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!

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Amours diverses (17)

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What Blanchemain publishes as Helen 2:19 is moved, in Marty-Laveaux’s edition, to the ‘Amours diverses’, where it becomes sonnet 17:
 
 
Bon jour ma douce vie, autant remply de joye
Que triste je vous dis au départir adieu :
En vostre bonne grace, hé dites-moy quel lieu
Tient mon cœur, que captif devers vous je r’envoye :
 
Ou bien si la longueur du temps et de la voye
Et l’absence des lieux ont amorty le feu
Qui commençoit en vous à se monstrer un peu :
Aumoins s’il n’est ainsi, trompé je le pensoye.
 
Par espreuve je sens que les amoureux traits
Blessent plus fort de loing qu’à l’heure qu’ils sont prés,
Et que l’absence engendre au double le servage.
 
Je suis content de vivre en l’estat où je suis.
De passer plus avant je ne dois ny ne puis :
Je deviendrois tout fol, où je veux estre sage.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Good day, my sweet life; as filled with joy
                                                                            As sad, I say on your departure “Farewell!”
                                                                            In your good grace, ah tell me what place
                                                                            Holds my heart, so that I can send the captive back to you;
 
                                                                            Or perhaps the length of time and the journey
                                                                            And missing familiar places have deadened the fire
                                                                            Which had begun just a little to show itself in you.
                                                                            Even if it’s not true, I am mistakenly thinking it.
 
                                                                            By experience I know that Love’s darts
                                                                            Wound more deeply from afar than when they’re close,
                                                                            And that absence gives birth to a double servitude.
 
                                                                            Still, I’m happy to live in the state that I am:
                                                                            To move forward, I neither ought nor can:
                                                                            I would become completely mad when I want to be wise. 
 
 

Goodness – Helen has begun, Ronsard thinks, to show some slight interest and affection; and then of course immediately gone away… Such are the lover’s misfortunes!

Although the material is conventional, Ronsard manages to conjure some complex and contradictory aspects, which lend the poem an air of a more solid truth behind the conventions. And of course the opening calls to mind his enormously-popular “Bon jour mon cœur, bon jour ma douce vie” from a much earlier set of love-poetry.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Helen 2:19

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Helene fut occasion que Troye
Se vit brusler d’un feu victorieux :
Vous me bruslez du foudre de vos yeux,
Et aux Amours vous me donnez en proye.
 
En vous servant vous me monstrez la voye
Par vos vertus de m’en-aller aux Cieux,
Ravy du nom qu’Amour malicieux
Me tire au cœur, quelque part que je soye.
 
Nom tant de fois par Homere chanté,
Seul tout le sang vous m’avez enchanté :
O beau visage engendré d’un beau Cygne,
 
De mes pensers la fin et le milieu !
Pour vous aimer mortel je ne suis digne :
A la Deesse il appartient un Dieu.
 
 
 
                                                                            Helen was the cause that Troy
                                                                            Found itself burning in victorious fire;
                                                                            You burn me with the lightning of your eyes
                                                                            And give me over as prey to Cupid.
 
                                                                            In serving you, you show me the way
                                                                            To reach heaven by your virtues,
                                                                            Enraptured by the name which malicious Cupid
                                                                            Has shot into my heart, wherever I might be.
 
                                                                            O name so often sung by Homer,
                                                                            You alone have enchanted all my blood;
                                                                            O fair face born of a fair Swan,
 
                                                                            Beginning and end of all my thoughts!
                                                                            To love you I, a mortal, am not worthy;
                                                                            To this goddess should belong some god.
 
 
 
Although this poem has many attractive features, in my view there are some really weak ‘filler’ moments. For instance, why would Troy be burning in ‘victorious’ fire – obviously the fire overcomes Troy, but it requires a sudden shift of perspective to follow. Worse, īthe second half of line 8 has no real meaning,doubly so in the context of the first half: pure ‘filler’. Line 12 – though here I’m niggling – also literally says that Helen’s face is the “end and middle” of his thoughts; even allowing for poetic inversion, I’m not sure ‘middle and end’ is driven by anything other than metre.
 
Well, enough complaining! In other respects a neat, classically-allusive tribute to his fair lady. The references to Troy being burned because of Helen, and to Homer’s frequent mentions of Helen, need no more explanation;bu it might be useful to be reminded that Helen was said to be the daughter of Leda, who was famously wooed by Jupiter in the form of a swan (line 11).
 
Blanchemain’s edition moves this poem to the ‘retranchées’, and substitutes a completely different text. Maybe he (and Ronsard) were also struck by the weaknesses of this one …

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Helen 2:9

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Ny la douce pitié, ny le pleur lamentable
Ne t’ont baillé ton nom : ton nom Grec vient d’oster,
De ravir, de tuer, de piller, d’emporter
Mon esprit et mon cœur, ta proye miserable.
 
