Category Archives: Odes

Poems from any of the Five Books of Odes. Poems withdrawn from the Odes are separately listed as Odes retranchées.

Odes 1.3

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Today one of Ronsard’s early Odes, very formally structured in the classical style with strophes & antistrophes repeating a metrical scheme, and then epodes acting as a ‘refrain’ structure in between pairs of these.

A LA ROYNE
 
Strophe 1
 
Je suis troublé de fureur,
Le poil me dresse d’horreur,
D’un effroy mon ame est pleine,
Mon estomac est pantois,
Et par son canal ma vois
Ne se desgorge qu’à peine.
Une deité m’emmeine ;
Fuyez, peuple, qu’on me laisse,
Voicy venir la deesse ;
Fuyez, peuple, je la voy.
Heureux ceux qu’elle regarde,
Et plus heureux qui la garde
Dans l’estomac comme moy !
 
Antistrophe 1
 
Elle, esprise de mes chants,
Loin me guide par les champs
Où jadis sur le rivage
Apollon Florence aima,
Lorsque jeune elle s’arma
Pour combattre un loup sauvage.
L’art de filer ny l’ouvrage
Ne plurent à la pucelle,
Ny le lit mignard ; mais elle,
Devant le jour s’éveillant,
Cherchoit des loups le repaire,
Pour les bœufs d’Arne son père
Sans repos se travaillant.
 
Epode 1
 
Ce Dieu, qui du ciel la vit
Si valeureuse et si belle,
Pour sa femme la ravit,
Et surnomma du nom d’elle
La ville qui te fit naistre,
Laquelle se vante d’estre
Mere de nostre Junon,
Et qui par les gens étranges
Pour ses plus grandes louanges
Ne celebre que ton nom.
 
Strophe 2
 
Là les faits de tes ayeux
Vont flamboyant comme aux cieux
Flamboye l’aurore claire ;
Là l’honneur de ton Julien
Dans le ciel italien
Comme une planette esclaire.
Par luy le gros populaire
Pratiqua l’experience
De la meilleure science,
Et là reluisent aussi
Tes deux grands papes, qui ores
Du ciel, où ils sont encores,
Te favorisent icy.
 
Antistrophe 2
 
On ne compte les moissons
De l’esté, ni des glaçons
Qui, l’hiver, tiennent la trace
Des eaux roides à glisser :
Ainsi je ne puis penser
Les louanges de ta race.
Le Ciel t’a peint en la face
Je ne sçay quoy qui nous monstre,
Dès la premiere rencontre,
Que tu passes par grand-heur
Les princesses de nostre âge,
Soit en force de courage,
Soit en royale grandeur.
 
Epode 2
 
Le comble de ton sçavoir
Et de tes vertus ensemble
Dit que l’on ne peut icy voir
Rien que toy qui te resemble.
Quelle dame a la pratique
De tant de mathematique ?
Quelle princesse entend mieux
Du grand monde la peinture,
Les chemins de la nature
Et la musique des cieux ?
 
Strophe 3
 
Ton nom, que mon vers dira,
Tout le monde remplira
De ta loüange notoire :
Un tas qui chantent de toy
Ne sçavent si bien que moy
Comme il faut sonner ta gloire.
Jupiter, ayant mémoire
D’une vieille destinée
Autrefois determinée
Par l’oracle de Themis,
A commandé que Florence
Dessous les loix de la France
Se courbe le chef soumis.
 
Antistrophe 3
 
Mais il veut que ton enfant
En ait honneur triomphant,
D’autant qu’il est tout ensemble
Italien et François,
Qui de front, d’yeux et de vois,
A père et mere resemble.
Déjà tout colere il semble
Que sa main tente les armes,
Et qu’au milieu des alarmes
Jà desdaigne les dangers ;
Et, servant aux siens de guide,
Vainqueur, attache une bride
Aux royaumes estrangers.
 
Epode 3
 
Le Ciel, qui nous l’a donné
Pour estre nostre lumiere,
Son empire n’a borné
D’un mont ou d’une riviere.
Le destin veut qu’il enserre
Dans sa main toute la terre,
Seul roy se faisant nommer,
D’où Phébus les Indes laisse,
Et d’où son char il abbaisse
Tout panché dedans la mer.
To the Queen
 
 
 
I am assailed by madness,
My hair stands up with horror,
Panic fills my soul,
My heart is stunned,
And my voice can barely
Pass through my throat.
A deity has seized me.
Run, people, please leave me,
See, here comes the goddess !
Run, people, I see her !
Fortunate the men on whom she looks,
More fortunate the man who keeps her
In his heart, like me !
 
