Category Archives: Sonnets

All poems, from whatever publication, in sonnet form.

Helen 2:36

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J’ay honte de ma honte, il est temps de me taire,
Sans faire l’amoureux en un chef si grison:
Il vaut mieux obeyr aux loix de la Raison,
Qu’estre plus desormais en l’amour volontaire.
 
J’ay juré cent fois : mais je ne le puis faire.
Les Roses pour l’Hyver ne sont plus de saison :
Voicy le cinquiesme an de ma longue prison,
Esclave entre les mains d’une belle Corsaire.
 
Maintenant je veux estre importun amokureux
Du bon pere Aristote, et d’un soin genereux
Courtiser et servir la beauté de sa fille.
 
Il est temps que je sois de l’Amour deslié :
Il vole comme un Dieu : homme je vais à pié.
Il est jeune il est fort: je suis gris et debile.
 
 
                                                                            I’m ashamed of my shame, it’s time to shut up
                                                                            And stop acting like a lover with my hairs so grey ;
                                                                            Better to obey the laws of Reason
                                                                            Than still in future to volunteer for love.
 
                                                                            I’ve sworn it a hundred times; but I cannot do it.
                                                                            Roses in winter are no longer in season;
                                                                            And this is the fifth year of my long imprisonment,
                                                                            A slave in the hands of a fair Corsair.
 
                                                                            Now I’d rather be the demanding lover
                                                                            Of good father Aristotle, and with generous care
                                                                            Court and serve his daughter’s beauty.
 
                                                                            It’s time that I was unbound from Love.
                                                                            He flies like a god, as a man I have to walk;
                                                                            He is young and powerful, I am grey and weak.
 
 
 
 
Blanchemain helpfully notes, in case you hadn’t got it, that Aristotle’s daughter in line 11 is philosophy, not a real girl. (We might note, though, that Aristotle had a real daughter Pythias, who was married 3 times: maybe then she was a beauty!) Being more precise, we might look at Aristotle’s philosophical ‘children’ as being logic & ethics (=reason & virtue), which would link neatly with two themes (other than love) which often appear in these poems.
 

Love or philosophy? And is philosophy just the refuge of the one who isn’t loved – or is too old for love?! I’m sure Aristotle (and others) would be annoyed by Ronsard’s thinking here; though to be fair, Ronsard is actually saying he should go back to more important things and give up this ridiculous floating around after a girl who doesn’t love him.

 
Blanchemain footnotes an alternative to the line about Aristotle’s daughter:  “Courtizer un Platon à nostre vie utile” (‘Court a Plato, useful in our lives’. That would remove the possibility that Ronsard is being more specific about reason & virtue, these not being specifically Platonic traits.
 
Incidentally, note that here Ronsard has been in love with Helen for 5 years; by the end of the book the affair is in its 7th year.
 
 
 
 

Helen 2:38

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Une seule vertu, tant soit parfaite et belle,
Ne pourroit jamais rendre un homme vertueux :
Il faut le nombre entier, en rien defectueux :
Le Printemps ne se fait d’une seule arondelle.
 
Toute vertu divine acquise et naturelle
Se loge en ton esprit. La Nature et les Cieux
Ont versé dessus toy leurs dons plus precieux :
Puis pour n’en faire plus ont rompu le modelle.
 
Ici à ta beauté se joint la Chasteté,
Ici l’honneur de Dieu, icy la Pieté,
La crainte de mal-faire, et la peur d’infamie :
 
Ici un cœur constant, qu’on ne peut esbranler.
Pource en lieu de mon cœur, d’Helene et de ma vie,
Je te devrois plustost mon destin appeller.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            One single virtue however fine and perfect
                                                                            Could never make a man virtuous :
                                                                            You need the whole set, defective in none –
                                                                            One swallow does not make the spring.
 
                                                                            Every virtue – divine, learned and natural –
                                                                            Has its place in your spirit. Nature and Heaven
                                                                            Poured on you their most precious gifts
                                                                            And then, not to repeat it, broke the mould.
 
                                                                            Here joined with your beauty is chastity,
                                                                            Here is god-fearing, here is piety,
                                                                            The horror of wrong-doing, and fear of dishonour:
 
                                                                            Here is a constant heart which cannot be shaken.
                                                                            Therefore instead of my heart, Helen and my life,
                                                                            I ought rather to call you my destiny.
 
 
Enough, says Ronsard, of all this ‘my heart’, ‘my life’ stuff – no, you are my destiny & that’s even bigger. But in Blanchemain’s version, almost exactly the opposite is suggested:  his final line reads, “Je te veux desormais ma Pandore appeler”. ‘I’d rather call you my Pandora from now on’? Pandora, the woman who released all evils into the world?? Surely that carries a sharply different implication about how all those virtues he can see in Helen impact on Ronsard’s life – not a good thing, but a bad one? It is of course common for sonnets to sharply change direction in the final lines, but this one is a big surprise.
 
