Helen 2:62

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Ma Dame, je ne meurs abandonné d’espoir :
La playe est jusqu’à l’oz : je ne suis celuy mesme
Que j’estois l’autre jour, tant la douleur extréme
Forçant la patience, a dessus moy pouvoir.
 
Je ne puis ny toucher gouster n’ouïr ny voir :
J’ay perdu tous mes Sens, je suis une ombre blesme :
Mon corps n’est qu’un tombeau. Malheureux est qui aime,
Malheurueux qui se laisse à l’Amour decevoir !
 
Devenez un Achille aux playes qu’avez faites,
Un Telefe je suis, lequel s’en va perir :
Monstrez moy par pitié vos puissances parfaites,
 
Et d’un remede prompt daignez moy secourir.
Si vostre serviteur cruelle vous desfaites,
Vous n’aurez le Laurier pour l’avoir fait mourir.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            My Lady, I am dying abandoned by hope.
                                                                            My wound is to the bone. I am not even he
                                                                            Whom I was the other day, my extreme sorrow
                                                                            Beyond bearing has such power over me.
 
                                                                            I cannot touch, taste, hear or see :
                                                                            I have lost all my senses, I am a pallid shade ;
                                                                            My body is just a tomb. Unhappy he who loves,
                                                                            Unhappy he who allows himself to be deceived by love !
 
                                                                            Become an Achilles through the wounds you have given :
                                                                            I am your Telephus, who is going to die of them.
                                                                            Pity me and show your perfect power,
 
                                                                            Deign to help me with a prompt remedy.
                                                                            If you cruelly destroy your servant,
                                                                            You will not gain laurels for having killed him.
 
 
That last couplet is rather fun: a twist on the usual ‘killing me’ line, pointing out that no-one gets honoured for killing their own servant … The poem as a whole is interesting partly for showing how far our modern perception of the classics is from that of the past: Achilles we share, but Telephus?
 
The Trojan War is familiar to us, and the part of Achilles in it; and we are familiar with the ‘core’ Greek tragedies. But that the story of Telephus was a major preoccupation of the tragedians we are largely unaware – all three wrote (now lost) plays on the theme. And that familiarity with the tale extended to the renaissance, and not just in France: Shakespeare references Telephus in Henry VI part two.
 
So who was Telephus? The son of Heracles , he was wounded by Achilles in a preliminary to the Trojan War ; the wound would not heal, but the Delphic Oracle told him “your assailant will heal you”, a line which obsessed the Greeks and Romans. It turned out that he was to be healed by Achilles’ spear, not by Achilles himself, and the weapon that hurts & heals became a popular theme with  Roman poets – Horace, Ovid, Propertius and others all use it, often in this context of love poetry. Shakespeare’s use [Henry VI, Part 2, act 5.1.100–101] is witness to wider usage: “Whose smile and frown, like to Achilles’ spear / Is able with the change to kill and cure”.
 
(Wagner fans will readily see the similarities with the theme of the Holy Spear in ‘Parsifal’ which hurts and heals Amfortas.)
 
[For much more on the topic, see the vast Wikipedia article – an indication of the Telephus story’s lasting popularity through the centuries.]
 
Ronsard’s classicism of course runs deep: I like the second stanza whose details map onto the Virgilian underworld depicted in the Aeneid.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

About fattoxxon

Who am I? Lover of all sorts of music - classical, medieval, world (anything from Africa), world-classical (Uzbek & Iraqi magam for instance), and virtually anything that won't be on the music charts... Lover of Ronsard's poetry (obviously) and of sonnets in general. Reader of English, French, Latin & other literature. And who is Fattoxxon? An allusion to an Uzbek singer - pronounce it Patahan, with a very plosive 'P' and a throaty 'h', as in 'khan')

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