Tag Archives: Aurore (Dawn)

Helen – book 2 – sonnet 1

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Let’s now turn to the last of the three main sonnet-sequences, and work towards completing the Helen series…

Soit qu’un sage amoureux ou soit qu’un sot me lise,
Il ne doit s’esbahir voyant mon chef grison,
Si je chante d’amour : tousjours un vieil tison
Cache un germe de feu sous une cendre grise.
 
Le bois verd à grand’ peine en le souflant s’attise,
Le sec sans le soufler brusle en toute saison.
La Lune se gaigna d’une blanche toison,
Et son vieillard Tithon l’Aurore ne mesprise.
 
Lecteur, je ne veux estre escolier de Platon,
Qui la vertu nous presche, et ne fait pas de mesme :
Ny volontaire Icare, ou lourdaut Phaëthon,
 
Perdus pour attenter une sotise extreme :
Mais sans me contrefaire ou Voleur ou Charton,
De mon gré je me noye et me brusle moy-mesme.
 
 
 
                                                                            Whether a wise lover or whether a fool reads me,
                                                                            He ought not to be astonished, seeing my grey hairs,
                                                                            That I’m singing of love; ancient embers always
                                                                            Hide the germ of a fire beneath the grey ash.
 
                                                                            Green wood is kindled with great difficulty, by blowing on it,
                                                                            But dry wood burns at any time without blowing;
                                                                            The moon has got herself a white fleece,
                                                                            And Dawn does not despise her old Tithonus.
 
                                                                            Reader, I do not wish to be a scholar of Plato
                                                                            Who preaches us virtue but does not do as he says;
                                                                            Nor willingly [to be] Icarus, or clumsy Phaethon,
 
                                                                            Destroyed by attempting their extreme folly;
                                                                            But without pretending to be that thief or carter,
                                                                            I’d willingly give myself to drowning or burning.
 
 
 
Beginning the second book of helen poems, Ronsard cannot avoid admitting his age and potentially foolish behaviour! But, in an image I don’t recall him using earlier, he compares how well ‘old’ and ‘young’ wood burns …
 
The classical references are fairly simple ones:  Aurora and her aged lover Tithonus; Icarus who flew too near the sun, Phaethon who lost control of Apollo’s sun-chariot and was killed. Note however that Ronsard re-characterises both myths (line 13):  Icarus did not steal the wings he used, but foolishly mis-used what he’d been given; and there’s no particular sense that Phaethon was unable to drive skilfully (like a ‘carter’), only that the sun-god’s horses were too much for him.
 
Blanchemain has one variant in his text (line 4, “Cache un germe de feu dessous la cendre grise”) not affecting the meaning, and offers a variant of line 10 in a footnote: “Qui, pour trop contempler, a tousjours le teint blesme” (‘Who from too much studying always has a pallid look’). Frankly, that version of line 10 is much more apposite – fitting the context of the outward appearances which the rest of the poem discusses – than the later variant which is only loosely picked up by the denigratory ‘thief and carter’ of line 13; presumably it was the explosion of sharp ‘t’ sounds that Ronsard sought to avoid.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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

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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.
 
 
 
 

Amours 1.205

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Just back after a short holiday. Let’s have a sonnet.

 
Comme on souloit si plus on ne me blasme
D’avoir l’esprit et le corps ocieux,
L’honneur en soit au trait de ces beaux yeux,
Qui m’ont poli l’imparfait de mon ame.
 
Le seul rayon de leur gentille flame
Dressant en l’air mon vol audacieux
Pour voir le Tout m’esleva jusqu’aux Cieux,
Dont ici bas la partie m’enflame.
 
Par le moins beau qui mon penser aila,
Au sein du beau mon penser s’en vola,
Espoinçonné d’une manie extresme :
 
Là du vray beau j’adore le parfait,
Là, d’ocieux actif je me suis fait,
Là je cogneu ma maistresse et moy-mesme.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            If, as they used to, people no longer blame me
                                                                            For having a lazy mind and body,
                                                                            The honour for it is in the wound of those fair eyes
                                                                            Which have polished the imperfections of my soul.
 
                                                                            The ray of their noble flame alone,
                                                                            Supporting in the air my daring flight
                                                                            To see the All, raised me to heaven –
                                                                            Down here, [just] a part inflames me.
 
                                                                            By that less-fair way which gave my thoughts wings,
                                                                            My thoughts flew to the bosom of the Fair,
                                                                            Tortured by extreme obsession ;
 
                                                                            There I adore the perfection of true Beauty,
                                                                            There I become active, not lazy,
                                                                            There I have found my mistress and myself.
 
