Category Archives: Sonnets

All poems, from whatever publication, in sonnet form.

Helen 2:12

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Prenant congé de vous, dont les yeux m’ont donté,
Vous me distes un soir comme passionnée,
Je vous aime, Ronsard, par seule destinée
Le Ciel à vous aimer force ma volonté.
 
Ce n’est vostre sçavoir, ce n’est vostre beauté
Ny vostre âge qui fuit vers l’Automne inclinée :
Ce n’est ny vostre corps ny vostre ame bien-née,
C’est seulement du Ciel l’injuste cruauté.
 
Vous voyant, ma Raison ne s’est pas defenduë,
Vous puissé-je oublier comme chose perduë.
Helas ! je ne sçaurois et je le voudrois bien.
 
Le voulant, je rencontre une force au contraire.
Puis qu’on dit que le Ciel est cause de tout bien,
Je n’y veux resister, il le faut laisser faire.
 
 
                                                                            As I was taking leave of you, the one whose eyes have conquered me,
                                                                            One evening, you told me like one impassioned
                                                                            “I love you, Ronsard; it is simply fate
                                                                            That Heaven forces my will to love you.
 
                                                                            It is not your understanding, it is not your beauty
                                                                            Nor your age which is running on towards its Autumn;
                                                                            It is neither your figure nor you well-born soul,
                                                                            It is solely the unjust cruelty of Heaven.
 
                                                                            Seeing you, my reason did not defend itself:
                                                                            Would that I could forget you like something lost.
                                                                            Alas, I could not, though I wished it.
 
                                                                            Wishing it, I feel a contrary force.
                                                                            As they say Heaven is the cause of all good,
                                                                            I do not wish to resist it, I must let it carry on.”
 
 
Well, here’s a surprise: Helen actually making a declaration of love. Or maybe it’s just Ronsard’s wish-fulfilment. But the absence of quotation marks also allows us to read this, more interestingly, as a gradual transition from one to the other: that opening statement perhaps a reality, then a quatrain which is perhaps still a fair reflection of Helen’s thoughts, then in the last half-dozen lines thoughts that might have more Ronsard than Helen in them…
 
The last line offers an intriguing note: “laisser faire” as a widely-used term started with 18th century economists, and as far as I can see it is Corneille whom most early uses are found in. Yet here’s Ronsard decades earlier using the phrase in exactly the same way. I could use a good dictionary with a list of early usages!
 
Blanchemain’s version offers a couple of differences. Line 7 is changed; and in line 5 Blanchemain offers an alternative reading in a footnote:
 
 
Ce n’est pas vostre corps, ce n’est vostre beauté,
Ny vostre âge, qui fuit vers l’automne inclinée.
Ja cela s’est perdu comme une fleur fanée ;
C’est seulement du Ciel l’injuste cruauté.
 
 
                                                                            It is not your figure, it is not your beauty,
                                                                            Nor your age which is running on towards its Autumn.
                                                                            That’s all lost already, like a faded flower;
                                                                            It is solely the unjust cruelty of Heaven.
 
 
A rather harsher line 7, harsher to Ronsard that is, and one that sounds (to me) like it comes from him not her!
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Helen 2:16

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Si vos yeux cognoissoient leur divine puissance,
Et s’ils se pouvoient voir ainsi que je les voy,
Ils ne s’estonneroient, se cognoissant, de quoy,
Divins, ils ont vaincu une mortelle essence.
 
Mais, par faute d’avoir d’eux-mesmes cognoissance,
Ils ne peuvent juger du mal que je reçoy :
Seulement mon visage en tesmoigne pour moy.
Le voyant si desfait, ils voyent leur puissance.
 
Yeux, où devroit loger une bonne amitié,
Comme vous regardez tout le Ciel et la terre,
Que ne penetrez-vous mon cœur par la moitié ?
 
Ainsi que de ses raiz le Soleil fait le verre,
Si vous le pouviez voir vous en auriez pitié,
Et aux cendres d’un mort vous ne feriez la guerre.
 
