Tag Archives: Achilles

Helen 2:62

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Ma Dame, je ne meurs abandonné d’espoir :
La playe est jusqu’à l’oz : je ne suis celuy mesme
Que j’estois l’autre jour, tant la douleur extréme
Forçant la patience, a dessus moy pouvoir.
 
Je ne puis ny toucher gouster n’ouïr ny voir :
J’ay perdu tous mes Sens, je suis une ombre blesme :
Mon corps n’est qu’un tombeau. Malheureux est qui aime,
Malheurueux qui se laisse à l’Amour decevoir !
 
Devenez un Achille aux playes qu’avez faites,
Un Telefe je suis, lequel s’en va perir :
Monstrez moy par pitié vos puissances parfaites,
 
Et d’un remede prompt daignez moy secourir.
Si vostre serviteur cruelle vous desfaites,
Vous n’aurez le Laurier pour l’avoir fait mourir.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            My Lady, I am dying abandoned by hope.
                                                                            My wound is to the bone. I am not even he
                                                                            Whom I was the other day, my extreme sorrow
                                                                            Beyond bearing has such power over me.
 
                                                                            I cannot touch, taste, hear or see :
                                                                            I have lost all my senses, I am a pallid shade ;
                                                                            My body is just a tomb. Unhappy he who loves,
                                                                            Unhappy he who allows himself to be deceived by love !
 
                                                                            Become an Achilles through the wounds you have given :
                                                                            I am your Telephus, who is going to die of them.
                                                                            Pity me and show your perfect power,
 
                                                                            Deign to help me with a prompt remedy.
                                                                            If you cruelly destroy your servant,
                                                                            You will not gain laurels for having killed him.
 
 
That last couplet is rather fun: a twist on the usual ‘killing me’ line, pointing out that no-one gets honoured for killing their own servant … The poem as a whole is interesting partly for showing how far our modern perception of the classics is from that of the past: Achilles we share, but Telephus?
 
The Trojan War is familiar to us, and the part of Achilles in it; and we are familiar with the ‘core’ Greek tragedies. But that the story of Telephus was a major preoccupation of the tragedians we are largely unaware – all three wrote (now lost) plays on the theme. And that familiarity with the tale extended to the renaissance, and not just in France: Shakespeare references Telephus in Henry VI part two.
 
So who was Telephus? The son of Heracles , he was wounded by Achilles in a preliminary to the Trojan War ; the wound would not heal, but the Delphic Oracle told him “your assailant will heal you”, a line which obsessed the Greeks and Romans. It turned out that he was to be healed by Achilles’ spear, not by Achilles himself, and the weapon that hurts & heals became a popular theme with  Roman poets – Horace, Ovid, Propertius and others all use it, often in this context of love poetry. Shakespeare’s use [Henry VI, Part 2, act 5.1.100–101] is witness to wider usage: “Whose smile and frown, like to Achilles’ spear / Is able with the change to kill and cure”.
 
(Wagner fans will readily see the similarities with the theme of the Holy Spear in ‘Parsifal’ which hurts and heals Amfortas.)
 
[For much more on the topic, see the vast Wikipedia article – an indication of the Telephus story’s lasting popularity through the centuries.]
 
Ronsard’s classicism of course runs deep: I like the second stanza whose details map onto the Virgilian underworld depicted in the Aeneid.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Garnier’s tribute to Ronsard

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It is SO long since I posted anything here: I hope to get going again & finish off Helen 2 at least. Meanwhile, it felt right to include Garnier’s tribute to the dead Ronsard – not least because my own attempt to preserve his memory has faltered …

This elegy was originally published in Binet’s memorial volume, Discours de la Vie de Pierre de Ronsard, in 1586. It was picked up and anthologised in 1778, in volume 8 of the Annales poétiques, ou Almanach des Muses, after which it reappeared several times elsewhere, copied from that anthology,and can now be found in several places on the web. But the 1778 anthologisers quietly abbreviated Garnier’s text – removing approximately 50% of it! So the versions found elsewhere are likewise abbreviated and I think this is the first time the full original text has been reproduced online.

Elégie sur le trespas de feu Monsieur de Ronsard
 
A monsieur des Portes Abbé de Thiron
 
 
Nature est aux humains sur tous autres cruelle,
On ne voit animaux
En la terre et au ciel, ny en l’onde infidele,
Qui souffrent tant de maux.
 
Le rayon eternel de l’essence divine,
Qu’en naissant nous avons,
De mille passions noz tristes jours épine
Tandis que nous vivons :
 
Et non pas seulement vivants il nous torture,
Mais nous blesse au trespas,
Car pour prevoir la mort, elle nous est plus dure
Qu’elle ne seroit pas.
 
Si tost que nostre esprit dans le cerveau raisonne,
Nous l’alons redoutant,
Et sans cette frayeur que la raison nous donne,
On ne la craindroit tant.
 
Nous creignons de mourir, de perdre la lumiere
Du Soleil radieus,
Nous creignons de passer sur les ais d’une biere
Le fleuve stygieus.
 
Nous creignons de laisser noz maisons delectables,
Noz biens et noz honneurs,
Ces belles dignitez, qui nous font venerables
Remarquer des seigneurs.
 
Les peuples des forests, de l’air et des rivieres,
Qui ne voyent si loing,
Tombent journellement aux mortelles pantieres
Sans se gesner de soing.
 
Leur vie est plus heureuse, et moins sujette aus peines,
Et encombres divers,
Que nous souffrons chetifs en noz ames humaines,
De desastres couverts.
 
Ores nous poind l’amour, Tyran de la jeunesse,
Ores l’avare faim
De l’or injurieus, qui fait que chacun laisse
La vertu pour le gain.
 
Cetuy-cy se tourmente apres les grandeurs vaines,
Enflé d’ambition,
De cetuy-la l’envie empoisonne les veines
Cruelle passion.
 
La haine, le courroux, le depit, la tristesse,
L’outrageuse rancœur,
Et la tendre pitié du foeble qu’on oppresse,
Nous bourellent le cœur.
 
Et voila nostre vie, ô miserables hommes !
Nous semblons estre nez
Pour estre, cependant qu’en ce monde nous sommes,
Tousjours infortunez.
 
Et enquore, où le ciel en une belle vie
Quelque vertus enclost,
La chagrineuse mort qui les hommes envye
Nous la pille aussi tost.
 
Ainsi le verd email d’une riante prée
Est soudain effacé,
Ainsi l’aymable teint d’une rose pourprée
Est aussi tost passé.
 
La jeunesse de l’an n’est de longue durée,
Mais l’Hyver aux dois gours,
Et l’Esté embruny de la torche etherée
Durent [orig : durant] presque toujours.
 
Mais las ! ô doux Printems, vostre verdeur fanie
Retourne en mesme point,
Mais quand nostre jeunesse une fois est finie
Elle ne revient point.
 
La vieillesse nous prend maladive et facheuse,
Hostesse de la mort,
Qui pleins de mal nous pousse en une tombe creuse
D’où jamais on ne sort.
 
Des Portes, que la Muse honore et favorise
Entre tous ceux qui ont
Suivy le saint Phebus, et sa science aprise
Dessur le double mont.
 
Vous voyez ce Ronsard, merveilles de nostre age,
L’honneur de l’Univers,
Paitre de sa chair morte, inevitable outrage,
Une source de vers.
 
De rien vostre Apollon, ny les Muses pucelles
Ne luy ont profité,
Bien qu’ils eussent pour luy les deux croppes jumelles
De Parnasse quitté :
 
Et qu’ils eust conduits aux accords de sa Lire
Dans ce François sejour,
Pour chanter de noz Roys, et leurs victoires dire,
Ou sonner de l’amour.
 
C’est grand cas, que ce Dieu, qui des enfance l’aime,
Afranchit du trespas
Ses divines chansons, et que le chantre mesme
N’en affranchisse pas.
 
Vous en serez ainsi : car bien que vostre gloire,
Espandue en tous lieux,
Ne descende estoufée en une tombe noire
Comme un peuple otieux,
 
Et que voz sacrez vers, qui de honte font taire
Les plus grands du metier,
Nous facent choir des mains, quand nous en cuidons faire,
La plume et le papier.
 
Si verres vous le fleuve où tout le monde arrive,
Et payrez le denier
Que prend pour nous passer jusques à l’autre rive
L’avare Nautonnier.
 
Que ne ressemblons nous aus vagueuses rivieres
Qui ne changent de cours ?
Ou au branle eternel des ondes marinieres
Qui reflotent toujours ?
 
Et n’est-ce pas pitié, que ces roches pointues,
Qui semblent depiter,
De vents, de flots, d’oraige, et de foudres batues,
L’ire de Jupiter,
 
Vivent incessament, incessament demeurent
Dans leurs membres pierreux,
Et que des hommes, tels que ce grand Ronsard, meurent
Par un sort rigoureux ?
 
O destin lamentable ! un homme qui approche
De la divinité
Est ravy de ce monde, et le front d’une roche
Dure un eternité.
 