 
 
Charmingly, Ronsard acknowledges that a writer’s life draws its share of criticism (‘laziness’), but also – and equally charmingly – lays a claim to fame and worth for his work, in that people no longer criticise him for spending his time writing! And, still charmingly, he deflects the implicit charge of pride by pointing the attention (of course) at Cassandre. All neatly done in a couple of lines. Brilliant.
 
His first version took a slightly different route, and one which less-effectively avoids the charge of pride: this time it is Ronsard, not his readers, who acknowledges Cassandre’s primary role:
 
 
Comme on souloit si plus on ne me blasme
D’avoir l’esprit et le corps ocieux,
Je t’en rends grace, heureux traits de ces yeux,
Qui m’as poli l’imparfait de mon ame.
 
 
                                                                            If as they did, people no longer blame me
                                                                            For having a lazy mind and body,
                                                                            I give you thanks for it, lucky darts of those eyes,
                                                                            You who have polished the imperfections of my soul.
 
 
 There’s also a small change in line 5, which reads “de si gentille flame” (‘ of so noble a flame’).
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Amours 1.216

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Amour, que j’aime à baiser les beaux yeux
De ma maistresse, et à tordre en ma bouche
De ses cheveux l’or fin qui s’escarmouche
Dessus son front astré comme les cieux !
 
C’est à mon gré le meilleur de son mieux
Que son bel œil, qui jusqu’au cœur me touche,
Dont le beau nœud d’un Scythe plus farouche
Rendroit le cœur courtois et gracieux.
 
Son beau poil d’or, et ses sourcis encore
De leurs beautez font vergoingner l’Aurore,
Quand au matin elle embellit le jour.
 
Dedans son œil une vertu demeure,
Qui va jurant par les fleches d’Amour
De me guarir : mais je ne m’en asseure.
 
 
 
                                                                            Love, how I love kissing the beautiful eyes
                                                                            Of my mistress, and twisting in my mouth
                                                                            The fine gold of her hair which skirmishes
                                                                            Over her brow, starry like the heavens!
 
                                                                            In my opinion, the best of her best
                                                                            Is her fair eye, which touches me deep in my heart,
                                                                            And her fair Scythian knot, still wilder,
                                                                            Makes my heart courteous and graceful.
 
                                                                            Her fair golden hair, her eyebrows too
                                                                            With their beauties make the Dawn blush
                                                                            When in the morning she beautifies the day.
 
                                                                            Within her eye lives a power
                                                                            Which keeps swearing by Love’s arrows
                                                                            To cure me; but I won’t rely on it.
 
 
 
Again, Ronsard takes tropes he’s ued and re-used many times, and makes something fresh and vibrant out of them. I do like this poem, and the ending especially wraps up a marvellous complex of feelings both positive and negative about the condition of love in just a few words.
 
 Although the earlier version shares a recognisable set of ideas with this later version, in detail it is a different poem! (Fortunately, the different opening words signal there’s change to watch out for.) Note how some re-punctuation around line 7’s Scythian completely shifts the meaning.
 
 
Mon Dieu, que j’aime à baiser les beaux yeux
De ma maistresse, et à tordre en ma bouche
De ses cheveux l’or fin qui s’escarmouche
Si gayement dessus deux petits cieux !
 
C’est à mon gré ce qui lui sied le mieux
Que ce bel œil, qui jusqu’au cœur me touche,
Et ce beau poil, qui d’un Scythe farouche
Prendroit le cœur en ses plis gracieux.
 
Ses longs cheveux, et ses sourcis encore
De leurs beautez font vergongner l’Aurore,
Quand plus crineuse elle embellit le ciel,
 
Et dans cet œil je ne sais quoi demeure
Qui me peut faire en amour à toute heure
Le sucre fiel et le riagas miel. 
 
 
                                                                            My god, how I love kissing the beautiful eyes
                                                                            Of my mistress, and twisting in my mouth
                                                                            The fine gold of her hair which skirmishes
                                                                            So gaily above those two small heavens.
 
                                                                            In my opinion, the things which suit her best,
                                                                            Are that fair eye, which touches me deep in my heart,
                                                                            And that beautiful hair, which would seize the heart
                                                                            Of a wild Scythian in its graceful folds.
 
                                                                            Her long hair, her eyebrows too
                                                                            With their beauties make the Dawn blush
                                                                            When with hair spread wide she beautifies the sky.
 