 
 
In love with my songs, she
Guides me far among the fields
Where once on the riverbank
Apollo loved Florence,
When the young [nymph] armed herself
To fight a savage wolf.
Not the art of spinning nor its works
Could please the maid,
Nor her pretty bed ; but she,
Before the breaking day
Would seek the dens of wolves,
Working without rest
For the cattle of her father Arno.
 
 
 
This god, who from heaven saw her
So bold and so fair,
Seized her as his wife
And named from her name
The town which gave you birth.
That town boasts of being
Mother of our Juno [queen],
And amongst foreign peoples
For her greater praise
Celebrates only your name.
 
 
 
There the deeds of your ancestors
Rise blazing, as in the heavens
Blazes the bright dawn ;
There [blazes] the glory of your Guiliano
In the Italian skies
Like a bright planet.
Through him, the rude commons
Gained understanding
Of the best learning,
And there shone forth too
Your two great Popes, who still
From heaven, where they are now,
Favour you here.
 
 
 
We cannot count the harvest
Of summer, nor the icicles
Which in winter mark the route
Of waters stubborn in flowing ;
Just so I cannot encompass
The praises of your family.
Heaven painted something
In your appearance which has shown us,
Since first we met,
That you surpass in the greatnes of your destiny
The princesses of our age,
Whether in the force of your courage
Or in royal grandeur.
 
 
 
The sum of your learning
And of all your virtues
Tells us that we cannot see here
Anyone but you, who is like you.
What lady has the skill
Of so much mathematics ?
What princess understands better
The design of the great world,
The paths of nature
And the music of the heavens ?
 
 
 
Your name, which my verse shall praise,
Will fill the whole world
With your well-known praise ;
A mass of those who sing of you
Do not know as well as I
How we should sound your glory.
Jupiter, recalling
An ancient fate
Once determined
By the oracle of Themis,
Commanded that Florence
Beneath the laws of France
Should bend its submissive head.
 
 
 
But he wanted your child
To have triumphant honour from it
As he is, at the same time,
Italian and French,
His brow, eyes and voice
Resembling his father’s and mother’s.
Already full of anger it seems
That his hand tries out arms
And in the midst of alarms
Already disdains danger ;
And, acting as a guide to his men,
As victor places a bridle
On foreign kingdoms.
 
 
 
Heaven, which gave us him
To be our light,
Has not bounded his empire
With hill or river.
Fate wants him to grip
In his hand the whole earth,
Giving him the name of king alone,
From where Phoebus leaves the Indies
To where he brings down his chariot
Sinking into the sea.
 
We’ve seen Ronsard in panegyric mode before. Obviously it was important to lavish priase on potential patrons, especially royalty; what I think distinguishes Ronsard’s work in this vein is the way he knits so many ideas together into a complex and sophisticated hymn of (undeserved) praise.
 
So here he adopts a very classical style, with a very un-classical theme; and indeed opens with the singer being ‘possessed’ by a god in a theme harking back to Greek tragedy. Indeed the whole form of the poem echoes tragic choruses in Greek plays.
 
Antistrophe 1 invents a foundation myth for Florence. The poem is ddressed to Queen Catherine (de Medici), whose family famously rules Florence for much of the renaissance.  Ronsard himself offered some footnotes to help us through the invented myth:  “as in Pausanias Apollo loved the maiden Bolina, after whom is named a town in Achaea. In the style of the ancients, the poet disguises true things with fictions and fables, and invents a nymph who gave her name to the town of Florence, a daughter of Arno, loved and raped by Apollo; which in effect means that this town is full of courage and learning, as in truth many admirable spirits & many great captains have come from it.” Note that, for all his praise of Florence, Ronsard praises France more for having seized the city – strophe 3!
 
The authorial footnote is less helpful in strophe 2, where – regarding the reference to “Julien” he tells us only ‘See here the history of Florence’!  There are two famous Giuliano de Medicis – brother and son of Lorenzo the Magnificent. The former is famous for being assassinated in the Duomo (cathedral) in Florence; the latter for marrying into the royal family of Savoy and being made Duke of Nemours by king Francis I (of France), before dying prematurely. Both are buried side by side in the Medici chapel in Florence, beneath monuments designed by Michelangelo. I suspect Ronsard is referring to the Duke of Nemours – Catherine’s father’s uncle; but it could be either.
 
The two great Popes are also, of course, Medicis:  Clement VII, alias Giulio de Medici, the posthumous son of the assassinated Giuliano; and Leo X, alias Giovanni de Medici, nephew of the same Giuliano. Both feature in Raphael’s famous portarit of Leo X (Giulio as a cardinal).
 
