An ordinary offering – a succulent houseplant – generates the conceit of ‘ever-living’ through the memorial of poetry; and suddenly we are back in the world of Petrarch and Laura. As we give up pens and books for online messaging and e-books, it would be nice to think Ronsard will survive the changeover 🙂Nicolas Richelet, early editor of the Helen poems, offers this footnote on the sempervivum: “A kind of simple which takes its name from its nature. It is not without cause that he makes this present, sempervivum is also used to make someone fall in love. That’s why in ancient times it was attached to house doors, to chase away all hatred and hostility.” (This use of sempervivum was apparently unknown to Culpepper, whose Herbal says ‘Our ordinary Houseleek is good for all inward heats, as well as outward, and in the eyes or other parts of the body: a posset made of the juice is singularly good in all hot agues, for it cooleth and tempereth the blood and spirits and quencheth the thirst; and is also good to stay all defluction or sharp and salt rheums in the eyes, the juice being dropped into them. If the juice be dropped into the ears, it easeth pain…. It cooleth and restraineth all hot inflammations, St. Anthony’s fire (Erysipelas), scaldings and burnings, the shingles, fretting ulcers, ringworms and the like; and much easeth the pain and the gout.’ – from Wikipedia.) Blanchemain has only two variants, plus a third hidden in a footnote. In line 4 he has a chnage of tense, “Comme vous enchaisniez … ” (‘Since you have kept in chains …’); and in line 13 “Vous vivrez et croistrez …” (‘You shall live and increase like Laura in greatness’), which is perhaps better in meaning but has none of the rhythmic complexity of the revised version. The footnote offers a variant of the opening, “A fin qu’en renaissant …” (‘That through being reborn from age to age may live on …’), which offers two slightly different ways of reading the opening: being reborn from age to age, in order to live on; or living on from age to age through being reborn.
Let’s now turn to the last of the three main sonnet-sequences, and work towards completing the Helen series…Soit qu’un sage amoureux ou soit qu’un sot me lise, Il ne doit s’esbahir voyant mon chef grison, Si je chante d’amour : tousjours un vieil tison Cache un germe de feu sous une cendre grise. Le bois verd à grand’ peine en le souflant s’attise, Le sec sans le soufler brusle en toute saison. La Lune se gaigna d’une blanche toison, Et son vieillard Tithon l’Aurore ne mesprise. Lecteur, je ne veux estre escolier de Platon, Qui la vertu nous presche, et ne fait pas de mesme : Ny volontaire Icare, ou lourdaut Phaëthon, Perdus pour attenter une sotise extreme : Mais sans me contrefaire ou Voleur ou Charton, De mon gré je me noye et me brusle moy-mesme. Whether a wise lover or whether a fool reads me, He ought not to be astonished, seeing my grey hairs, That I’m singing of love; ancient embers always Hide the germ of a fire beneath the grey ash. Green wood is kindled with great difficulty, by blowing on it, But dry wood burns at any time without blowing; The moon has got herself a white fleece, And Dawn does not despise her old Tithonus. Reader, I do not wish to be a scholar of Plato Who preaches us virtue but does not do as he says; Nor willingly [to be] Icarus, or clumsy Phaethon, Destroyed by attempting their extreme folly; But without pretending to be that thief or carter, I’d willingly give myself to drowning or burning. Beginning the second book of helen poems, Ronsard cannot avoid admitting his age and potentially foolish behaviour! But, in an image I don’t recall him using earlier, he compares how well ‘old’ and ‘young’ wood burns … The classical references are fairly simple ones: Aurora and her aged lover Tithonus; Icarus who flew too near the sun, Phaethon who lost control of Apollo’s sun-chariot and was killed. Note however that Ronsard re-characterises both myths (line 13): Icarus did not steal the wings he used, but foolishly mis-used what he’d been given; and there’s no particular sense that Phaethon was unable to drive skilfully (like a ‘carter’), only that the sun-god’s horses were too much for him. Blanchemain has one variant in his text (line 4, “Cache un germe de feu dessous la cendre grise”) not affecting the meaning, and offers a variant of line 10 in a footnote: “Qui, pour trop contempler, a tousjours le teint blesme” (‘Who from too much studying always has a pallid look’). Frankly, that version of line 10 is much more apposite – fitting the context of the outward appearances which the rest of the poem discusses – than the later variant which is only loosely picked up by the denigratory ‘thief and carter’ of line 13; presumably it was the explosion of sharp ‘t’ sounds that Ronsard sought to avoid.