                                                                            And in that eye lives some unknown
                                                                            Bitter sugar and honey-sweet poison
                                                                            Which can make me be in love all the time. 
 
 
Blanchemain also offers us another complete re-write of the final tercet, from 1587 (Marty-Laveaux’s is the 1584 text), which shows that Ronsard never really felt any of his poems, even the delightfully-good ones, were a finished statement:
 
En son œil vole une image vestue
D’aile et de traits : je croy que c’est Amour,
Je le cognois, il me blesse, il me tue. 
 
                                                                            In her eye floats an image clothed
                                                                            With wings and barbs; I believe it is Love,
                                                                            I recognise him – he wounds me, he kills me.
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sonnet 159

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En ma douleur, malheureux, je me plais,
Soit quand la nuict les feux du Ciel augmente,
Ou quand l’Aurore en-jonche d’Amaranthe
Le jour meslé d’un long fleurage espais,
 
D’un joyeux dueil mon esprit je repais :
Et quelque part où seulet je m’absente,
Devant mes yeux je voy tousjours presente
Celle qui cause et ma guerre et ma paix.
 
Pour l’aimer trop également j’endure
Ore un plaisir, ore une peine dure,
Qui d’ordre egal viennent mon cœur saisir :
 
Brief, d’un tel miel mon absinthe est si pleine,
Qu’autant me plaist le plaisir que la peine,
La peine autant comme fait le plaisir.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            In my sadness, unfortunate, I am content,
                                                                            Whether at night when heaven’s lamps grow brighter,
                                                                            Or when Dawn carpets with purple
                                                                            The day, mingled with a long deep carpet of flowers,
 
                                                                            With joyful grief I feed my spirit;
                                                                            And wherever I go off alone
                                                                            Before my eyes I see always present
                                                                            Her who causes both my war and my peace.
 
                                                                            For loving her too much, equally I endure
                                                                            Now pleasure, now harsh pain,
                                                                            Which in constant succession come and seize my heart;
 
                                                                            In short, with such honey is my wormwood so full
                                                                            That pleasure pleases me as much as pain,
                                                                            Pain as much as does pleasure.
 
 
 
Blanchemain reprints a couple of Muret’s notes which are useful to me as translator if less so to you as readers!  He tells us that “en-jonche” means ‘to carpet [with rushes]’ – ‘the metaphor is taken from the rushes that one throws around the place to freshen up the summer’.  Also in line 3, where I have simply provided a colour-word (purple), Ronsard uses ‘Amaranthe’, a plant which carries the same name in English. To help his French readers connect this with the colour, Muret reminds them that it is what ‘the vulgar call “passevelours” (‘velvet’ being the key element of the name’); apparently amaranth is also called in English red-root, which might serve the same purpose!
 
Otherwise only a few minor variants in Blanchemain’s text – though one alters the opening line:
 
En ma douleur, las ! chétif, je me plais …
 
                                                                            In my sadness, wretched alas, I am content …
 
 
There is a tiny change in line 12, which begins “Et d’un tel miel …” (‘And with such honey…’), which is interesting for the rhythmically much more satisfying solution he replaced it with (above); and perhaps the ‘biggest’ change in the opening of the second quatrain (line 5) which becomes:
 
 D’un joyeux dueil sans fin je me repais …
 
                                                                            In my sadness, wretched alas, I am content …
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sonnet 152

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Lune à l’œil brun, Deesse aux noirs chevaux,
Qui çà qui là qui haut qui bas te tournent,
Et de retours qui jamais ne sejournent,
Trainent ton char eternel en travaux :
 
A tes desirs les miens ne sont egaux,
Car les amours qui ton ame epoinçonnent,
Et les ardeurs qui la mienne eguillonnent
Divers souhaits desirent à leurs maux.
 
Toy mignottant ton dormeur de Latmie,
Voudrois tousjours qu’une course endormie
Retint le train de ton char qui s’enfuit :
 
Mais moy qu’Amour toute la nuict devore,
Depuis le soir je souhaite l’Aurore,
Pour voir le jour, que me celoit ta nuit.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            O moon of the brown eyes, o goddess of the dark horses
                                                                            Which turn one way and another, up and down,
                                                                            Yet never journey back where they have been,
                                                                            But draw your eternal chariot as their labour;
 
                                                                            With your desires mine are not equal,
                                                                            For the love which pierces your soul
                                                                            And the passions which sting my own
                                                                            Desire different wishes for their ills.
 