Epode 2 brings an unexpected appearance of the word ‘mathematics’ in poetry…! While the praises here are overdone, there is no doubting that Catherine was cultured and knowledgeable: her patronage of the arts and of public spectacles has left little to remember, but she also spent enormous sums on building programmes, and no doubt took a close interest in the architectural designs (which would have been mathematically proportioned). The authorial footnote in any case tells us that ‘mathematics covers all kinds of science, geometry, astronomy and the others, which are all called mathematics’. Some have read the remaining lines as further evidence of scientific learning: ‘the painting of the great world’ (as it translates literally) might be cosmography, but could equally be a reference to her understanding of the art of perspective etc in painting; the ‘paths of nature’ might refer to an understanding of natural phenomena as much as the knowledge of physics (or perhaps alchemy/chemistry) suggested by some; and the ‘music of the spheres’ need not imply metaphysics any more than an understanding of ‘musical proportion’ etc. But however we read it the message is clear: a clever, learned and cultured queen.
 
Although the prophecy in strophe 3 is invented, Themis is invoked as the classical (or pre-classical) model of what is ‘right’. The footnote tells us ‘this ancient goddess is, high in the heavens for the gods, what justice is here below for men on the earth’. Themis can be translated as ‘right’, though it carries strong connotations of divine order, natural law, the right way of doing things, the will of the gods…  All of which Ronsard is invoking through his reference, as ordaining France’s conquest of Florence – so that France’s king, Catherine’s son, might have the best of French and Italian spirit and courage.  In the 1550s, this would have been a clear reference to Francis II; but in the following 30 years Catherine was a major power behind the throne for three of her sons, Francis being followed by Charles IX and then Henri III as the Valois dynasty tottered towards its collapse. Ronsard’s decision not to name her son here proved very handy, and kept the poem up-to-date through the rest of his life (Catherine died 4 years after him).
 
 
Strophe 3 and Epode 2 (in that order) form the text of Lassus’s 1571 musical setting which, though not openly naming Catherine or dedicated to her, retains the reference to Florence as well as France. As Charles IX had married the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor in 1570, we can be pretty confident that he expected the song to be recognised as a tribute to the most powerful Queen in Europe, and a powerful supporter of the Catholic faith at a time when much of northern Europe was riven by the Protestant-Catholic troubles.
 
 
 
 
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Odes 2.18 – A son laquais (To his servant)

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J’ay l’esprit tout ennuyé
D’avoir trop estudié
Les Phenomenes d’Arate :
Il est temps que je m’esbate
Et que j’aille aux champs jouer.
Bons dieux ! qui voudroit louer
Ceux qui, collez sur un livre,
N’ont jamais soucy de vivre ?
 
Que nous sert l’estudier,
Sinon de nous ennuyer
Et soing dessus soing accrestre,
A nous qui serons peut-estre,
Ou ce matin, ou ce soir,
Victime de l’orque noir,
De l’orque qui ne pardonne,
Tant il est fier, à personne ?
 
Corydon, marche devant ;
Sçache où le bon vin se vend.
Fais après à ma bouteille,
Des feuilles de quelque treille,
Un tapon pour la boucher.
Ne m’achete point de chair,
Car, tant soit-elle friande,
L’esté je hay la viande.
 
Achete des abricôs,
Des pompons, des artichôs,
Des fraises et de la crème :
C’est en esté ce que j’aime,
Quand, sur le bord d’un ruisseau,
Je les mange au bruit de l’eau,
Estendu sur le rivage
Ou dans un antre sauvage.
 
Ores que je suis dispos,
Je veux boire sans repos
De peur que la maladie
Un de ces jours ne me die,
Me happant à l’imporveu :
« Meurs, gallant, c’est assez beu. »
My spirit is quite bored
From having studied too hard
The Phenomena of Aratus:
It’s time I frolicked
And went out to play.
Good grief! Who’d want to praise
Those who, stuck to a book,
Never have any interest in living?
 
What use to us is studying,
Except to bore us
And to pile up care upon care
Upon us, who may perhaps be
This morning, or this evening,
Victims of the black bark,
The bark which grants no pardon,
So proud is it, to anyone.
 
Corydon, go in front:
You know where the good wine is sold.
Then make up for my bottle
From the leaves from some vine
A spout to drink from.
Buy me no meat
For, tasty as it is,
In summer I hate meat.
 
Buy apricots,
Melons, artichokes,
Strawberries and cream;
That’s what I love in summer
When, on a river bank,
I eat them by the sound of the stream,
Stretched out on the bank
Or in a wild cavern.
 
Now that I’m settled,
I want to drink without a break
For fear that illness
One of these days will say to me
Catching me by surprise,
“Die, my boy, that’s enough drinking!”
 
Once more the transition from classical learning to the delights of food – you perhaps remember the artichokes and melons from Tours (the “pompons”) from a recent post!
 