Homere en se joüant de toy fist une fable,
Et moy l’histoire au vray. Amour, pour te flater,
Comme tu fis à Troye, au cœur me vient jetter
Le feu qui de mes oz se paist insatiable.
 
La voix, que tu feignois à l’entour du Cheval
Pour decevoir les Grecs, me devoit faire sage :
Mais l’homme de nature est aveugle à son mal,
 
Qui ne peut se garder ny prevoir son dommage.
Au pis-aller je meurs pour ce beau nom fatal,
Qui mit tout l’Asie et l’Europe en pillage.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Neither sweet pity nor grievous weeping
                                                                            Gave you your name ; your Greek name has just now taken away,
                                                                            Seized, killed, pillaged, carried off
                                                                            My spirit and my heart as your wretched prey.
 
                                                                            Homer, enjoying himself, made a myth of you,
                                                                            But I have told the true story. Love, to flatter you,
                                                                            Has just thrown into my heart, as you did into Troy,
                                                                            A fire which feeds insatiably on my bones.
 
                                                                            The misleading words you used, as you circled the Horse,
                                                                            To deceive the Greeks should have made me wise ;
                                                                            But man is by nature blind to his own ills
 
                                                                            And cannot guard himself nor foresee what will hurt him.
                                                                            The worst part is, I am dying for this fair, deadly name
                                                                            Which put all Asia and Europe to pillage.
 
 
Lengthy footnotes today from Ronsard’s editor, Richelet, to explain the slightly tortuous meaning in several places in the poem.
 
In lines 1-2, Richelet explains, “the name she has was not given because of any sweetness in her, [nor] as coming from the word ‘eleein’ [Greek ελεειν, to weep], but rather from ‘helein’ [ελειν, to seize], ‘helinnuein’ [ελιννευειν, to rest], ‘helissein’ [ελισσειν, to whirl around], ‘helkein’ [ελκειν, to drag off] which are all words of ruin and damage.” (Though, as you can see, Liddell & Scott don’t agree that one of them – ‘helinneuein’ – falls into this category!) Note however that Ronsard’s French amounts to a set of meanings for just two of those words (‘helein’ and ‘helkein’) . I imagine we owe the inclusion of the other two, more obscure, words (one of which is doubtful) more to Richelet than to Ronsard.
 
At line 7, Blanchemain reminds us that Helen, with Sinon, gave the signal to the Greeks to emerge from the Trojan Horse and thus to burn Troy; though Richelet expounds at length on lines 9-11 which seem to refer to a slightly earlier episode: “after the Greeks had, by the counsel of Minerva, placed the horse in Troy, Venus, knowing their plan and wishing to have it discovered by the Trojans, came at night on the garb of an old woman to Helen, to give her information about the horse, in which among others was her husband Menelaus. At this report, as soon as she’d leapt from her bed, she came to the horse and spoke to the Greeks who were hidden insde, which frightened them so much that she thought she had put them in danger”. But this, it seems to me, does not fit with “que tu feignois” (the phrase to which Richelet attached the explanation): for Ronsard is clearly saying Helen ‘feigned’ another’s voice or said something misleading to the Greeks – as if she not Minerva were in disguise, or she was seeking to deceive the Greeks in the horse – which is not at all what Richelet describes. Rather, Ronsard is referring to Homer’s Odyssey (book 4, 270-290) where Menelaus tells Helen he knows how she came to the Horse “bidden by some god” to try to trick the Greeks into giving themselves away by imitating the voices of their wives and lovers. Sorry, Richelet: wrong this time.
 
Two minor variants in Blanchemain’s version: in line 2, “Helene vient d’oster” (‘Helen has just now taken away’); and at the beginning of line 8, “Ton feu…” (‘Your fire’)

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Helen 2:8

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Je plante en ta faveur cest arbre de Cybelle,
Ce Pin, où tes honneurs se liront tous les jours :
J’ay gravé sur le tronc nos noms et nos amours,
Qui croistront à l’envy de l’escorce nouvelle.
 
Faunes qui habitez ma terre paternelle,
Qui menez sur le Loir vos danses et vos tours,
Favorisez la plante et luy donnez secours,
Que l’Esté ne la brusle, et l’Hyver ne la gelle.
 
Pasteur, qui conduiras en ce lieu ton troupeau,
Flageolant une Eclogue en ton tuyau d’aveine,
Attache tous les ans à cest arbre un tableau,
 
Qui tesmoigne aux passans mes amours et ma peine :
Puis l’arrosant de laict et du sang d’un agneau,
Dy, Ce Pin est sacré, c’est la plante d’Helene.
 
 
                                                                            I’m planting this tree of Cybele for you,
                                                                            This pine on which your glories will be read every day ;
                                                                            I have carved on the trunk our names and our love
                                                                            Which will get bigger despite the new bark.
 