Qui pourra desormais d’une alaine assez forte
Entonner comme il faut
La gloir de mon Roy, puisque la muse est morte
Qui le chantoit si haut ?
 
Qui dira ses combats ? ses batailles sanglantes ?
Quand jeune, Duc d’Anjou,
De sa main foudroya les troupes protestantes
Aux plaines de Poictou ?
 
Des portes qui sera-ce ? une fois vostre Muse,
Digne d’estre en son lieu,
Fuyant l’honneur profane aujourdhuy ne s’amuse
Qu’au loüanges de Dieu.
 
Et qui sera-ce donc ? quelle voix suffisante,
Pour sonner gravement
Joyeuse nostre Achil, dont la gloire naissante
S’acroist journellement ?
 
Qui dira son courage, indomtable à la peine,
Indomtable à la peur,
Et comme il appareille avec une ame humaine
Un magnanime cœur ?
 
Comme il est de l’honneur, du seul honneur avare,
D’autres biens liberal,
Cherissant un chacun, fors celuy qui s’egare
Du service royal ?
 
Ne permette Clion et Phebus ne permette
Que Ronsard abattu
Par l’ennuyeuse mort, ne se treuve Poëte
Qui chante sa vertu.
 
Adieu, mon cher Ronsard, l’abeille en vostre tombe
Face tousjour son miel,
Que le baume Arabic à tout jamais y tombe,
Et la manne du ciel.
 
Le Laurier y verdisse avec le lierre
Et le Mirthe amoureus,
Riche en mille boutons, de toutes parts l’enserre
Le Rosier odoreus :
 
Le tin, le baselic, la franche Marguerite,
Et nostre Lis François,
Et cette rouge fleur, où la pleinte est escrite
Du malcontent Gregeois.
 
Les Nymphes de Gâtine, et les Nayades sainctes,
Qui habitent le Loir,
Le venant arroser de larmettes epreintes,
Ne cessent de douloir.
 
Las ! Cloton a tranché le fil de vostre vie
D’une piteuse main,
La voyant de vieillesse et de goutes suyvie,
Torturage inhumain.
 
Voyant la povre France en son corps outragee
Par le sanglant effort
De ses enfans, qui l’ont tant de foys ravagee,
Soupirer à la mort :
 
Le Souysse aguerry, qui aus combats se loüe,
L’Anglois fermé de flots,
Ceux qui boivent le Pau, le Tage et la Danoüe,
Fondre dessus son dos.
 
Ainsi que le Vautour, qui de griffes bourelles
Va sans fin tirassant
De Promethé le foye, en patures nouvelles
Coup sur coup renaissant.
 
Les meurtres inhumains se font entre les freres,
Spectacle plein d’horreur,
Et deja les enfans courent contre leurs peres
D’une aveugle fureur :
 
Le cœur des Citoyens se remplit de furies,
Les Paysans ecartez
Meurent comme une haye : on ne voit que turies
Par les chams desertez.
 
Et puis alez chanter l’honneur de nostre France
En siecles si maudits,
Attendez-vous qu’aucun vos labeurs recompense
Comme on faisait jadis ?
 
La triste povreté noz chansons accompaigne,
La Muse, les yeus bas,
Se retire de nous, voyant que lon dedaigne
Ses antiques ebats.
 
Vous estes donque heureus, et vostre mort heureuse,
O Cigne des François,
Ne lamentez que nous, dont la vie ennuyeuse
Meurt le jour mile fois.
 
Vous errez maintenant aux campaignes d’Elise,
A l’ombre des Vergers,
Où chargent en tout tems, asseurez de la Bise,
Les jaunes Orengers :
 
Où les prez sont toujours tapissez de verdure,
Les vignes de raisins,
Et les petits oyseaus, gasoüillans au murmure
Des ruisseaus cristalins.
 
Là le Cedre gommeus odoreusement sue,
Et l’arbre du Liban,
Et l’Ambre, et Myrrhe, au lit de son Pere receüe,
Pleure le long de l’an.
 
En grand’ foule acourus, autour de vous se pressent
Les heros anciens,
Qui boyvent le nectar, d’ambrosie se paissent,
Aux bords Elisiens :
 
Sur tous le grand Eumolpe, et le divin Orphee,
Et Line, et Amphion,
Et Musee, et celuy, dont la plume eschauffee
Mist en cendre Ilion.
 
Le loüengeur Thebain, le chantre de Mantoüe,
Le Lyrique latin,
Et aveques Seneque, honneur grand de Cordoüe,
L’amoureus Florentin :
 
Tous vont battant des mains, sautellent de liesse,
S’entredisant entre eux,
Voyla celuy, qui donte et l’Itale et la Grece
En poëmes nombreus :
 
L’un vous donne sa lyre, et l’au[t]re sa trompette,
L’autre vous veut donner
Son Myrthe, son Lierre, ou son Laurier profette,
Pour vous en couronner.
 
Ainsi vivez heureuse, ame toute divine,
Tandis que le destin
Nous reserve aus malheurs de la France, voysine
De sa derniere fin.
 
Elegy on the death of the late M.de Ronsard
 
To M. Desportes, abbot of Thiron
 
 
Nature is to men above all others cruel,
We do not see animals
On earth or in the skies, or in the treacherous seas,
Suffering so many ills.
 
The eternal ray of the divine essence
Which we receive at birth
With a hundred passions troubles our sad days
While we live.
 
And not only while we live does it torture us,
But injures us at our death,
For foreseeing death is to us harder
Than the event itself will be.
 
As soon as our spirit reasons within our brains,
We begin to fear it,
And without this terror which reason gives us
We would not be so frightened of it.
 
We are frightened of dying, of losing the light
Of the radiant Sun,
We are frightened of crossing, on the planks of a bier,
The Stygian river;
 
We are frightened of leaving our delightful homes,
Our goods and our honours,
Those fine dignities which make us respected
And noticed by lords.
 
The inhabitants of the forests, the air and the rivers
Who do not see so far,
Fall daily to death-dealing snares
Without troubling themselves with worries.
 
Their life is happier, and less subject to the troubles
And various burdens
Which we weakly suffer in our human souls,
Overcome by disasters.
 
Sometimes love afflicts us, that tyrant of our youth,
Sometimes the greedy hunger
For harmful gold, which makes everyone abandon
Virtue for gain.
 
This man torments himself seeking empty greatness,
Puffed up with ambition,
That man’s veins are poisoned by envy,
That cruel passion.
 
Hatred, anger, spite, sorrow,
Hurtful bitterness,
And tender pity for the weak who are oppressed
Bubble away in our hearts.
 
And that’s our life, o wretched men!
We seem to be born
To be, while we are in this world,
Always unfortunate.
 
And even when heaven includes
Some happiness in a good life,
Sorrowful death which envies men
Steals it from us soon enough.
 
Just so the fresh mosaic of a gay meadow
Is suddenly wiped away,
Just so the lovely tint of a crimson rose
Is soon enough past.
 
The year’s youth does not last long,
But Winter with his stiff fingers
And Summer scorched by the heavenly flame
Last almost forever.
 
Alas, sweet Spring, your faded freshness
Returns to the same state [each year]
But when once our youth is finished
It does not return.
 
Old age takes us, sickly and disagreeable,
Death’s hostess,
And, full of ills, pushes us into a dug grave
From which none ever escapes.
 
Desportes, whom the Muse honours and favours
Among all those of us who have
Followed holy Apollo and learned his wisdom
Upon the double mount:
 
You see this Ronsard, the marvel of our age,
The glory of the world,
Feeding with his dead flesh – an inescapable indignity –
A stream of worms.
 
Nothing have your Apollo and his maiden Muses
Profited him,
Although for him they abandoned
The twin mounts of Parnassus,
 
And although they have spent time, to the harmonies of his lyre,
In this France of ours,
To sing of our Kings and announce their victories,
Or to celebrate love.
 
It’s very clear that the god who loved him from infancy
Excepted from death
His divine songs, and yet could not except from it
The singer himself.
 
It will be the same for you: for although your glory,
Spreading to every place,
Will not descend, smothered, into a dark tomb
Like unproductive folk’s,
 
And though your sacred verse, which for shame makes
The greatest in the business fall silent,
Makes the pen and paper fall from our hands,
When we wish to use them:
 
Yet still you will see the river where every man arrives,
And you will pay the penny
Which the greedy Boatman takes
That we may pass to the other side.
 
Why are we not like the rippling waters
Which don’t change their course?
Or the eternal movement of the sea’s waves
Which break and break again?
 
Isn’t it a pity that those sharp rocks
Which seem to despise
The winds, the tides, storms and battering of lightning,
The anger of Jupiter,
 
Live on eternally, remain eternally
In their stony forms,
And that men like the great Ronsard die
By harsh fate?
 
O grievous destiny! A man who approaches
The divine
Is stolen from this world, and a rock-face
Lasts an eternity.
 
Who will be able henceforth with so strong a voice
To thunder as they should
Of my King’s glory, since the muse is dead
Who sang it so loudly?
 