Aratus was one of those classical authors who took some detailed science and turned it into a poem so that it could be more easily memorised. For Aratus, it was the constellations and the weather (Darwin’s father Erasmus did the same in the early nineteenth century for botany… ) You can imagine Ronsard being a bit bored by it – though Aratus was revered in antiquity.
 
Corydon in verse 3 is a ‘pastoral’ name used regularly by Ronsard; in verse 2 the ‘bark which grants no pardon’ is of course Charon’s bark which ferries the dead across the Styx.
 
Although I am only using Blanchemain as a source for the Odes, there are still a couple of variants to report (from his footnotes):  in the third stanza
 
 

Corydon, marche devant ;
Sçache où le bon vin se vend.

Fay refreschir ma bouteille,

Cerche une fueilleuse treille
Et des fleurs pour me coucher.
                                                                      Corydon, go in front:
                                                                      You know where the good wine is sold.

                                                                      Get me a new bottle,

                                                                      Look for a leafy vine
                                                                      And some flowers for me to lie on.
 
 
And the last two lines which read:
 
« Je t’ay maintenant veincu.
Meurs, galland : c’est trop vescu. »
 
                                                                      “I’ve got you now.
                                                                      Die, my boy; you’ve lived too long.”
 
 
 
 
 

Odes 3.21

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A GASPAR D’AUVERGNE
 
Gaspar, qui, loin de Pegase,
As les filles de Parnase
Conduites en ta maison,
Ne sçais-tu que moy, poête,
De mon Phoebus je souhéte
Quand je fais une oraison ?
 
Les moissons je ne quiers pas
Que le faux arrange à bas
Sur la Beauce fructueuse ;
Ny tous les cornus troupeaux
Qui sautent sur les coupeaux
De l’Auvergne montueuse ;
 
Ny l’or sans forme qu’ameine
La mine pour nostre peine ;
Ny celuy qui est formé
Portant d’un roy la figure
Ou la fiere pourtraiture
De quelque empereur armé ;
 
Ny l’ivoire marqueté
En l’Orient acheté
Pour parade d’une sale ;
Ny les cousteux diamans
Magnifiques ornemens
D’une majesté royale ;
 
Ny tous les champs que le fleuve
Du Loir lentement abreuve ;
Ny tous les prez emmurez
Des plis de Braye argentine ;
Ny tous les bois dont Gastine
Void ses bras en-verdurez ;
 
Ny le riche accoustrement
D’une laine qui dément
Sa teinture naturelle
Ez chaudrons du Gobelin,
S’yvrant d’un rouge venin
Pour se disguiser plus belle
 
Que celuy dans une coupe
Toute d’or boive à la troupe
De son vin de Prepatour,
A qui la vigne succede,
Et près Vendôme en possede
Deux cents arpens en un tour.
 
Que celuy qui aime Mars
S’enrolle entre les soldars,
Et face sa peau vermeille
D’un beau sang pour son devoir,
Et que la trompette, au soir,
D’un son luy raze l’aureille.
 
Le marchant hardiment vire
Par le mer de sa navire
La proue et la poupe encor ;
Ce n’est moy, bruslé d’envie,
A tels despens de ma vie,
Rapporter des lingots d’or.
 
Tous ces biens je ne quiers point,
Et mon courage n’est poingt
De telle gloire excessive.
Manger o mon compagnon
Ou la figue d’Avignon,
Ou la provençale olive,
 
L’artichôt et la salade,
L’asperge et le pastenade,
Et les pompons tourangeaux,
Me sont herbes plus friandes
Que les royales viandes
Qui se servent à monceaux.
 
Puis qu’il faut si tost mourir,
Que me vaudroit d’acquerir
Un bien qui ne dure guere,
Qu’un heritier qui viendroit
Après mon trespas vendroit
Et en feroit bonne chere ?
 
Tant seulement je desire
Une santé qui n’empire ;
Je desire un beau sejour,
Une raison saine et bonne
Et une lyre qui sonne
Tousjours le vin et l’amour.
TO GASPAR OF AUVERGNE
 
Gaspar, who – without Pegasus –
Has brought the daughters of Parnassus
Into your home,
Do you not know what I, a poet,
Ask of my Apollo
When I make him a prayer ?
 