 
 
                                                                            If you eyes understood their godlike power
                                                                            And if they could see themselves as I see them,
                                                                            They would not be amazed, understanding themselves, that
                                                                            Godlike they have overcome my mortal essence.
 
                                                                            But, by not understanding themselves,
                                                                            They cannot judge the pain I get from them ;
                                                                            My face alone bears witness of it for me,
                                                                            And seeing it so transformed they can see their power.
 
                                                                            Oh eyes in which fair friendship should reside,
                                                                            Since you see everything in heaven and earth,
                                                                            How can you not even half-penetrate my heart ?
 
                                                                            Just as the Sun with his rays makes things clear,
                                                                            If you could see it, you would have pity on it
                                                                            And would not make war on the ashes of a dead man.
 
 
Identical in Blanchemain, and requires no commentary!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Helen 2:15

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Je ne veux comparer tes beautez à la Lune :
La Lune est inconstante, et ton vouloir n’est qu’un.
Encor moins au Soleil : le Soleil est commun,
Commune est sa lumiere, et tu n’es pas commune.
 
Tu forces par vertu l’envie et la rancune.
Je ne suis, te louant, un flateur importun.
Tu sembles à toy-mesme, et n’as portrait aucun :
Tu es toute ton Dieu, ton Astre, et ta Fortune.
 
Ceux qui font de leur Dame à toy comparaison,
Sont ou presomptueux, ou perclus de raison :
D’esprit et de sçavoir de bien loin tu les passes :
 
Ou bien quelque Demon de ton corps s’est vestu,
Ou bien tu es portrait de la mesme Vertu,
Ou bien tu es Pallas, ou bien l’une des Graces.
 
 
 
                                                                            I do not wish to compare your beauties to the Moon :
                                                                            The Moon is inconstant, and your will is but one.
                                                                            Still less to the Sun : the Sun is commonplace,
                                                                            Commonplace is his light, but you are not commonplace.
 
                                                                            You overpower with your virtue both envy and resentment.
                                                                            In praising you, I am not just flattering again and again.
                                                                            You resemble only yourself, and have no image,
                                                                            You are your own god, your own star and good fortune.
 
                                                                            Those who make comparisons of their own lady to you
                                                                            Are either presumptuous or devoid of reason :
                                                                            In spirit and learning you far surpass them.
 
                                                                            I cannot tell if some spirit has clothed itself in your form,
                                                                            Or whether you are the image of Virtue herself,
                                                                            Or are Athena herself, or one of the Graces.
 
 
I have replaced ‘common’ in lines 3-4 with ‘commonplace’, to avoid the connotation common has in English as the opposite of ‘genteel’ rather than of ‘unusual’. I should also draw attention to ‘Demon’ in line 12: I’m sure Ronsard is thinking here of the Greek ‘daimon’ rather than a Biblical ‘demon’ – a neutral rather than a wicked spirit. Athena here represents wisdom.
 
 
Blanchemain’s early version is identical.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Helen 2:11

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Trois jours sont ja passez que je suis affamé
De vostre doux regard, et qu’à l’enfant je semble
Que la nourrice laisse, et qui crie et qui tremble
De faim en son berceau, dont il est consommé.
 
Puis que mon œil ne voit le vostre tant aimé,
Qui ma vie et ma mort en un regard assemble,
Vous deviez, pour le moins, m’escrire, ce me semble :
Mais vous avez le cœur d’un rocher enfermé.
 
Fiere ingrate beauté trop hautement superbe,
Vostre courage dur n’a pitié de l’amour,
Ny de mon palle teint ja flestry comme une herbe.
 
Si je suis sans vous voir deux heures à sejour,
Par espreuve je sens ce qu’on dit en proverbe,
L’amoureux qui attend se vieillist en un jour.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Three days have now passed while I’ve been starved
                                                                            Of your sweet glance, and I feel like a child
                                                                            Whom the nurse has left, which cries and trembles
                                                                            In its cradle from the hunger which consumes it.
 