Who shall sing of his combats? Of his bloody battles?
Who when young, as the Duke of Anjou,
Overthrew with his might the protestant troops
On the plains of Poitou …
 
Deportes, who will it be? Once, perhaps, your muse
Was worthy to be in his place;
But fleeing worldly honours today she employs herself
Only in the praise of God.
 
So who will it be? What voice sufficient
To celebrate gravely
Our joyous Achilles, whose budding glory
Grows daily?
 
Who shall speak of his courage, unconquered by strife,
Unconquered by fear,
And how it equipped with a human soul
A magnanimous heart?
 
How it is hungry for honour, for honour alone,
Liberal with other good things,
Cherishes everyone, even those who fall away
From the king’s service?
 
Do not permit, Clio, and Apollo do not permit
That Ronsard, defeated
By grievous death, should not find a Poet
To sing of his worth.
 
Farewell, my dear Ronsard, may the bees always
Make their honey on your tomb,
May balm from Arabia forever fall there
With manna from heaven.
 
May the laurel flourish there, along with ivy
And lovers’ myrtle,
Rich with a thousand buds, and on all sides may
The perfumed rose-bush embrace it,
 
And thyme, basil, the simple daisy,
Our lily of France,
And that red flower on which is written the plaint
Of the unhappy Greek.
 
May the nymphs of Gastine and the holy water-nymphs
Who live in the Loir
Having just poured out and expressed their tears for you
Not cease from grieving.
 
Alas! Clotho has cut the thread of your life
With her pitying hand,
Seeing it accompanied by old age and gout,
Those inhuman tortures,
 
And seeing our poor France, wounded in her body
By the bloody struggles
Of her children, who have so many times ravaged her,
Sighing for death;
 
And Switzerland at war, giving itself over to strife,
England enclosed by the seas,
And those who drink from the Po, Tagus and Danube
Drowning beneath their waters;
 
Just like the vulture, which with its executioner’s claws
Endlessly rakes
The liver of Prometheus, in new pastures
Renewing blow on blow,
 
Inhuman murders take place between brothers,
A horrific sight,
And now children rush upon their fathers
In blind madness;
 
The hearts of city-dwellers are filled with Furies,
The country-folk, swept aside,
Die in their rows; we see nothing but killings
Throughout the deserted countryside.
 
And yet you go on singing of the honour of our France
In times so accursed:
Do you expect anyone to reward your labours
As they did in the past?
 
Wretched poverty accompanies our songs;
The Muse, her eyes lowered,
Leaves us, seeing that we disdain
Her former amusements.
 
So, you are fortunate, and your death fortunate,
O Swan of the French,
Lament only for us, whose troubled lives
Die a thousand times every day.
 
You now wander in the fields of Elysium,
In the shade of the orchards
Where at all times, secure from cold northerly winds,
The tawny orange-trees are laden;
 
Where the meadows are always carpeted in green,
The vines with grapes,
And the little birds go chattering to the murmur
Of crystalline streams.
 
There the cedar sweats its perfumed gum,
And the tree of Lebanon
Weeps both amber and myrrh, received at its father’s bed,
All year long.
 
Running up in a great crowd, around you press
The ancient heroes
Who drink nectar and feed on ambrosia
On the banks of Elysium,
 
Above all great Eumolpe and godlike Orpheus
And Linus and Amphion
And Musaeus, and he whose burning pen
Set fire to Troy;
 
The Theban praise-singer, the poet of Mantua,
The Latin lyricist
And, with Seneca the great glory of Cordoba,
The Florentine love-poet,
 
All of them clapping their hands, leaping with joy,
Saying to one another,
“There he is, the man who surpassed Italy and Greece
In many a poem”.
 
One of them gives you his lyre, another his trumpet,
Another tries to give you
His myrtle, his ivy, or his prophetic laurel
To crown you with them.
 
So, live on happily, godlike soul,
While fate keeps us back
For the misfortunes of France, close
To her final end.
 

 

(In verse 15, I have amended one word slightly, to form a proper sentence – though Garnier may have been deliberately leaving the sentence hanging.)
 
As one would expect, Garnier’s tribute ranges over the areas Ronsard himself wrote about – the King and the civil wars, classical myth, nature, love poetry, Ronsard’s home on the Loir … So there are plenty of relatively obscure references perhaps worth amplifying:
 – the dedication is to Ronsard’s “successor”, Philippe Desportes – a lesser poet, but one whose fame eclipsed Ronsard’s in the latter portion of his life;
 – verse 5, the “Stygian river”, the Styx, is the river between the living world and Hades, across which Charon the ferryman or boatman (verse 25) takes all dead souls;
 – verses 18 & 20, Parnassus (the ‘double mount’, at right – photo credit Rens van der Sluijs) is the traditional home of the Muses. Ovid called it ‘biceps’, that is ‘two-headed’, and between its twin peaks was Delphi, the ‘omphalos’ (navel, centre) of the world;
 – verse 33, ‘Achilles’ (the great soldier) means of course the King
 – verse 37, Clio is usually the Muse of history, but sometimes also the Muse of lyre-playing: both seem appropriate here;
 – verse 40, the ‘unhappy Greek’ is not Narcissus but Hyacinthus, whose flower bears the Greek letters AIAI (‘alas’, ‘woe’);
 – verse 41, the Gastine & Loir are familiar as part of Ronsard’s beloved estates;
 – verse 42, Clotho is one of the Fates who determine the length of a man’s life – though note that Clotho is normally the Fate who spins the thread of life, Atropos the one who cuts it …
 – verse 45, the story of Prometheus eternally having his liver torn out by the eagle (or vulture) by day only for it to re-grow overnight, is well-known;
 – verse 53, I confess I have no idea what the end of line 3 (“received at its father’s bed”) is referring to … Ideas welcome. Amber and myrrh (like frankincense too) are resinous – and therefore associated with the resin-rich cedars of Lebanon, though myrrh in particular comes form small thorn-trees not huge cedars;
 –  verse 55-56 list many of the greatest poets of the past, legendary and historical.
     – Eumolpe (or Eumolpos – which means ‘beautiful song’) was founder of the Eleusininan mysteries in ancient Athens;
     – ‘godlike Orpheus’ is still well-known to us if only for carelessly losing Eurydice after charming Cerberus, the hell-dog, and Hades himself with his song;
     – Linus, sometimes viewed as Orpheus’s brother, was the inventor of lyric song and/or the harp;
     – Amphion, one of the founders of Thebes, was taught music by the god Hermes himself – and has a modern poetic form named after him;
     – Musaeus, lawgiver of Athens, was also was held to have been one of the great poets by Athenians – Socrates in the Apology links his name with three others in this list: “What would not a man give if he might converse with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer?”;
     – Homer indeed is the next on the list, he “whose burning pen Set fire to Troy”;
     – the “Theban praise-singer” is Hesiod, associated with Mt. Helicon in Boeotia.
Bringing us from legendary to historical poets, “the poet of Mantua” is Virgil and the “Latin lyricist” is Horace. Seneca, although we think of him as Roman, was indeed born in Spain, in Cordoba; and last in the list and the only ‘modern’, the love-poet from Florence is of course Petrarch.

 

Amours 2:59

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Amour voulut le corps de ceste mousche prendre,
Qui fait courir les bœufs en esté par les bois,
Puis il choisit un trait de ceux de son carquois,
Qui piquant sçait le mieux dedans les cœurs descendre.
 
Il eslongna ses mains, et feit son arc estendre
En croissant, qui se courbe aus premiers jours du mois,
Puis me lascha le trait contre qui le harnois
D’Achille ny d’Hector ne se pourroit defendre.
 
Apres qu’il m’eut blessé en riant s’en-vola,
Et par l’air mon penser avec luy s’en-alla.
Penser va-t’en au Ciel, la terre est trop commune.
 
Adieu Amour adieu, adieu penser adieu :
Ny l’un ny l’autre en moy vous n’aurez plus de lieu :
Tousjours l’un me maistrise, et l’autre m’importune.
 
 
 
                                                                            Love decided to take on the body of that fly
                                                                            Which makes cattle run through the woods in the summer,
                                                                            Then he chose an arrow from those in his quiver,
                                                                            A sharp one which is best at sinking into the heart.
 
                                                                            He stretched out his hands, and made his bow stretch
                                                                            Like the moon curving in the first days of the month,
                                                                            Then he released at me his arrow, against which the armour
                                                                            Of Achilles or Hector could not defend.
 
                                                                            After he’d wounded me he flew off laughing
                                                                            And my thoughts went off into the air with him.
                                                                            Thoughts, go off to heaven, the earth is too common.
 
                                                                            Farewell Love, farewell; farewell thoughts, farewell.
                                                                            Neither the one nor the other of you will any longer have a place in me.
                                                                            Always one is telling me what to do, the other begging me.
 