Crops I don’t request,
Those which the scythe cuts down
Upon the fruitful Beauce ;
Nor do I ask for all the horned troop
Which leap upon the scarps
Of the mountainous Auvergne ;
 
Nor shapeless gold which the mine
Provides for our trouble ;
Nor do I ask to be one made
To bear a king’s figure
Or the proud appearance
Of some armed emperor ;
 
Nor inlaid ivory
Bought in the East
For some dishonest woman’s display ;
Nor costly diamonds,
Magnificent ornaments
Of royal majesty ;
 
Nor all the fields which the river
Loir slowly waters ;
Nor all the meadows walled in
By the bends of the silvery Braye ;
Nor all the woods with which Gastine
Sees his arms greened ;
 
Nor the rich clothing
Of wool which gives the lie to
Its natural colour
In Gobelin’s cauldrons,
Drinking in the red poison
To disguise itself, more beautiful
 
Than his wine of Prepatour,
Which he himself, in a cup
Made all of gold, drinks to his troop –
The vines to which he succeded
And possesses near Vendome
Two hundred acres of them.
 
Let he who loves Mars [war]
Enrol among his soldiers,
And print his pink skin
With bright blood for his work,
And let the evening trumpet
With its call crash on his ear.
 
Let the merchant boldly steer
Over the sea his ship’s
Prow and poop too ;
It’s not for me, burning with desire
At such cost to my life,
To bring back golden ingots.
 
All these good things I seek not at all,
And my courage is not pricked
To such excessive glory.
Eating with my friend
Figs from Avignon
Or olives from Provence,
 
Artichokes and salad,
Asparagus and parsnip
And melons from Tours,
These are tastier foods
Than the king’s meat
Which is served in mountains.
 
Since we must die so soon,
What use to me is gaining
Some good thing which hardly lasts,
Which my inheritor will come
After my death and sell
And make a great deal from ?
 
I simply desire
Health which doesn’t worsen ;
I desire a fine time here,
My reason unimpaired,
And a lyre which sings
Always of wine and love.
 
 
Blanchemain reprints several footnotes from Richelet’s commentary.In the 4th stanza, he notes that “tous les champs” are ‘the fields of his Vendome region’ (as we’d have guessed from the references to the Braye & Gastine); in the following stanza he tells us that Gobelin was  ‘formerly the famous & rich dyer of Paris’, though we now think of his Belgin tapestry factory; and explains that the “rouge venin” (‘red poison’) is scarlet dye in which the wool is soaked for a long time. A stanza later, he epxlains that Prepatour is ‘an excellent wine, whose vine belongs to the king & is in his domain in the Vendome’.
 
The stanzas 3rd & 4th from last also deserve a note or two: Ronsard says “Manger o mon compagnon”, which I guess to be Provençal dialect (“o” for “au”?), suited to the Avignon/Provencal food mentioned in the following lines, and or the Auvergne form which Gaspar hails. “Pastenade” is also Provençal, and there is even today a special variety of melon (“pompon”) grown around Tours: see here.
 
And what of Gaspar himself? Ronsard’s friend Gaspar (or Gaspard) was another of that learned circle of humanists, known among other things for translating Machiavelli into French – particularly ‘Le Prince’ and “Les discours de l’estat de paix et de guerre”, the former apparently undertaken between 1547 and 1553 but not published till the 1560s, one of three roughly contemporary translations of the notorious work.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Odes 4:5

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Guy, nos meilleurs ans coulent
Comme les eaux qui roulent
D’un cours sempiternel ;
La mort pour sa sequelle
Nous ameine avec elle
Un exil éternel.
 
Nulle humaine priere
Ne repousse en arriere
Le bateau de Charon,
Quand l’ame nue arrive
Vagabonde en la rive
De Styx et d’Acheron.
 
Toutes choses mondaines
Qui vestent nerfs et veines
La mort égale prend,
Soient pauvres ou soient princes ;
Car sur toutes provinces
Sa main large s’estend.
 
La puissance tant forte
Du grand Achille est morte,
Et Thersite, odieux
Aux Grecs, est mort encores ;
Et Minos qui est ores
Le conseiller des dieux.
 
Jupiter ne demande
Que des bœufs pour offrande ;
Mais son frere Pluton
Nous demande, nous hommes,
Qui la victime sommes
De son enfer glouton.
 
Celuy dont le Pau baigne
Le tombeau nous enseigne
N’esperer rien de haut,
Et celuy que Pegase
(Qui fit soucer Parnase)
Culbuta d’un grand saut.
 
Las ! on ne peut cognaistre
Le destin qui doit naistre,
Et l’homme en vain poursuit
Conjecturer la chose
Que Dieu sage tient close
Sous une obscure nuit.
 
Je pensois que la trope
Que guide Calliope,
Troupe mon seul confort,
Soustiendroit ma querelle,
Et qu’indonté par elle
Je donterois la mort.
 
Mais une fiévre grosse
Creuse déjà ma fosse
Pour me banir là bas,
Et sa flame cruelle
Se paist de ma mouelle,
Miserable repas.
 
Que peu s’en faut, ma vie,
Que tu ne m’es ravie
Close sous le tombeau,
Et que mort je ne voye
Où Mercure convoye
Le debile troupeau !
 
