                                                            Love my master sends me with great blows from his quiver
                                                                            To besiege Troy again, to conquer Helen.
 
 
If you ask me, this is not only a fine poem but the neatest of Ronsard’s summaries of his poetic career.
 
I’ve no intention of pulling it apart, but here’s a couple of small notes. In mythology Fate ‘weaves’ (line 8) the thread of everyone’s lives; weaving left-handed – like the word ‘sinister’ (left-hand in Latin) – brings misfortune. And you don’t need the reference to Helen of Troy explained again … But Richelet does so anyway: “Troy, where Helen was held. He speaks in several places of this love-affair as if his mistress was the Helen of Greece who stirred up so many wars. Thus Petrarch speaks of his Laura as that Daphne with whom Apollo was in love.”
 
 
Blanchemain’s version offers minor changes in the last tercet:
 
Et, ore que je deusse estre exempt du harnois,
Mon colonnel m’envoye à grands coups de carquois,
Rassieger Ilion pour conquerir Heleine.

 
 

                                                                            And now, when I ought to be free of war’s harness,
                                                                            My colonel sends me with great blows from his quiver
                                                                            To besiege Troy again, to conquer Helen.
 
 
“Ores que” is better than “Et ore que” with its hiatus, consistent with Ronsard’s desire to make the near-perfect that much more perfect. That it was not a straight-line process is made clear by the variant of line 4 Blanchemain also provides from 1578:  “Le ciel se resjouist dans la terre est Marie” (‘Heaven rejoices, Marie is in the ground’). Frankly, it’s a terrible soundalike for the line in the ‘definitive version’, not just because it sounds as if Heaven is rejoicing because Marie is dead, but also because rhyming ‘Marie’ with ‘Marie’ is undeniably feeble.
 
 
 
 
 

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