 
 
An entirely gratuitous Iliad reference in the second quatrain, Achilles and Hector being the heroes on each side of the Trojan War; but here representative purely of any armoured figure. And, although beginning with the image of the gadfly, Ronsard ignores it after the opening couplet. So, in the end, a relatively standard presentation of the image of love and his arrows – the main interest therefore being in the final tercet with its unusual outcome!
 
Blanchemain sees this poem as a ‘madrigal’, i.e. it has an extra line (4-4-3-4 instead of 4-4-3-3). Apart from a minor adjustment in line 3 (“Puis il choisit un trait sur tous ceux du carquois…”, ‘Then he chose an arrow from all those in his quiver’), he offers a completely different, but much more ‘standard’ (and less surprising) ending. Here’s the second jalf of the poem again in his version:
 
Apres qu’il m’eut blessé en riant s’en-vola,
Et par l’air mon penser avec luy s’en-alla ;
Mais toutesfois au cœur me demoura la playe,
 
Laquelle pour néant cent fois le jour j’essaye
De la vouloir guerir ; mais tel est son effort
Que je voy bien qu’il faut que maugré moy je l’aye,
Et que pour la guerir le remede est la mort.
 
 

                                                                            After he’d wounded me he flew off laughing

                                                                            And my thoughts went off into the air with him.
                                                                            But still the wound remained in my heart,
 
                                                                            Which I fruitlessly try a hundred times a day
                                                                            To get it cured; but such is its strength
                                                                            That I well see I’ll have to keep it despite myself,

                                                                            And that the remdey for curing it is death.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Elégie à Janet, Peintre du Roy – Elegy, to Janet the King’s artist (Am. 1:228b)

Standard

Today, nearly 200 lines of charming verse – twice!

Pein-moy, Janet, pein-moy je te supplie
Sur ce tableau les beautez de m’amie
De la façon que je te les diray.
Comme importun je ne te suppliray
D’un art menteur quelque faveur luy faire.
Il suffit bien si tu la sçais portraire
Telle qu’elle est, sans vouloir desguiser
Son naturel pour la favoriser :
Car la faveur n’est bonne que pour celles
Qui se font peindre, et qui ne sont pas belles.
 
Fay-luy premier les cheveux ondelez,
Serrez, retors, recrespez, annelez,
Qui de couleur le cedre representent :
Ou les allonge, et que libres ils sentent
Dans le tableau, si par art tu le peux,
La mesme odeur de ses propres cheveux :
Car ses cheveux comme fleurettes sentent,
Quand les Zephyrs au printemps les éventent.
 
Que son beau front ne soit entre-fendu
De nul sillon en profond estendu,
Mais qu’il soit tel qu’est l’eau de la marine,
Quand tant soit peu le vent ne la mutine,
Et que gisante en son lict elle dort,
Calmant ses flots sillez d’un somne mort.
 
Tout au milieu par la gréve descende
Un beau ruby, de qui l’esclat s’espande
Par le tableau, ainsi qu’on voit de nuit
Briller les raiz de la Lune, qui luit
Dessus la neige au fond d’un val coulée,
De trace d’homme encore non foulée.
 
Apres fay luy son beau sourcy voutis
D’Ebene noir, et que son ply tortis
Semble un Croissant, qui monstre par la nuë
Au premier mois sa vouture cornuë :
Ou si jamais tu as veu l’arc d’Amour,
Pren le portrait dessus le demy-tour
De sa courbure à demy-cercle close :
Car l’arc d’Amour et luy n’est qu’une chose.
 
Mais las! Janet, helas je ne sçay pas
Par quel moyen, ny comment tu peindras
(Voire eusses-tu l’artifice d’Apelle)
De ses beaux yeux la grace naturelle,
Qui font vergongne aux estoilles des Cieux.
Que l’un soit doux, l’autre soit furieux,
Que l’un de Mars, l’autre de Venus tienne :
Que du benin toute esperance vienne,
Et du cruel vienne tout desespoir :
L’un soit piteux et larmoyant à voir,
Comme celuy d’Ariadne laissée
Aux bords de Die, alors que l’insensee
Pres de la mer, de pleurs se consommoit,
Et son Thesée en vain elle nommoit :
L’autre soit gay, comme il est bien croyable
Que l’eut jadis Penelope louable
Quand elle vit son mary retourné,
Ayant vingt ans loing d’elle sejourné.
 
Apres fay luy sa rondelette oreille
Petite, unie, entre blanche et vermeille,
Qui sous le voile apparoisse à l’egal
Que fait un lis enclos dans un crystal,
Ou tout ainsi qu’apparoist une rose
Tout fraischement dedans un verre enclose.
 
Mais pour neant tu aurois fait si beau
Tout l’ornement de ton riche tableau,
Si tu n’avois de la lineature
De son beau nez bien portrait la peinture.
Pein-le moy donc ny court, ny aquilin,
Poli, traitis, où l’envieux malin
Quand il voudroit n’y sçauroit que reprendre,
Tant proprement tu le feras descendre
Parmi la face, ainsi comme descend
Dans une plaine un petit mont qui pend.
 
Apres au vif pein moy sa belle joüe
Pareille au teint de la rose qui noüe
Dessus du laict, ou au teint blanchissant
Du lis qui baise un œillet rougissant.
 
Dans le milieu portrais une fossette,
Fossette, non, mais d’Amour la cachette,
D’où ce garçon de sa petite main
Lasche cent traits et jamais un en vain,
Que par les yeux droit au cœur il ne touche.
 
Helas ! Janet, pour bien peindre sa bouche,
A peine Homere en ses vers te diroit
Quel vermillon egaler la pourroit :
Car pour la peindre ainsi qu’elle merite,
Peindre il faudroit celle d’une Charite.
Pein-la moy doncq, qu’elle semble parler,
Ores sou-rire, ores embasmer l’air
De ne sçay quelle ambrosienne haleine :
Mais par sur tout fay qu’elle semble pleine
De la douceur de persuasion.
Tout à l’entour attache un milion
De ris, d’attraits, de jeux, de courtoisies,
Et que deux rangs de perlettes choisies
D’un ordre egal en la place des dents
Bien poliment soyent arrangez dedans.
 
Pein tout autour une lévre bessonne,
Qui d’elle-mesme en s’elevant semonne
D’estre baisée, ayant le teint pareil
Ou de la rose, ou du coural vermeil :
Elle flambante au Printemps sur l’espine,
Luy rougissant au fond de la marine.
 
Pein son menton au milieu fosselu,
Et que le bout en rondeur pommelu
Soit tout ainsi que lon voit apparoistre
Le bout d’un coin qui ja commence à croistre.
 
Plus blanc que laict caillé dessus le jonc
Pein luy le col, mais pein-le un petit long,
Gresle et charnu, et sa gorge doüillette
Comme le col soit un petit longuette.
 
Apres fay luy par un juste compas,
Et de Junon les coudes et les bras,
Et les beaux doigts de Minerve, et encore
La main egale à celle de l’Aurore.
 
Je ne sçay plus, mon Janet, où j’en suis :
Je suis confus et muet : je ne puis
Comme j’ay fait, te declarer le reste
De ses beautez qui ne m’est manifeste :
Las ! car jamais tant de faveurs je n’u,
Que d’avoir veu ses beaux tetins à nu.
Mais si lon peut juger par conjecture,
Persuadé de raisons je m’asseure
Que la beauté qui ne s’apparoit, doit
Estre semblable à celle que lon voit.
Donque pein-la, et qu’elle me soit faite
Parfaite autant comme l’autre est parfaite.
 
Ainsi qu’en bosse esleve moy son sein
Net, blanc, poli, large, entre-ouvert et plein,
Dedans lequel mille rameuses veines
De rouge sang tressaillent toutes pleines.
 
Puis, quand au vif tu auras descouvers
Dessous la peau les muscles et les ners,
Enfle au dessus deux pommes nouvelettes,
Comme l’on void deux pommes verdelettes
D’un orenger, qui encores du tout
Ne font qu’à l’heure à se rougir au bout.
 
Tout au plus haut des espaules marbrines,
Pein le sejour des Charites divines,
Et que l’Amour sans cesse voletant
Tousjours les couve et les aille esventant,
Pensant voler avec le Jeu son frere
De branche en branche és vergers de Cythere.
 
Un peu plus bas en miroir arrondi,
Tout potelé, grasselet, rebondi,
Comme celuy de Venus, pein son ventre :
Pein son nombril ainsi qu’un petit centre,
Le fond duquel paroisse plus vermeil
Qu’un bel œillet favoris du Soleil.
 
Qu’atten’s-tu plus ? portray moy l’autre chose
Qui est si belle, et que dire je n’ose,
Et dont l’espoir impatient me poind :
Mais je te pry, ne me l’ombrage point,
Si ce n’estoit d’un voile fait de soye
Clair et subtil, à fin qu’on l’entre-voye.
 
Ses cuisses soyent comme faites au Tour
A pleine chair, rondes tout à l’entour,
Ainsi qu’un Terme arrondi d’artifice
Qui soustient ferme un royal edifice.
 