[Et ce Grec qui les peines
Dont les guerres sont pleines
Va là bas racontant,
Poëte qu’une presse
Des épaules espaisse
Admire en l’écoutant.]
 
A bon droit Prométhée
Pour sa fraude inventée
Endure un tourment tel,
Qu’un aigle sur la roche
Luy ronge d’un bec croche
Son poumon immortel.
 
Depuis qu’il eut robée
La flame prohibée,
Pour les dieux despiter,
Les bandes incogneues
Des fiévres sont venues
Parmi nous habiter.
 
Et la mort despiteuse,
Auparavant boiteuse,
Fut légère d’aller ;
D’ailes mal-ordonnées
Aux hommes non données
Dedale coupa l’air.
 
L’exécrable Pandore
Fut forgée, et encore
Astrée s’en-vola,
Et la boîte féconde
Peupla le pauvre monde
De tant de maux qu’il a.
 
Ah ! le meschant courage
Des hommes de nostre âge
N’endure pas ses faits ;
Que Jupiter estuye
Sa foudre, qui s’ennuye
Venger tant de mesfaits !
Guy, our best years rush by
Like streams flowing
In their everlasting race ;
Death, as the sequel,
Brings us with it
Eternal exile.
 
No human prayer
Can push back
Charon’s boat
When the naked soul arrives
A wanderer at the river
Styx and Acheron.
 
All wordly things
Equipped with nerves and veins
Death takes equally,
Be they poor men or princes ;
For over all the empires
Its wide hand extends.
 
The strength, though great,
Of mighty Achilles is dead ;
And Thersites, hated
By the Greeks, is dead too ;
And Minos too, who was once
Advisor to the gods.
 
Jupiter requires only
Cattle as an offering ;
But his brother Pluto
Requires us, us men,
Who are the victims
Of his greedy hell.
 
He, whose tomb the Pau [Po]
Bathes, teaches us
To hope for nothing from on high,
And he too, whom Pegasus
(Who disquieted Parnassus)
Knocked down with his great leap.
 
Alas ! we cannot know
The fate which must come to us,
And man in vain seeks
To conjecture what thing
Our wise God keeps hidden
Beneath dark night.
 
I thought that the troop
Whom Calliope leads,
The troop which is my sole comfort,
Would support my complaint
And that, untamed by them,
I would tame death.
 
But a great fever
Is already digging my grave
To banish me down there,
And its cruel flame
Is feeding on my marrow,
A wretched repast.
 
How little is needed, mt life,
For you to be taken from me,
Shut in beneath my tomb,
And for me to see death
Where Mercury brings
The feeble troop !
 
[And that Greek who
Continually recounts down there
The pains with which war is filled,
The poet whom a crowd
Of wide shoulders
Admires as they listen.]
 
Rightly does Prometheus
For that trick he contrived
Endure such torment,
As, on his rock, an eagle
With its crooked beak gnaws
His immortal guts.
 
Since he stole away
The forbidden fire
To spite the gods,
The unknown bonds
Of fevers have come
To live among us ;
 
And resentful death,
Before that limping slowly,
Has become light on his feet.
With clumsy wings
Not granted to man
Daedalus cut through the air.
 
Cursed Pandora
Was forged and, still
A star, flew off
While the fruitful box
Peopled this poor world
With all the evils it had.
 
Ah, the paltry courage
Of the men of our age
Cannot endure their deeds ;
May Jupiter hold back
His thunderbolts, bored with
Avenging so many misdeeds !

 

This Ode is dedicated to Guy Pacate, prior of Sougé – a small village in the Loir region. Even today it consists of little more than one street and a church. Pacate had been one of the little group around Daurat in the 1540s, including Ronsard, du Bellay and Denisot, from which sprang the Pléiade. Among them he was apparently known for his learning and his gift for Latin poetry; though beyond their circle he seems obscure.  Perhaps it is relevant that, in the posthumous editions of Ronsard the dedication was to Jean Daurat himself, rather than this little-known satellite of his.
 
It’s certainly relevant that Pacate knew his classics: there is an array of classical references here rarely seen in such number in Ronsard’s poems! But at the same time Ronsard contrives an inward-looking reflection on death rather than a grand, public poem, suitable to the relative obscurity of the dedicatee.
 
Stanza 2 refers to the journey to the afterlife: souls would come down to the river Styx where they awaited Charon’s boat to ferry them over to Hades. (Mercury guided souls to the underworld – stanza 10.)
 
Stanza 4 contrasts Achilles with Thersites, the former the hero of the Iliad, the latter an annoying, cowardly tell-tale also on the Greek side; and adds Minos, once a king on earth, but tricked and killed in his bath by his daughters.
 