Perhaps, with a modern sensibility, the transition from ‘a man’ in the first stanza to ‘you’ – Helen, a woman – in the second is a little awkward. But maybe that goes to show that Ronsard and the renaissance are less male-centred than we think, and that the word ‘man’ genuinely does mean ‘mankind’ (sorry, humankind)  in a more thorough-going way than we can grasp today.
 
Blanchemain offers another change as well as the one already discussed, this one much more consistent with the content of the surrounding lines: in line 7, Nature & Heaven “Ont versé dessus toy leurs dons à qui mieux mieux” (‘have poured out their gifts on you, vying to give you most’).
 
 
 
 
 
 

Helen 2:35

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Cythere entroit au bain, et te voyant pres d’elle
Son Ceste elle te baille à fin de le garder.
Ceinte de tant d’amours tu me vins regarder
Me tirant de tes yeux une fleche cruelle.
 
Muses, je suis navré, ou ma playe mortelle
Guarissez, ou cessez de plus me commander.
Je ne suy vostre escole, à fin de demander
Qui fait la Lune vieille, ou qui la fait nouvelle.
 
Je ne vous fait la Cour, comme un homme ocieux,
Pour apprendre de vous le mouvement des cieux,
Que peut la grande Eclipse, ou que peut la petite,
 
Ou si Fortune ou Dieu ont fait cest Univers :
Si je ne puis flechir Helene par mes vers,
Cherchez autre escolier, Deesses, je vous quitte.
 
 
                                                                            Cytherea [Venus] entered her bath, and seeing you near her
                                                                            Handed you her girdle so that you could guard it.
                                                                            Girded with so much love, you came to see me,
                                                                            You eyes shooting me with a cruel dart.
 
                                                                            Muses, I am wounded : cure my
                                                                            Mortal wound, or cease henceforth to command me.
                                                                            I do not follow your school to ask
                                                                            Who makes the moon old, or who makes her new [again];
 
                                                                            I do not pay you court, like a man of leisure,
                                                                            To learn from you the movements of the heavens,
                                                                            Or what a great eclipse can do, or a small one,
 
                                                                            Or if Chance or God made this universe.
                                                                            If I cannot move Helen with my verses,
                                                                            Seek some other pupil, goddesses : I abandon you.
 
 
When Ronsard talks of the Muses, it’s easy to forget there were Muses in charge of things other than poetry or music: astronomy, for instance. That was Urania.
 
In line 2, it’s worth noting that Venus’s “cestus”, her magic girdle, ‘gave the wearer the power to excite love’ (Wiktionary).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Helen 2:14

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A l’aller, au parler, au flamber de tes yeux,
Je sens bien, je voy bien que tu es immortelle :
La race des humains en essence n’est telle :
Tu es quelque Demon ou quelque Ange des cieux.
 
Dieu pour favoriser ce monde vicieux,
Te fit tomber en terre, et dessus la plus belle
Et plus parfaite idée il traça la modelle
De ton corps, dont il fut luy-mesmes envieux.
 
Quand il fist ton esprit, il se pilla soy-mesme :
Il print le plus beau feu du Ciel le plus supréme
Pour animer ta masse, ainçois ton beau printemps.
 
Hommes, qui la voyez de tant d’honneur pourveuë,
Tandis qu’elle est çà bas, soulez-en vostre veuë.
Tout ce qui est parfait ne dure pas long temps.
 
 
 
                                                                            By your walk, by the flaming of your eyes
                                                                            I readily feel, readily see that you are an immortal :
                                                                            The human race is not in essence like this;
                                                                            You are some demon or an angel from Heaven.
 
                                                                            To gratify this vice-plagued world, God
                                                                            Sent you falling to earth, and beyond the fairest
                                                                            And most perfect Idea he traced the form
                                                                            Of your body, which he himself envied.
 
                                                                            When he made your spirit, he stole it from himself ;
                                                                            He took the finest fire of highest Heaven
                                                                            To give life to your form, before your fair spring.
 
                                                                            O men who see her adorned with so much honour,
                                                                            While she is here below, gorge your eyes on her.
                                                                            Whatever is perfect does not last long.
 
 
A lovely version of the ‘divine origins’ theme: embedded not just in Classical myth, but also in Platonic thought. The ‘idea’ or ‘form’ (line 7) is, to Plato, the essence of the thing of which we perceive an imperfect version here on earth.
 
In line 4, Ronsard appears to be using ‘demon’ in contrast to ‘angel’, which is why – although Ronsard often uses the term to represent the more neutral Greek ‘daimon’ or spirit – I’ve translated it as ‘demon’ this time.
 
The only difference in Blanchemain’s version is the gender of ‘modelle’ in line 7 – masculine rather than feminine. Though the word’s gender fluctuated, it’s far from obvious to me why Ronsard thought he needed to change it!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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!
 
 
 
 
 
 

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.