Comme deux monts enleve ses genous,
Douillets, charnus, ronds, delicats et mous,
Dessous lesquels fay luy la gréve pleine,
Telle que l’ont les vierges de Lacene,
Quand pres d’Eurote en s’accrochant des bras
Luttent ensemble et se jettent à bas :
Ou bien chassant à meutes decouplees
Quelque vieil cerf és forests Amyclees.
 
Puis pour la fin portray-luy de Thetis
Les pieds estroits, et les talons petis.
 
Ha, je la voy ! elle est presque portraite :
Encore un trait, encore un, elle est faite.
Leve tes mains, hà mon Dieu, je la voy !
Bien peu s’en faut qu’elle ne parle à moy.
Paint me, Janet, paint me I pray
In this picture the beauties of my beloved
In the manner I’ll tell you them.
I shall not ask as a beggar
That you do her any favours with lying art.
It will be enough if you can portray her
Just as she is, without trying to disguise
Her natural looks to favour her :
For favour is no good but for those
Who have themselves painted but are not fair.
 
First, make her hair in waves,
Tied up, swept back, curled in ringlets,
Which have the colour of cedar ;
Or make it long and free, scented
In the picture, if you can do it with art,
With the same scent her own hair has ;
For her hair smells like flowers
When the spring Zephyrs fan them.
 
Make sure her fair brow is not lined
By any furrow long-extended,
But that it looks like the waters of the sea
When the wind does not disturb them in the slightest,
And when it sleeps, lying on its bed,
Calming its waves sunk in deepest sleep.
 
Down the middle of this strand make descend
A fair ruby, whose brightness should spread
Throughout the picture, as at night you see
Shining the rays of the moon, spreading light
Over the snow in the deeps of a sunken valley
Still untrodden by the foot of man.
 
Then make her fair arched eyebrow
Of black ebony, so that its curve
Resembles a crescent moon, showing through cloud
Its horned arc at the beginning of the month ;
Or, if you have ever seen Love’s bow,
Use its image above, the half-turn
Of its curve makig a half-circle ;
For Love’s bow and herself are but one thing.
 
But ah, Janet, ah ! I do not know
In what way or how you will paint
(Even if you had the skill of Apelles)
The natural grace of her lovely eyes
Which make the stars of Heaven ashamed.
Make one sweet, the other furious,
One having something of Mars, the other of Venus :
That from the kind one, every hope should come,
And from the cruel one, every despair ;
Let one be pitiful to see, in tears,
Like that of Ariadne abandoned
On the shores of Dia, while maddened
She was consumed in tears beside the sea
And called on her Theseus in vain ;
Let the other be happy, as we can believe
The praiseworthy Penelope was formerly
When she saw her husband returned
After staying for twenty years far from her.
 
Next, make her rounded ear,
Small, elegant, between white and pink,
Which should appear beneath its veil exactly
As a lily does, enclosed in crystal,
Or just a a rose would appear,
Completely fresh, enclosed in a vase.
 
But you would have painted so well
Every ornament of your rich picture, for nothing
If you had not well-depicted the line
Of her fair nose.
Paint me it, then, not short nor aquiline,
Elegant and well-made, so the wicked or envious
Even if he wanted could not reprove,
So exactly you’ll have made it descend
In the midst of her face, just as descends
Over a plain a little raised mound.
 
Then as in life paint me her fair cheek,
Equal to the tint of a rose which swims
Upon milk, or to the white tint
Of the lily kissing a blushing pink.
 
In the middle,portray a small dimple –
No not a dimple, but the hiding-place of Love
From which that boy with his little hand
Launches a hundred arrows and never one in vain
Which does not through the eyes go straight to the heart.
 
Ah, Janet ! to paint her mouth well
Homer himself in his verse could barely say
What crimson could equal it ;
For to paint it as it deserves
You would need to paint a Grace’s.
So, paint me it as she seems to be talking,
Now smiling, now perfuming the air
With some kind of ambrosial breath ;
But above all make her appear full
Of the sweetness of persuasion.
All around, attach a million
Smiles, attractiveness, jokes, courtesies ;
And let there be two rows of choice little pearls
In a neat line, in place of teeth,
Elegantly arrayed within.
 
Paint all round them those twin lips
Which, rising up, themselves invite
Being kissed, their colour equal
To a rose’s or crimson coral’s ;
The one flaming in spring on its thorn,
The other reddening at the bottom of the sea.
 
Paint her chin dimpled in the middle
And make the tip bud into roundness
Just as if we were seeing appear
The tip of a quince just beginning to grow.
 
Whiter than clotted cream on rushes
Paint her neck, but paint it a little long,
Slender but plump, and her soft throat
Like her neck should be a little long.
 
Then make her, accurately drawn,
The arms and elbows of Juno
And the lovely fingers of Minerva, and too
Hands equal to the Dawn’s.
 
I no longer know, Janet, where I am :
I am confused, dumb : I cannot
As I have done tell you the rest
Of her beauties which have not been shown me.
Ah, I have never had the good favour
To have seen her fair breasts naked,
But if we may judge by conjecture
With good reason I am convinced
That the beauty which is unseen should
Be like that we see.
So paint her, and let her be made
Perfect just as the lady herself is perfect.
 
As if embossed, raise up her breast
Clear, white, elegant, wide, half-uncovered, full,
Within which a thousand branchy veins
Filled with red blood quiver.
 
Then when as in life you have revealed
Beneath the skin the muscles and nerves,
Make swell on top two fresh apples,
Just as you night see two green apples
In an orchard, which still and all
Just grow redder by the moment at the tip.
 
Right above her marble shoulders
Paint the divine Graces resting,
And let Love ceaselessly flying around
Gaze on them always and keep fanning them,
Thinking he’s flying with Jest, his brother,
From branch to branch in the orchards of Cythera.
 
A little below, rounded like a mirror,
All rounded, plump and shapely,
Like that of Venus, paint her belly ;
Paint its button like a little target
The depths of which should appear more crimson
Than the lovely carnation, the Sun’s favourite.
 
What are you waiting for ? Paint me that other part
Which is so lovely, and which I dare not mention,
And impatient hope for which pricks me :
But I beg you, do not cover it over
Unless it be with a veil made of silk,
Clear and fine, that you can party see through.
 
Her thighs should be made like towers
Full-fleshed, rounded all about,
Just as a column artfully rounded
Which firmly holds up a royal building.
 
Like two hills raise up her knees
Downy, plump, round, delicate and soft ;
Beneath them make her calves full
As were those of the maids of Laconia
When near Eurotas, gripping their arms
They fought together and threw one another down ;
Or indeed hunting with unleashed hounds
Some old stag in the forests of Amyclae.
 
Then, finally, portray her with Thetis’
Narrow feet and small toes.
 
Ha, I see her ! she is almost portayed :
But one stroke more, justl one and she is done.
Raise your hands, ah my god, I see her !
She all but speaks to me.
 
We’ve met the painter Janet – a.k.a. François Clouet, known as Janet (‘Johnny’) as his father had been – before.
 
At the end of book 1, in two long Elegies, Ronsard puts on a firework display of classical names and references. But the two are done very differently: the Elegy to Muret (learned classicist and poet) is full of very obscure and learned references to Achilles; this poem (to Clouet) is full of readily-accessible classical references which point to well-known representations in art and (sometimes) literature, appropriate to a non-specialist like Clouet – and us! Let’s skim through them:
 – Zephyrs, that is to say just ‘gentle breezes’
 – Apelles is the ‘type’ of a great painter
 – Mars and Venus simply personify war and love
 – Ariadne & Theseus on Dia, another well-known image of the lady abandoned as her lover sails into the rising sun
 – Penelope and her husband Odysseus, famously separated for 20 years by his involvement in the Trojan War (Iliad) and then his adventures on the way home (Odyssey)
 – Homer, the ‘type’ of a great poet for his Iliad and Odyssey
 – the Graces, simply personifying ‘grace’ here
 – Juno and Minerva, ‘types’ for beauty because of their competition with Venus for the title of most beautiful in the ‘Judgement of Paris’
 – Dawn’s hands, because Homer always refers to ‘rosy-fingered Dawn’
 – Venus was born (and sometimes lived in) Cythera, with her son Cupid or Love; his brother is usually Anteros, the go of requited (as opposed to unrequited) love – not a god of games or jokes, as Ronsard seems to imply here. But clearly games and happiness in love are what is really going on here
 – the ‘maids of Laconia’ are those hardy Spartan lasses who used to do fighting and hunting like the Spartan boys. The city of Amyclae and the river Eurotas are in Sparta (the Peloponnese)
 – Thetis, a sea-goddess, leading Nereid and mother of Achilles, was surnamed ‘Silver-footed’ in classical times, and her feet are regularly used as a ‘type’ of beauty.
 
Overall, a lovely easy-going poem: Ronsard of course uses the form of the body to create expectation through the poem – we know he’s leading up to the breasts, and later the ‘part he dares not mention’, and that in itself gives the poem a certain sense of rise and fall.
 