In stanza 6, Pau is famous as the birthplace of “noste Enric” (‘our Henry’), Henry IV of France; and earlier was the base of Gaston Fébus, whose Renaissance court paralleled that of Italian city-states. But this Pau is in fact the Po in north Italy, reputed to be where Phaethon fell when struck down by Jupiter’s thunderbolt. The second half of the stanza is about Perseus; other editions have “sourcer” rather than the (unique?) “soucer” which I have treated as if it were “soucier”: “Qui fit sourcer Parnase” would mean something like “who made a spring come from Parnassus”, the spring being the Hippocrene spring which was created when Pegasus stamped his foot, and which became sacred to the Muses.
 
The troop of Calliope in stanza 8 is the Muses – Calliope is the muse of epic poetry. In stanza 11, the poet is no doubt Homer; we have met Prometheus (stanzas 12-13), punished by the gods for bringing fire to man, regularly. In stanza 14 I have to admit the presence of Daedalus confuses me: there is no link to Pandora, nor did his flight lead to his own death. I assume that Ronsard is offering a simile – like Daedalus taking wing, death too became swifter.
 
Finally, in the penultimate stanza, Pandora is ‘forged’ because she the first woman, was made by Vulcan on Jupiter’s instructions. The story of the evils contained in Pandora’s box is well-known.
 
 
 
 
 

To Cassandre – Ode 2:5

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La Lune est coustumiere
Renaistre tous les mois ;
Mais, quand nostre lumiere
Sera morte une fois,
Longtemps sans réveiller
Nous faudra sommeiller.
 
Tandis que vivons ores,
Un baiser donne moy ;
Donne-m’en mille encores :
Amour n’a point de loy ;
A sa grand’ deité
Convient l’infinité.
 
Ah ! vous m’avez, maistresse
De la dent entamé
La langue chanteresse
De vostre nom aimé.
Quoi ! est-ce là le prix
Du labeur qu’elle a pris,
 
Elle qui voz louanges
Dessus le luth vantoit,
Et aux peuples estranges
Vos mérites chantoit,
Ne faisant l’air si non
Bruire de votre nom.
 
De vos tetins d’yvoire
(Joyaux de l’Orient)
Elle chantoit la gloire,
Et de votre œil friant,
Pour la récompenser
La faut-il offenser ?
 
Las ! de petite chose
Je me plains durement :
La playe en l’ame enclose
Me cuit bien autrement,
Que ton œil m’y laissa
Le jour qu’il me blessa.
The moon is accustomed
To being reborn every month;
But when our light
Is once dead,
For long without waking
We’ll have to sleep.
 
While we live, though,
Give me a kiss,
Give me a thousand more;
Love has no rules,
Infinity suits
His great godhood.
 
Ah, mistress, you have
Overcome me with your teeth,
Your enchantress’s tongue,
Your beloved name;
What? Is that the prize
For the task she undertook,
 
She, who extolled
Your praises on the lute,
And sang to unknown peoples
Your merits
Making the air
Resound with your name.
 
She sang of the glory
Of your ivory breasts,
The jewels of the Orient,
And of your dainty eyes;
So to recompense her
Should we offend her?
 
Alas, of little things
I complain harshly;
The wound hidden in my soul
Burns me very differently
Than when your eyes left me it
On the day when they wounded me.

 

Who is the ‘she’ of the middle of the poem? Grammatically, it can only refer back to “sa grand’ deité”, the ‘great godhood’ of Love; so I could have used the male pronoun and had Love singing, praising etc.
 
Blanchemain offers us also a variant text, replacing stanza 4 (‘she who extolled your praises on the lute’) with two stanzas as follows:
 
 
Elle par qui vous estes
Déesse entre les dieux,
Qui vos beautez parfaites
Celebroit jusqu’aux cieux,
Ne faisant l’air sinon
Bruire de vostre nom,
 
De vostre belle face,
Le beau logis d’amour,
Où Venus et la Grace
Ont choisi leur sejour,
Et de vostre œil, qui fait
Le soleil moins parfait.
 
 
                                                                 She through whom you are
                                                                 A goddess among the gods,
                                                                 Who laud your perfect
                                                                 Beauty to the skies,
                                                                 Making the air simply
                                                                 Resound with your name,
 
                                                                 With your fair face:
                                                                 The fair home of love,
                                                                 Where Venus and Grace
                                                                 Have chosen to stay,
                                                                 And with your eyes, which make
                                                                 The sun less perfect.
 