                                                                            As you pet your sleeper in Latmos
                                                                            You wish always that a sleeper’s journey
                                                                            Would restrain the pace of your chariot as it runs away;
 
                                                                            But I [wish] that Love would consume the whole night;
                                                                            From evening onwards I wait for the Dawn
                                                                            That I may see day which your night conceals from me.

 

 

 

Briefly, Ronsard says “You, Selene, goddess of the moon, may want long nights so you can stay with your lover Endymion on Mt. Latmos; I however want no nights at all since only in daytime do I get to see my beloved.” One of his longer classical allusions, and unusual in that he only develops the one image instead of using several classical allusions.
 
Blanchemain’s version has a couple of differences: in line 7 it’s “les amours qui mon cœur aiguillonnent” (‘the love which stings my heart’); and in line 11 he hopes sleep would “Emblât le train …” (‘Steal away’ the chariot’s running).
 
 
 

Sonnet 95

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De ses cheveux la rousoyante Aurore
Espars en l’air les Indes remplissoit,
Et ja le Ciel à longs traits rougissoit
De maint émail qui le matin decore :
 
Quand elle veit la Nymphe que j’adore,
Tresser son chef, dont l’or qui jaunissoit,
Le crespe honneur du sien esblouïssoit,
Voire elle-mesme et tout le Ciel encore.
 
Lors ses cheveux vergongneuse arracha,
Et en pleurant sa face elle cacha,
Tant la beauté mortelle luy ennuie :
 
Puis en poussant maint soupir en avant,
De ses souspirs fist enfanter un vent,
Sa honte un feu, et ses yeux une pluye.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            With her hair rosy Dawn
                                                                            Filled the East, spreading it in the sky,
                                                                            And reddened the heavens with long strokes
                                                                            Of the many glazes which ornament the morning.
 
                                                                            When she saw the Nymph whom I adore
                                                                            Gathering up her hair whose gold, glistening ,
                                                                            Out-shone Dawn’s own glorious curls,
                                                                            And indeed Dawn herself and all the heavens too.
 
                                                                            Then she jealously tore her hair
                                                                            And weeping hid her face,
                                                                            That mortal beauty so annoyed her;
 
                                                                            Then with many deep sighs beforehand,
                                                                            From her sighs was born a wind,
                                                                            From her shame fire, from her eyes rain.

 

 

We’ve met Homer’s ‘rosy-fingered Dawn’ before, but here she’s just rosy. Who knows why Ronsard changed his poems as he did: Blanchemain’s earlier version ends (in my view) more sharply with a three-day storm instead of just ‘a wind’ – though I admit I exaggerate the difference slightly by translating “des vents” as stirring up a storm instead of just ‘some winds’. But, as you’ll see, having introduced “air” in line 2 (above) to get rid of the clumsy adverb “esparsement” (below – I’ve had to juggle the translation around & fit it into line 1 instead), Ronsard clearly felt he needed to remove it from line 12 (below) – with a string of consequential variants coming on as a result. (Oddly, though, he ended up repeating “soupir/souspirs” instead…?) 
 
Here’s the earlier version so you can draw your own conclusions about what Ronsard was up to!
 
 
 
De ses cheveux la rousoyante Aurore
Esparsement les Indes remplissoit,
Et ja le ciel à longs traits rougissoit
De maint émail qui le matin decore,
 
Quand elle veid la nymphe que j’adore
Tresser son chef, dont l’or qui jaunissoit
Le crespe honneur du sien éblouissoit,
Voire elle-mesme et tout le ciel encore.
 
Lors ses cheveux vergongneuse arracha,
Si qu’en pleurant sa face elle cacha,
Tant la beauté des beautés luy ennuye ;
 
Et ses souspirs, parmi l’air se suivants,
Trois jours entiers enfanterent des vents,
Sa honte un feu et ses yeux une pluye.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            With her hair spread widely,
                                                                            Rosy Dawn filled the East,
                                                                            And reddened the heavens with long strokes
                                                                            Of the many glazes which ornament the morning.
 
                                                                            When she saw the Nymph whom I adore
                                                                            Gathering up her hair whose gold, glistening ,
                                                                            Dazzled Dawn’s own glorious curls,
                                                                            And indeed Dawn herself and all the heavens too.
 
                                                                            Then she jealously tore her hair
                                                                            As weeping she hid her face,
                                                                            That beauty of beauties so annoyed her;
 
                                                                            And her sighs, pursuing one another through the air,
                                                                            Produced a storm for three whole days,
                                                                            Her shame [producing] fire and her eyes rain.
 
 
 
[The next three sonnets in the book, nos. 96-8, are already available – you can find them here.]