Ronsard was a great re-reader and re-writer. His works were republished, in single volumes and as ‘complete works’, several times during his life, and he rarely missed an opportunity to ‘improve’ his verse. In particular at the end of his life, with the different perspectives of age and a deeper pietism, and a growing sens eof his role in shaping the French language, he took the opportunity to make major changes.
Hence my sub-title – – it’s not just this blog that’s a work-in-progress, that’s how Ronsard saw his own work.
Consequently there are often substantial differences between the versions of the same poem in two editions. Generally I’m working from the Marty-Laveaux edition (1887-93) which is a reprint of the 1584 edition, the last that Ronsard himself saw through the presses. But I’m also cross-referring to the once-standard Blanchemain edition (1857-67), which is based on the 1560 edition, the first ‘complete’ edition Ronsard prepared. So what I present is both Ronsard’s last and (nearly) first thoughts on the versions of individual poems, as well as on what was removed (retranchée). Though I don’t have access to Marty-Laveaux’s volume of the Odes, so am only using Blanchemain there; I may find another later edition to use for comparison…
With the later works Blanchemain could not, of course, use the 1560 edition but generally aimed to use the earliest available version. In the case of the second part of Amours 2, “Sur la Mort de Marie’, Blanchemain’s text is the 1578 edition by Buon, though he does include some variants from 1584 also; and in the first volume of Sonnets pour Hélène, he is not ashamed to include a block of nearly a dozen poems which Ronsard also didn’t add until Buon’s 1578 edition!
I’ve included a series of posts showing how a single poem evolved as Ronsard emended and altered his poems in the various editions of his oeuvre in his lifetime:
A note on how I’ve approached the translation is here. It’s perhaps worth saying that one of the most enlightening books on Ronsard’s editions and language that I’ve read (and also, with its provision of countless examples of each form of amendment, one of the dullest!) is a PhD thesis written by Louis Terreaux and published in 1968 as Ronsard: Correcteur de ses Oeuvres. In a very solid 750 pages, Terreaux explores in enormous, fascinating, and brilliantly illuminating detail how Ronsard’s sense of responsibility to the evolving French language, and his role in ‘fixing’ the standard for literary French, influenced his re-writing.
For instance, his early style readily adopt neologisms – foreign words, classical terms – which he later feels less comfortable with; his early work makes use of poetic elision, drops female endings on adjectives, etc in order to ‘make’ the rhythm work, but later in life Ronsard often makes drastic (and not always successful) revisions to eliminate these poetic ‘shortcuts’; in the early period too he will use archaisms/medievalisms (‘lon’ instead of ‘on’) if he needs them for scansion, but these again disappear later.
I should add that no edition of Ronsard I know sets out the sonnets, or even the odes, as a series of short stanzas – as I do here. My excuse is just that it provides a simple visual tool to help when you are flipping between the poem and the English ‘crib’. No more, no less.