                                                                            You fauns who inhabit my family’s lands,
                                                                            Who dance and trip upon the Loir,
                                                                            Make this plant your favourite and give it your aid
                                                                            So that summer does not burn nor winter freeze it.
 
                                                                            And you, shepherd who steer your flock to this place
                                                                            Fluting an eclogue on your oat-stalk pipe,
                                                                            Fix a picture to this tree every year
 
                                                                            To witness to passers-by of my love and my pain ;
                                                                            Then, pouring on it milk and the blood of a lamb,
                                                                            Say, “This pine is sacred, it is Helen’s tree.”
 
Nothing very radical here, one might think, though the presence of fauns on the Loir is unusual and a reminder that, for Ronsard, classical mythology was not confined to the Greek landscape – the deities and heroes were also very present for him in his contemporary landscape.
 
Blanchemain offers two footnotes, both of which simply remind us that the Loir, and Ronsard’s ancestral home, are in the Vendôme …
 
 
 
 
 
 

Helen 2:7

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Ha que ta Loy fut bonne, et digne d’estre apprise,
Grand Moise, grand Prophete, et grand Minos de Dieu,
Qui sage commandas au vague peuple Hebrieu,
Que la liberté fust apres sept ans remise !
 
Je voudrois grand Guerrier, que celle que j’ay prise
Pour Dame, et qui se sied de mon cœur au milieu,
Voulust qu’en mon endroit ton ordonnance eust lieu,
Et qu’au bout de sept ans m’eust remis en franchise.
 
Sept ans sont ja passez qu’en servage je suis ;
Servir encor sept ans de bon cœur je la puis,
Pourveu qu’au bout du temps de son cœur je jouïsse.
 
Mais ceste Grecque Helene ayant peu de souci
Des statuts des Hebrieux, d’un courage endurci
Contre les loix de Dieu n’affranchit mon service.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Ah, how good and worth being learned is your Law,
                                                                            Great Moses, great prophet, great judge from God,
                                                                            Who wisely instructed the wandering Hebrew people
                                                                            That liberty would be given back to them after seven years.
 
                                                                            I wish, great warrior, that she whom I’ve chosen
                                                                            As my Lady, and who sits in the midst of my heart,
                                                                            Would agree that your command applied in my case,
                                                                            And at the end of seven years had given me back my freedom.
 
                                                                            Seven years have now passed while I’ve been in servitude;
                                                                            I could happily serve another seven years
                                                                            Provided that, at the end of that time, I’d won her heart.
 
                                                                            But this Greek Helen has little regard for
                                                                            The statutes of the Hebrews, and with hardened courage
                                                                            Contravening the laws of God she does not free me from my service.
 
 
 
It’s quite unusual for Ronsard to build a poem around Biblical rather than classical stories: so much so that we might wonder if there was a special reason to demonstrate his orthodoxy. Of course, the religious wars in France were rumbling on for much of his adult life, and there is a great quantity of poetry and prose by Ronsard defending the Catholic side against its Protestant attackers. But to link the poems to Helen with this background seems faintly absurd.
 
The story of Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt is well-known (from phrases like “Let my people go!”, “the Promised Land”, to films like “The Ten Commandments”). What is also well-known is that, after offending God at Mt Sinai when Moses was receiving the Ten Commandmnets, the tribes of Israel were condemned to wander in the desert for 40 years before entering the Promised Land. How odd, then, that Ronsard should choose the ‘magic’ number 7 instead. It is of course the number of perfection in Catholic numerology: so perhaps Ronsard is contrasting that perfection with the imperfection of his love? It may even be that 7 years really did fit his relationship with Helen – but we saw in poem 5 that he also claimed it was 5 years… (Again being faintly absurd, is it relevant that in poem 5 it’s 5 years; and in poem 7 it’s 7 years…?)
 
Other incidental notes: in line 2, note that Moses is indeed a ‘Judge’, the first of the Biblical judges (there is of course a whole book about his successors); but perhaps this is also a reference to classical mythologies, where Minos rules in the Underworld as ‘judge’ of the dead, with the suggestion here that helen will pay for her misdemeanours one way or another!
 
Blanchemain’s authorised text contaions only one variant:  at the beginning of line 13, the younger Ronsard has “De la loy des Hebrieux”, repeating ‘law’ from line 1 instead of finding a synonym as his older self did. But Blanchemain also footnotes another, larger, variant in lines 3-4:
 
 
Qui, grand legislateur, commandas à l’Hebrieu
Qu’après sept ans passez liberté fust acquise.
                                                                            The great legislator who instructed the Hebrew [people]
                                                                            That after seven years had passed their freedom would be gained.
 
This offers an alternative view of the Biblical ‘7 years’: no longer ‘wandering’ in the desert, Moses might here be talking to the Israelites at the beginning of his campaign for freedom, before the plagues of Egypt. But it must be said there is (as far as I know) no suggestion elsewhere that the 10 plagues of Egypt spanned 7 years …