 
 
 
 

To his mistress (Odes 2:7)

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Cassandre ne donne pas
Des baisers, mais des appas
Qui seuls nourrissent mon ame,
Les biens dont les dieux sont fous,
Du nectar, du sucre dous,
De la cannelle et du bâme,
 
Du thym, du lis, de la rose
Parmy ses lévres desclose,
Fleurante en totes saisons,
Et du miel tel qu’en Hymette
La desrobe-fleur avette
Remplit ses douces maisons.
 
O dieux ! que j’ay de plaisir
Quand je sen mon col saisir
De ses bras en mainte sorte !
Sur moy se laissant courber,
Peu à peu la voy tomber
Dans mon sain à demi-morte ;
 
Puis, mettant la bouche sienne
Tout à plat dessus la mienne,
Me mord, et je la remors.
Je luy darde, elle me darde
Sa languette fretillarde ;
Puis en ses bras je m’endors.
 
D’un baiser doucement long,
Ell’ me suce l’ame adonc,
Puis en souflant la repousse,
La ressuce encore un coup,
La ressouffle tout à coup
Avec son haleine douce.
 
Tout ainsi les colombelles,
Tremoussant un peu des ailes,
Havement se vont baisant,
Après que l’oiseuse glace
A quitté la froide place
Au printemps doux et plaisant.
 
Helas ! mais tempere un peu
Les biens dont je suis repeu,
Tempere un peu ma liesse ;
Tu me ferois immortel.
Hé ! je ne veux estre tel
Si tu n’es aussi déesse.
Cassandre does not give
Kisses, but charms
Which alone nourish my soul –
The good things for which the gods are mad,
Nectar, sweet sugar,
Cinnamon and balm,
 
Thyme, lily, rose
Blooming on her lips,
Flowering in all seasons,
And honey like that with which on Hymettus
The flower-thieves, the bees,
Fills their sweet homes.
 
O gods ! what pleasure I get
When I feel my neck seized
By her arms so very often!
Letting herself curve on me
Little by little I see her fall
On my breast half-dead.
 
Then, placing her mouth
Flat on mine,
She bites me, and I bite back,
I nibble her and she my
Frisky tongue;
Then in her arms I fall asleep.
 
With a sweet long kiss
She sucks out my soul thus,
Then breathing out she pushes it back,
Sucks it out once again,
Breathes it back all at once
With her sweet breath.
 
Just so doves,
Fidgeting their wings a little,
Careworn, go on kissing
After the lazy ice
Has left its cold place
In sweet and pleasant spring.
 
Oh, moderate a little
The good things with which I am fed,
Moderate my happiness a little!
You will make me immortal –
But I don’t want to be
Unless you are also a goddess.

 

 

 
 
 
 

To Estienne Pasquier (Odes 4:29)

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Tu me fais mourir de me dire
Qu’il ne faut sinon qu’une lyre
Pour m’amuser, et que tousjours
Je ne veux chanter que d’amours.
 
Tu dis vray, je le te confesse ;
Mais il ne plaist a la déesse
Qui mesle un plaisir d’un souci
Que je vive autrement qu’ainsi.
 
Car quand Amour un coup enflame
De son feu quelque gentille ame,
Impossible est de l’oublier
Ni de ses rets se deslier.
 
Mais toy, Pasquier, en qui Minerve
A tant mis de biens en reserve,
Qui as l’esprit ardent et vif,
Et nay pour n’estre point oisif ;
 
Eleve au ciel par ton histoire
De nos rois les faits et la gloire,
Et pren sous ta diserte voix
La charge des honneurs françois ;
 
Et desormais vivre me laisse
Sans gloire au sein de ma maistresse,
Et parmy ses ris et ses jeux
Laisse grisonner mes cheveux.
You kill me by saying
That I only need a lyre
To amuse me, and that always
I want only to sing of love.
 
You tell the truth, I admit it to you,
But it doesn’t please the goddess
Who mixes pleasure with pain
That I should live any other way than this.
 
For when love ignites a shaft
Of his fire in some noble soul,
It is impossible to forget him
Or to escape his nets.
 
But you, Pasquier, in whom Minerva
Has reserved so many good things,
You have a spirit ardent and lively,
Born to be in no way idle.
 
Raise to heaven through your history
The deeds and glory of our Kings,
And take charge, with your eloquent voice,
Of the honours of France;
 
And let me live henceforth
Without glory on the breast of my mistress,
And among her smiles and her games
Let my hair grow grey.

 

Estienne Pasquier is a figure we’ve met before: here, Belleau notes ‘Advocate general of the Chambre des Comptes in Paris, of whom we can offer no better evidence than his own [poetical] works provide, and our poet in this place who has truly pinpointed his talent’. It’s a nice self-denying poem by ROnsard, praising his friend for his high-flown, learned poetry (Minerva is the goddess of wisdom), while putting himself down as a mere love-poet.