Anagram You alone are my heart, my blood, my goddess; Your eye is the happy line and net Which catches noble men whenever it wants And never allows itself to be caught by fools. Honour too, and virtue, foresight and wisdom Live within your soul, which makes all those Fall in love who naturally have a heart eager To honour the beauties of a learned mistress. Names have effect and power and magic; I see this through yours, which has overcome Me, body and soul, with its substantial weapons. It was the fate which caused my wound of love. So too by effectual name you are THE NET OF NOBLE SOULS, Elene de Surgeres. A neat anagram. Both Marty-Laveaux and Blanchemain print LE RÉ DES GENEREUX, but actually it needs to be LE RÉ DES GENEREUS (a common plural form in Ronsard anyway) for the anagram to work! Elsewhere Blanchemain’s version diverges from Marty-Laveaux’s, with changes at the start of each ‘stanza’ but the first: Tu es seule mon cœur, mon sang et ma deesse, Ton œil est le filé et le ré bien-heureux Qui prend, quand il lui plaist, les hommes genereux, Et se prendre des sots jamais il ne se laisse. L’honneur, la chasteté, la vertu, la sagesse, Logent en ton esprit, lequel rend amoureux Tous ceux qui de nature ont un cœur desireux D’honorer les beautez d’une docte maistresse. Les noms (a dit Platon) ont très grande vertu ; Je le voy par le tien, lequel m’a combatu, Et l’esprit et le corps par armes non legeres. Sa deïté causa mon amoureux soucy. Voila comme de nom, d’effect tu es aussi LE RÉ DES GENEREUX, Elene de Surgeres. You alone are my heart, my blood, my goddess; Your eye is the happy line and net Which catches noble men whenever it wants And never allows itself to be caught by fools. Honour, chastity, virtue, wisdom Live within your soul, which makes all those Fall in love who naturally have a heart eager To honour the beauties of a learned mistress. Names (said Plato) have very great magic; I see this through yours, which has overcome Me, body and soul, with its substantial weapons. It was the deity which caused my wound of love. So too by effectual name you are THE NET OF NOBLE SOULS, Elene de Surgeres. Blanchemain also offers a second variant of line 12 (the opening of the final tercet): “Sa force à moy fatale a causé mon soucy” (‘Its power, fatal to me, caused my wound’).
I really should have saved the New Year’s wish poem for now! Still, happy new year everyone & here’s a beautiful opening to the year.Amour, qui as ton regne en ce monde si ample, Voy ta gloire et la mienne errer en ce jardin : Voy comme son bel œil, mon bel astre divin, Surmonte de clairté les lampes de ton Temple. Voy son corps des beautez le portrait et l’exemple, Qui ressemble une Aurore au plus beau d’un matin ; Voy son esprit, seigneur du Sort et du Destin, Qui passe la Nature, en qui Dieu se contemple. Regarde-la marcher toute pensive à soy T’emprisonner de fleurs et triompher de toy Pressant dessous ses pas les herbes bien-heureuses. Voy sortir un Printemps des rayons de ses yeux : Et voy comme à l’envy ses flames amoureuses Embellissent la terre et serenent les cieux. Love, you who have the rule of this wide world, See your glory and mine wandering in this garden See how her lovely eye, my own heavenly star, Outshines in brightness the lamps of your temple. See her body, the very portrait and example of beauty, Like the dawn at its most beautiful in the morning; See her spirit, master of fate and destiny, Which surpasses nature and in which God recognises himself. Look at her walking alone, so pensive, Imprisoning you in flowers, triumphing over you, Pressing beneath her feet the fortunate grass. See how the rays of her eyes release a sort of Spring, And how enviably her loving flames Enhance the world and calm the heavens. Blanchemain’s version has only a few variants: line 4 becomes “Reluit comme une lampe ardente dans un temple” (‘Shines out like a flaming lamp in a temple’); the end of line 6 is slightly different (“au plus beau du matin”, ‘at the most beautiful time of morning’); and line 11 becomes “Voy naistre sous ses pieds les herbes bienheureuses ” (‘See the fortunate grass grow beneath her feet’). But Blanchemain also offers us a further (footnoted) variant, a complete re-write of lines 7-9: Voy son front, mais un ciel seigneur de mon destin, Où comme en un mirouer Nature se contemple. Voy-le marcher pensive, et n’aimer rien que soy. See her brow, rather the heaven which rules my destiny, In which as in a mirror nature regards herself. See her walking pensively, loving none but herself. So many alternatives, all of them equally beautiful, makes for twice the pleasure. What a good way to start 2015! Still better, I have an excuse to add a sonnet by Petrarch, which seems to have been Ronsard’s starting-point for his own sonnet. Stiamo, Amor, a veder la gloria nostra, cose sopra natura altere et nove: vedi ben quanta in lei dolcezza piove, vedi lume che ‘l cielo in terra mostra, vedi quant’arte dora e ‘mperla e ‘nostra l’abito electo, et mai non visto altrove, che dolcemente i piedi et gli occhi move per questa di bei colli ombrosa chiostra. L’erbetta verde e i fior’ di color’ mille sparsi sotto quel’ elce antiqua et negra pregan pur che ‘l bel pe’ li prema o tocchi; e ‘l ciel di vaghe et lucide faville s’accende intorno, e ‘n vista si rallegra d’esser fatto seren da sí belli occhi. Shall we stop, Love, to see our glory, Things strange beyond nature and new? See how much sweetness rains upon her, See the light which heaven shows on earth, See with what art is gilded and pearled our lady’s Chosen dress, never seen elsewhere, As she sweetly moves her feet and eyes Through this shady cloister of lovely hills. The soft green grass and flowers of a thousand colours Scattered under this ancient, black holm-oak Even pray that her fair foot will flatten or touch them; And the heavens blaze all around with bright, Wandering sparks and openly rejoices In being made calm by such fair eyes.