The earlier version of course differs in detail, but also includes a whole extra ‘paragraph’ early in the description, later removed:
 
Pein-moy, Janet, pein-moy je te supplie
Sur ce tableau les beautez de m’amie
De la façon que je te les diray.
Comme importun je ne te suppliray
D’un art menteur quelque faveur luy faire.
Il suffit bien si tu la sçais portraire
Telle qu’elle est, sans vouloir desguiser
Son naturel pour la favoriser :
Car la faveur n’est bonne que pour celles
Qui se font peindre, et qui ne sont pas belles.
 
Fay-luy premier les cheveux ondelez,
Nouez, retors, recrespez, annelez,
Qui de couleur le cedre representent :
Ou les allonge, et que libres ils sentent
Dans le tableau, si par art tu le peux,
La mesme odeur de ses propres cheveux :
Car ses cheveux comme fleurettes sentent,
Quand les Zephyrs au printemps les éventent.
 
[Fais-lui le front en bosse revoûté,
Sur lequel soient d’un et d’autre côté
Peints gravement, sur trois sièges d’ivoire
A majesté, la vergogne at la gloire.]
 
Que son beau front ne soit entre-fendu
De nul sillon en profond estendu,
Mais qu’il soit tel qu’est la calme marine,
Quand tant soit peu le vent ne la mutine,
Et que gisante en son lict elle dort,
Calmant ses flots sillez d’un somne mort.
 
Tout au milieu par la gréve descende
Un beau ruby, de qui l’esclat s’espande
Par le tableau, ainsi qu’on voit de nuit
Briller les raiz de la Lune, qui luit
Dessus la neige au fond d’un val coulée,
De trace d’homme encore non foulée.
 
Apres fay luy son beau sourcy voutis
D’Ebene noir, et que son ply tortis
Semble un Croissant, qui monstre par la nuë
Au premier mois sa vouture cornuë :
Ou si jamais tu as veu l’arc d’Amour,
Pren le portrait dessus le demy-tour
De sa courbure à demy-cercle close :
Car l’arc d’Amour et luy n’est qu’une chose.
 
Mais las! mon Dieu, mon Dieu, je ne sçay pas
Par quel moyen, ny comment tu peindras
(Voire eusses-tu l’artifice d’Apelle)
De ses beaux yeux la grace naturelle,
Qui font vergongne aux estoilles des Cieux.
Que l’un soit doux, l’autre soit furieux,
Que l’un de Mars, l’autre de Venus tienne :
Que du benin toute esperance vienne,
Et du cruel vienne tout desespoir :
Ou que l’un soit pitoyable a le voir,
Comme celuy d’Ariadne laissée
Aux bords de Die, alors que l’insensee
Voyant la mer, de pleurs se consommoit,
Et son Thesée en vain elle nommoit :
L’autre soit gay, comme il est bien croyable
Que l’eut jadis Penelope louable
Quand elle vit son mary retourné,
Ayant vingt ans loing d’elle sejourné.
 
Apres fay luy sa rondelette oreille
Petite, unie, entre blanche et vermeille,
Qui sous le voile apparoisse à l’egal
Que fait un lis enclos dans un crystal,
Ou tout ainsi qu’apparoist une rose
Tout fraischement dedans un verre enclose.
 
Mais pour neant tu aurois fait si beau
Tout l’ornement de ton riche tableau,
Si tu n’avois de la lineature
De son beau nez bien portrait la peinture.
Pein-le moy donc gresle, long, aquilin,
Poli, traitis, où l’envieux malin
Quand il voudroit n’y sçauroit que reprendre,
Tant proprement tu le feras descendre
Parmi la face, ainsi comme descend
Dans une plaine un petit mont qui pend.
 
Apres au vif pein moy sa belle joüe
Pareille au teint de la rose qui noüe
Dessus du laict, ou au teint blanchissant
Du lis qui baise un œillet rougissant.
 
Dans le milieu portrais une fossette,
Fossette, non, mais d’Amour la cachette,
D’où ce garçon de sa petite main
Lasche cent traits et jamais un en vain,
Que par les yeux droit au cœur il ne touche.
 
Helas ! Janet, pour bien peindre sa bouche,
A peine Homere en ses vers te diroit
Quel vermillon egaler la pourroit :
Car pour la peindre ainsi qu’elle merite,
Peindre il faudroit celle d’une Charite.
Pein-la moy doncq, qu’elle semble parler,
Ores sou-rire, ores embasmer l’air
De ne sçay quelle ambrosienne haleine :
Mais par sur tout fay qu’elle semble pleine
De la douceur de persuasion.
Tout à l’entour attache un milion
De ris, d’attraits, de jeux, de courtoisies,
Et que deux rangs de perlettes choisies
D’un ordre egal en la place des dents
Bien poliment soyent arrangez dedans.
 
Pein tout autour une lévre bessonne,
Qui d’elle-mesme en s’elevant semonne
D’estre baisée, ayant le teint pareil
Ou de la rose, ou du coural vermeil :
Elle flambante au Printemps sur l’espine,
Luy rougissant au fond de la marine.
 
Pein son menton au milieu fosselu,
Et que le bout en rondeur pommelu
Soit tout ainsi que lon voit apparoistre
Le bout d’un coin qui ja commence à croistre.
 
Plus blanc que laict caillé dessus le jonc
Pein luy le col, mais pein-le un petit long,
Gresle et charnu, et sa gorge doüillette
Comme le col soit un petit longuette.
 
Apres fay luy par un juste compas,
Et de Junon les coudes et les bras,
Et les beaux doigts de Minerve, et encore
La main pareille à celle de l’Aurore.
 
Je ne sçay plus, mon Janet, où j’en suis :
Je suis confus et muet : je ne puis
Comme j’ay fait, te declarer le reste
De ses beautez qui ne m’est manifeste :
Las ! car jamais tant de faveurs je n’eu,
Que d’avoir veu ses beaux tetins à nu.
Mais si l’on peut juger par conjecture,
Persuadé de raisons je m’asseure
Que la beauté qui ne s’apparoit, doit
Estre semblable à celle que lon voit.
Donque pein-la, et qu’elle me soit faite
Parfaite autant comme l’autre est parfaite.
 
Ainsi qu’en bosse esleve moy son sein
Net, blanc, poli, large, profond et plein,
Dedans lequel mille rameuses veines
De rouge sang tressaillent toutes pleines.
 
Puis, quand au vif tu auras descouvers
Dessous la peau les muscles et les ners,
Enfle au dessus deux pommes nouvelettes,
Comme l’on void deux pommes verdelettes
D’un orenger, qui encores du tout
Ne font alors que se rougir au bout.
 
Tout au plus haut des espaules marbrines,
Pein le sejour des Charites divines,
Et que l’Amour sans cesse voletant
Tousjours les couve et les aille esventant,
Pensant voler avec le Jeu son frere
De branche en branche és vergers de Cythere.
 
Un peu plus bas en miroir arrondi,
Tout potelé, grasselet, rebondi,
Comme celuy de Venus, pein son ventre :
Pein son nombril ainsi qu’un petit centre,
Le fond duquel paroisse plus vermeil
Qu’un bel œillet entr’ouvert au Soleil.
 
Qu’atten’s-tu plus ? portray moy l’autre chose
Qui est si belle, et que dire je n’ose,
Et dont l’espoir impatient me poind :
Mais je te pry, ne me l’ombrage point,
Si ce n’estoit d’un voile fait de soye
Clair et subtil, à fin qu’on l’entre-voye.
 
Ses cuisses soyent comme faites au Tour
En grelissant, rondes tout à l’entour,
Ainsi qu’un Terme arrondi d’artifice
Qui soustient ferme un royal edifice.
 
Comme deux monts enleve ses genous,
Douillets, charnus, ronds, delicats et mous,
Dessous lesquels fay luy la gréve pleine,
Telle que l’ont les vierges de Lacene,
Quand pres d’Eurote en s’accrochant des bras
Luttent ensemble et se jettent à bas :
Ou bien chassant à meutes decouplees
Quelque vieil cerf és forests Amyclees.
 
Puis pour la fin portray-luy de Thetis
Les pieds estroits, et les talons petis.
 
Ha, je la voy ! elle est presque portraite :
Encore un trait, encore un, elle est faite.
Leve tes mains, hà mon Dieu, je la voy !
Bien peu s’en faut qu’elle ne parle à moy.
Paint me, Janet, paint me I pray
In this picture the beauties of my beloved
In the manner I’ll tell you them.
I shall not ask as a beggar
That you do her any favours with lying art.
It will be enough if you can portray her
Just as she is, without trying to disguise
Her natural looks to favour her :
For favour is no good but for those
Who have themselves painted but are not fair.
 
First, make her hair in waves,
Knotted up, swept back, curled in ringlets,
Which have the colour of cedar ;
Or make it long and free, scented
In the picture, if you can do it with art,
With the same scent her own hair has ;
For her hair smells like flowers
When the spring Zephyrs fan them.
 