                                                                            Since my eyes have not seen yours, so beloved,
                                                                            Which collect together in one look my life and my death,
                                                                            You ought at least to write to me, I think;
                                                                            But you have a heart like a sealed rock.
 
                                                                            Proud, ungrateful beauty, too vain and conceited,
                                                                            Your harsh spirit has no pity on my love,
                                                                            Nor on my pale colour, withered like the grass.
 
                                                                            If I am two hours at a stretch without seeing you,
                                                                            By actual experience I feel just what the proverb says,
                                                                            “The lover forced to wait becomes old in a day”.
 
 
An unusual baby simile here distinguishes this poem from the many others in this vein; as does the wry reference to growing old in the last couplet! No doubt there is a knowing wink in the opening line at “Trois ans sont ja passez” (from Helen book 1); and it’s interesting to see a Biblical reference in line 11 – ‘all flesh is like grass … the grass withers and fades’ from Isaiah – in place of the usual classical references. It must be only a coincidence – mustn’t it? – that 1578 was also the year of the breakthrough of Du Bartas with his very Biblical epic about the week of Creation…
 
Blanchemain offers “Que sa nourrice laisse…” (‘Whom its nurse has left’) in line 3. He also offers us a variant of line 9:  “Fiere, ingrate et rebelle, à mon dam trop superbe” (‘Proud, ungrateful and contrary, too conceited, to my hurt’); and the information that, in 1578, these ‘Helen’ poems appeared in the ‘Amours diverses’ – moving to Helen later!
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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.
 
 
 
 
 

Helen 2:30

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Voyez comme tout change (hé, qui l’eust esperé ! )
Vous me souliez donner, maintenant je vous donne
Des bouquets et des fleurs : Amour vous abandonne,
Qui seul dedans mon cœur est ferme demeuré.
 
Des Dames le vouloir n’est jamais mesuré,
Qui d’une extreme ardeur tantost se passionne,
Tantost une froideur extreme l’environne,
Sans avoir un milieu longuement asseuré.
 
Voila comme Fortune en se joüant m’abaisse :
Vostre plus grande gloire un temps fut de m’aimer,
Maintenant je vous aime, et vostre amour me laisse :
 
Ainsi que je vous vey je me voy consumer.
Dieu pour punir l’orgueil commet une Deesse :
Elle vous appartient, je n’ose la nommer.
 
 
 
                                                                            See how everything changes ! Who could have expected this ?
                                                                            You used to give me bouquets of flowers,
                                                                            Now I give you them ; Love abandons you,
                                                                            He alone is firmly stationed in my heart.
 
                                                                            The desire of ladies is never measured,
                                                                            It is always extremely passionate, burning with ardour,
                                                                            But soon an extreme coldness enwraps it,
                                                                            Its place not long assured.
 
                                                                            See how Fortune playfully abases me:
                                                                            Your greatest glory once was to love me,
                                                                            But now I love you and your love for me has gone;
 
                                                                            As I see you, I am myself consumed.
                                                                            God has appointed a goddess to punish pride:
                                                                            She is yours, I dare not name her.
 
 
I like the inversion here. For once, Helen is the one in love – though not for long, and so the complaints continue. Not that I can remember Helen sending bouquets, nor indeed loving Ronsard deeply…
 
A couple of notes :
 – in line 4, perhaps the idea is, ‘he is in my heart only (not yours)’ , rather than that his heart contains love and nothing else. –But, while that might be a ‘poetic’ meaning we want to infer, the grammar has to be contorted to support that reading.
 – in the last two lines, Ronsard is referring to Nemesis. She ‘belongs to’ Helen because, as Richelet tells us, ‘deflowered by Jupiter, Nemesis gave birth to an egg from which Helen [of Troy] hatched’: an appropriate origin for that Helen, transferred to Ronsard’s.
 
 
Blanchemain’s version shows that the ending of this poem is a complete re-write. There are also minor changes in 78: “Tantost d’une froideur extreme s’environne” (‘But soon it wraps itself in an extreme coldness’). The last four lines here read:
 
 
… Maintenant je vous aime, et languis de tristesse,
 
Et me voy sans raison de douleur consumer.
Pour me venger de vous il est une déesse :
Vous la cognoissez bien, je n’ose la nommer.
 
 
                                                                            But now I love you and I pine from sadness,
                                                                            And without reason find myself consumed by grief.
                                                                            To avenge me on you, there exists a goddess:
                                                                            You know her well, I dare not name her.
 
 
It’s a more ‘standard’ ending than the one Ronsard moves to, with the usual reference to vengeance in exchange for undeserved grief, and far less ‘demanding’ on the reader than the more allusive later version, which expects us to reach Nemesis through ‘punishment’ not revenge, and through the allusion to her relationship with Helen.
 
Not content with providing this earlier text, Blanchemain also offers a version from the ‘posthumous editions’, which converts the 14-line sonnet into a 16-line ‘madrigal’. Here, the second half expands the thoughts, but also makes clearer the Helen birth-myth:
 
Voila comme Fortune en se joüant m’abaisse :
Vostre apprehension et vostre seul penser
Un temps furent à moy, or’ vostre amour me laisse :
Le temps peut toute chose à la fin effacer.
 
Ne vous mocquez pourtant du lien qui me presse ;
Soyez douce à mon cœur, sans tant le reblesser.
Dieu, pour punir l’orgueil, commet une deesse ;
Son sein vous esclouit, gardez de l’offenser.
 
 
                                                                            See how Fortune playfully abases me:
                                                                            Your fears and all your thoughts
                                                                            Were once for me, but now your love abandons me;
                                                                            Time can efface all things in the end.
 
                                                                            But don’t laugh at the ties which oppress me;
                                                                            Be gentle with my heart, without hurting it again and again.

                                                                            God has appointed a goddess to punish pride:
                                                                            Her breast hatched you, take care not to offend her.
 
 
 
 

Helen 2:23

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Aller en marchandise aux Indes precieuses,
Sans acheter ny or ny parfum ny joyaux,
Hanter sans avoir soif les sources et les eaux,
Frequenter sans bouquets les fleurs delicieuses,
 
Courtiser et chercher les Dames amoureuses,
Estre tousjours assise au milieu des plus beaux,
Et ne sentir d’amour ny fleches ny flambeaux,
Ma Dame, croyez-moy, sont choses monstrueuses.
 
C’est se tromper soy-mesme : aussi tousjours j’ay creu
Qu’on pouvoit s’eschaufer en s’approchant du feu,
Et qu’en prenant la glace et la neige on se gelle.
 
Puis il est impossible estant si jeune et belle,
Que vostre cœur gentil d’Amour ne soit esmeu,
Sinon d’un grand brasier, aumoins d’une etincelle.
 
 
 
                                                                            To go trading in the rich Indies
                                                                            Without buying gold or perfumes or jewels,
                                                                            To wander by springs and streams without being thirsty,
                                                                            Or among delightful flowers without gathering them,
 
                                                                            To pay court to and seek out ladies eager for love,
                                                                            To be always seated amidst the most handsome men,
                                                                            And not to feel Love’s darts and fires –
                                                                            Believe me, my Lady, these are monstrous things.
 
                                                                            It’s self-deception: as I’ve always believed
                                                                            That you can warm yourself by going nearer a fire
                                                                            Or make yourself frozen by picking up ice and snow,
 
                                                                            So it is impossible that, being so young and fair,
                                                                            Your noble heart could not be struck by some
                                                                            Little spark of Love, even if not a great bonfire.
 
 
 
Nothing to add here, except to note Ronsard’s artful cunning, as he leads us to believe we are in another conventional poem about men loving ladies, confuses us with a masculine adjective in line 6 (the ‘men’ are only in my translation because otherwise the shift is unseen in English), but only reveals in the final tercet that his subject is the impossibility of Helen’s being untouched by love, rather than her suitors being untouched…
 
Blanchemain’s version is identical: no need for change here!