[Make her brow projecting in an arc
On which should be, on each side,
Painted gravely modesty and glory
In majesty on three ivory thrones.
 
Make sure her fair brow is not lined
By any furrow long-extended,
But that it looks like the calm sea
When the wind does not disturb them in the slightest,
And when it sleeps, lying on its bed,
Calming its waves sunk in deepest sleep.
 
Down the middle of this strand make descend
A fair ruby, whose brightness should spread
Throughout the picture, as at night you see
Shining the rays of the moon, spreading light
Over the snow in the deeps of a sunken valley
Still untrodden by the foot of man.
 
Then make her fair arched eyebrow
Of black ebony, so that its curve
Resembles a crescent moon, showing through cloud
Its horned arc at the beginning of the month ;
Or, if you have ever seen Love’s bow,
Use its image above, the half-turn
Of its curve makig a half-circle ;
For Love’s bow and herself are but one thing.
 
But ah, my God, my God, I do not know
In what way or how you will paint
(Even if you had the skill of Apelles)
The natural grace of her lovely eyes
Which make the stars of Heaven ashamed.
Make one sweet, the other furious,
One having something of Mars, the other of Venus :
That from the kind one, every hope should come,
And from the cruel one, every despair ;
Or, let one be pitiful to see,
Like that of Ariadne abandoned
On the shores of Dia, while maddened
She was consumed in tears watching the sea
And called on her Theseus in vain ;
Let the other be happy, as we can believe
The praiseworthy Penelope was formerly
When she saw her husband returned
After staying for twenty years far from her.
 
Next, make her rounded ear,
Small, elegant, between white and pink,
Which should appear beneath its veil exactly
As a lily does, enclosed in crystal,
Or just a a rose would appear,
Completely fresh, enclosed in a vase.
 
But you would have painted so well
Every ornament of your rich picture, for nothing
If you had not well-depicted the line
Of her fair nose.
Paint me it, then, slender, long, aquiline,
Elegant and well-made, so the wicked or envious
Even if he wanted could not reprove,
So exactly you’ll have made it descend
In the midst of her face, just as descends
Over a plain a little raised mound.
 
Then as in life paint me her fair cheek,
Equal to the tint of a rose which swims
Upon milk, or to the white tint
Of the lily kissing a blushing pink.
 
In the middle,portray a small dimple –
No not a dimple, but the hiding-place of Love
From which that boy with his little hand
Launches a hundred arrows and never one in vain
Which does not through the eyes go straight to the heart.
 
Ah, Janet ! to paint her mouth well
Homer himself in his vere could barely say
What crimson could equal it ;
For to paint it as it deserves
You would need to paint a Grace’s.
So, paint me it as she seems to be talking,
Now smiling, now perfuming the air
With some kind of ambrosial breath ;
But above all make her appear full
Of the sweetness of persuasion.
All around, attach a million
Smiles, attractiveness, jokes, courtesies ;
And let there be two rows of choice little pearls
In a neat line, in place of teeth,
Elegantly arrayed within.
 
Paint all round them those twin lips
Which, rising up, themselves invite
Being kissed, their colour equal
To a rose’s or crimson coral’s ;
The one flaming in spring on its thorn,
The other reddening at the bottom of the sea.
 
Paint her chin dimpled in the middle
And make the tip bud into roundness
Just as if we were seeing appear
The tip of a quince just beginning to grow.
 
Whiter than clotted cream on rushes
Paint her neck, but paint it a little long,
Slender but plump, and her soft throat
Like her neck should be a little long.
 
Then make her, accurately drawn,
The arms and elbows of Juno
And the lovely fingers of Minerva, and too
Hands like the Dawn’s.
 
I no longer know, Janet, where I am :
I am confused, dumb : I cannot
As I have done tell you the rest
Of her beauties which have not been shown me.
Ah, I have never had the good favour
To have seen her fair breasts naked,
But if we may judge by conjecture
With good reason I am convinced
That the beauty which is unseen should
Be like that we see.
So paint her, and let her be made
Perfect just as the lady herself is perfect.
 
As if embossed, raise up her breast
Clear, white, elegant, wide, deep, full,
Within which a thousand branchy veins
Filled with red blood quiver.
 
Then when as in life you have revealed
Beneath the skin the muscles and nerves,
Make swell on top two fresh apples,
Just as you night see two green apples
In an orchard, which still and all
Just grow redder at the tip.
 
Right above her marble shoulders
Paint the divine Graces resting,
And let Love ceaselessly flying around
Gaze on them always and keep fanning them,
Thinking he’s flying with Jest, his brother,
From branch to branch in the orchards of Cythera.
 
A little below, rounded like a mirror,
All rounded, plump and shapely,
Like that of Venus, paint her belly ;
Paint its button like a little target
The depths of which should appear more crimson
Than the lovely carnation, half-open to the Sun.
 
What are you waiting for ? Paint me that other part
Which is so lovely, and which I dare not mention,
And impatient hope for which pricks me :
But I beg you, do not cover it over
Unless it be with a veil made of silk,
Clear and fine, that you can party see through.
 
Her thighs should be made like towers
Becoming slenderer, rounded all about,
Just as a column artfully rounded
Which firmly holds up a royal building.
 
Like two hills raise up her knees
Downy, plump, round, delicate and soft ;
Beneath them make her calves full
As were those of the maids of Laconia
When near Eurotas, gripping their arms
They fought together and threw one another down ;
Or indeed hunting with unleashed hounds
Some old stag in the forests of Amyclae.
 
Then, finally, portray her with Thetis’
Narrow feet and small toes.
 
Ha, I see her ! she is almost portayed :
But one stroke more, justl one and she is done.
Raise your hands, ah my god, I see her !
She all but speaks to me.
 
 
 
 

Élégie à Cassandre (Am. 1.227b)

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Mon œil, mon cœur, ma Cassandre, ma vie,
Hé! qu’à bon droit tu dois porter d’envie
A ce grand Roy, qui ne veut plus souffrir
Qu’à mes chansons ton nom se vienne offrir.
C’est luy qui veut qu’en trompette j’echange
Mon luth, afin d’entonner sa louange,
Non de luy seul mais de tous ses ayeux
Qui sont là hault assis au rang des Dieux.
 
Je le feray puis qu’il me le commande :
Car d’un tel Roy la puissance est si grande,
Que tant s’en faut qu’on la puisse eviter,
Qu’un camp armé n’y pourroit resister.
 
Mais que me sert d’avoir tant leu Tibulle,
Properce, Ovide, et le docte Catulle,
Avoir tant veu Petrarque et tant noté,
Si par un Roy le pouvoir m’est oté
De les ensuyvre, et s’il faut que ma Iyre
Pendue au croc ne m’ose plus rien dire ?
 
Doncques en vain je me paissois d’espoir
De faire un jour à la Tuscane voir,
Que nostre France, autant qu’elle, est heureuse
A souspirer une pleinte amoureuse :
Et pour monstrer qu’on la peut surpasser,
J’avois desja commencé de trasser
Mainte Elegie à la façon antique,
Mainte belle Ode, et mainte Bucolique.
 
Car, à vray dire, encore mon esprit
N’est satisfait de ceux qui ont escrit
En nostre langue, et leur amour merite
Ou du tout rien, ou faveur bien petite.
 
Non que je sois vanteur si glorieux
D’oser passer les vers laborieux
De tant d’amans qui se pleignent en France :
Mais pour le moins j’avoy bien esperance,
Que si mes vers ne marchoient les premiers,
Qu’ils ne seroient sans honneur les derniers.
Car Eraton qui les amours descœuvre,
D’assez bon œil m’attiroit à son œuvre.
 
L’un trop enflé les chante grossement,
L’un enervé les traine bassement,
L’un nous depeint une Dame paillarde,
L’un plus aux vers qu’aux sentences regarde,
Et ne peut onq tant se sceut desguiser,
Apprendre l’art de bien Petrarquiser.
 
Que pleures-tu, Cassandre, ma douce ame ?
Encor Amour ne veut couper la trame
Qu’en ta faveur je pendis au métier,
Sans achever l’ouvrage tout entier.
 
Mon Roy n’a pas d’une beste sauvage
Succé le laict, et son jeune courage,
Ou je me trompe, a senti quelquefois
Le trait d’Amour qui surmonte les Rois.
 
S’il l’a senti, ma coulpe est effacee,
Et sa grandeur ne sera corroucee
Qu’à mon retour des horribles combas,
Hors de son croc mon Luth j’aveigne à-bas,
Le pincetant, et qu’en lieu des alarmes
Je chante Amour, tes beautez et mes larmes.
« Car l’arc tendu trop violentement,
« Ou s’alentit, ou se rompt vistement.
 
Ainsi Achille apres avoir par terre
Tant fait mourir de soudars en la guerre,
Son Luth doré prenoit entre ses mains
Teintes encor de meurdres inhumains,
Et vis à vis du fils de Menetie,
Chantoit l’amour de Brisëis s’amie :
Puis tout soudain les armes reprenoit,
Et plus vaillant au combat retoumoit.
 
Ainsi, apres que l’ayeul de mon maistre
Hors des combats retirera sa dextre,
Se desarmant dedans sa tente à part,
Dessus le Luth à l’heure ton Ronsard
Te chantera : car il ne se peut faire
Qu’autre beauté luy puisse jamais plaire,
Ou soit qu’il vive, ou soit qu’outre le port,
Leger fardeau, Charon le passe mort.
My eyes, my heart, my Cassandre, my life,
Oh, how rightly you must be envious
Of that great King who no longer wishes to suffer
Your name to put itself forward in my songs.
It is he who wishes that I should change my lute
For a trumpet, to sing out his praises,
And not only his own but those of his ancestors
Who are seated above in the ranks of the gods.
 
I shall do it, as he commands it :
For the power of such a King is so great
That it is as hard to keep out of its way
As for an armed force to resist it.
 
What use for me to have read so much of Tibullus,
Propertius, Ovid, and the learned Catullus ;
To have looked over and noted so much of Petrarch,
If by a King the power is taken from me
Of following them, and if my lyre must
Hang from a hook and dare no longer speak ?
 
I have therefore vainly fed the hope
Of one day seeing Tuscany,
When our France, as much as it, is happy
To sigh a lover’s plaint ;
And, to show [Italy] can be surpassed
I had already begun to set down
Many an Elegy in the antique fashion,
Many a fine Ode, many a Pastoral.
 
For to speak the truth, my soul is still
Not satisfied with those who have written
In our language, and their love deserves
Either nothing at all, or very little favour.
 
Not that I am so vainglorious a boaster
As to venture to surpass the laborious poetry
Of so many lovers who have made their plaints in France ;
But at least I have a fair hope
That, even if my verse does not go first,
It will not be dishonourably last.
For Erato, who discloses love-affairs,
Drew me with a clear eye to her work.
 
One puffed-up poet sings grossly of love,
Another nervous one drags on in too mean a style ;
One depicts a Lady who is lewd,
Another takes more care over his verse than his meaning
And can never, however he tries to conceal it,
Learn the art of Petrarch-ising well.
 
Why do you weep, Cassandre, my sweet soul ?
Love does not yet seek to cut off the warp and weft
Which I have hung on my loom for you,
Without completing the whole of my work.
 
My King has not sucked the milk of some
Savage beast, and his youthful courage too,
Unless I am mistaken, has sometimes felt
The wound of Love which can overcome Kings.
 
If he has felt it, my [ error ] is erased
And his greatness will not be angered
If, on my return from terrible battles,
I take my lute down from its hook
And pluck it, and instead of loud war
I sing of Love, your beauty, and my tears.
« For the bow which is drawn too tightly
Either weakens [slows] or quickly breaks. »
 
Just so Achilles, after having across the world
Put so many soldiers to death in war,
Took his golden lute in his hands –
Still stained with inhuman massacres –
And sitting opposite the son of Menetius
Sang of his love for Briseis, his beloved ;
Then as suddenly took up arms again
And returned, more courageous, to battle.
 
And so, after my master’s ancestor
Withdraws his hand from battle,
Disarming himself within his tent away from the field,
Upon his lute just then your Ronsard will sing
To you ; for it cannot be
That another beauty could ever please him
While he is alive or when, beyond this harbour,
Charon carries his light burden, dead.
 
 
The conclusion of the first book of Amours brings with it some weightier material to give it a firm feeling of ending – rather like Beethoven’s 5th, which iterates and reiterates the thumping C-major chords to emphasise that this really is the end of the piece, Ronsard feels (rightly) that he cannot simply end the long run of sonnets without something more definitely marking a conclusion. Perhaps there is, nonetheless, a sense of loss as Ronsard explains how he must stop writing love poetry to focus, by royal command, on his epic Franciad.
 
The Elegy to Cassandre is an elegy in the classical sense – a description of its form, rather than its mood (as we use it today to mean ‘something noble but sad, in remembrance’). Accordingly, it is full of classical (and neo-classical) references:
 – Tibullus, Propertius, Ovid, and Catullus are all Latin love-poets; and we might detect a glancing reference to one of Horace’s odes in the lines about ‘hanging his lyre on a hook’;
 – Petrarch is of course the shining example of (relatively) modern love-poetry, Tuscany his home;
 – Erato is the muse of lyric poetry;
 – in the Iliad Achilles sings of the slave-girl Briseis whom he loves (and who plays a pivotal role in the development of the action); his other (male) love is Patroclus, the son of Menoetius;
 – Charon is of course the boatman who ferries the dead across the river Styx.
 
Muret suggests that, in the last ‘stanza’, Ronsard is using the word “ayeul” (ancestor, grandfather) to refer to Francus, the mythical ancestor of the kings of France – and thus to the Franciad, the commission for which has drawn Ronsard forcibly away from writing love-poems.  (The ‘great king’ at the time of the publication of the Amours in the 1550s was Henri II; his direct ancestors were noble rather than royal, his father having come to the throne by virtue of his marriage to Louis XII’s daughter.)
 
 
The earlier Blanchemain version has only minor differences:
 – in stanza 3, the list of Roman poets is “Tibulle, / Gallus, Ovide, et Properce et Catulle,” – Cornelius Gallus was a lyric poet contemporary with the others;
 – in stanza 5, the line is “En nostre langue, et leur Muse merite” (‘and their Muse deserves’ instead of ‘their love’);
– towards the end, “Mon Roy n’a pas d’une tigre sauvage …” (a savage tiger’s milk rather than a savage beast’s).
 
 
 
 
 
 

Amours retranch. 2

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A ton frere Pâris tu sembles en beauté,
A ta sœur Polyxene en chaste conscience,
A ton frere Helenin en prophete science,
A ton parjure ayeul en peu de loyauté,
 
A ton père Priam en brave Royauté,
Au viellard Antenor en mielleuse eloquence,
A ta tante Antigone en superbe arrogance,
A ton grand frere Hector en fiere cruauté.
 
Neptune n’assit onc une pierre si dure
Dedans le mur Troyen, que toy pour qui j’endure
Un million de morts, ny Ulysse vainqueur
 
N’emplit tant Ilion de feux, de cris, et d’armes,
De souspirs, et de pleurs, que tu combles mon cœur,
Sans l’avoir mérité, de sanglots, et de larmes
 
 
 
 
                                                                            You are like your brother Paris in beauty,
                                                                            Your sister Polyxena in chaste conscience,
                                                                            Your brother Helenus in prophetic skill,
                                                                            Your perjured grandfather [Laomedon] in faithlessness,
 
                                                                            Your father Priam in regal pride,
                                                                            Old Antenor in honeyed speech,
                                                                            Your aunt Antigone in magnificent arrogance,
                                                                            Your great brother Hector in proud cruelty.
 
                                                                            Neptune never placed a stone so hard
                                                                            In Troy’s walls as you, for whom I endure
                                                                            A million deaths, nor did conquering Ulysses
 
                                                                            Fill Ilium so full of fires, cries, arms,
                                                                            Sighs and laments, as you fill my heart –
                                                                            Which does not deserve it – with sobs and tears.

 

 

After that recent poem on reading Homer, another which demonstrates the effect of that reading! It’s possible that the family tree of the royal house of Troy may not be too familiar to you(!) so here’s a very useful quick summary:  several of the names above are highlighted to make navigation easy. The basic assumption is that ‘you’ (=Cassandre) are equivalent to the prophetess Cassandra of Troy.
 
Many of the references are not just to the characters but to the relevant myths:
 – Paris, so handsome that he was chosen to judge the goddesses’ beauty & gained Helen’s love;
 – Polyxena, whose calm wisdom encouraged Achilles (having captured her) to trust her with the information that led to his death, and who (in Euripides) nobly accepts her death as a sacrifice to Achilles’ ghost;
 – Helenus, Cassandra’s twin and also endowed with prophetic powers;
 – Laomedon, perjured because he persuaded Neptune to build Troy’s great walls (see line 9) but then refused to give the promised reward;
 – Priam, whose pride kept the war going (but who was capable of humbling himself before Achilles, to recover his son Hector’s body, in a truly noble/regal way);
 – Antenor, not a family member but Priam’s closest and wisest advisor (and an advocate for peace in the war);
 – Antigone, whose ‘arrogance’ is the centre of Sophocles’ play as her stubbornness leads to confrontation with the state and general tragedy;
 – Hector, generally considered a noble hero, but who of course has a long list of victims in the Iliad. Generally, Achilles not Hector is seen as the proudly cruel one!
 
Which leaves us only with the reference to Ulysses, who is responsible for the fall of Troy because he came up with the idea of the Trojan Horse.
 
Unusually for a poem that has been set aside, there is a variant in Blanchemain’s version at the beginning of the last line:
 
                          … que tu combles mon cœur,
De brasiers et de morts, de sanglots, et de larmes
 
                                                                                                    … as you fill my heart
                                                                            With fire and death, with sobs and tears.
 
 
 
 

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.