Is there a little slip in Ronsard’s clasical learning here? In lines 7-8, Cnidus was a wealthy city on the Ionian coast (SW Turkey) – though it was wealthy through trade rather than agriculture; Amathus was an ancient royal city of Cyprus, rich in grain; and Eryx (now Erice) is in Sicily, an island which was traditionally a grain-basket for the Mediterranean. So the reference to “vergers”, taken broadly as agriculture rather than specifically ‘orchards’, is generally fine. But why “Cyprus, or … Amathus”? if Amathus is (by extension) used to represent Cyprus?? While I am nit-picking I should admit that I have struggled to find “poureux” in any dictionary, old or new. I think it means ‘poor’ but I can’t prove it… Today is also one of those days when you (almost) get two poems for the price of one: at least, the second half is substantially different. Blanchemain offers a couple of variants in line 5 – “Un coin vraiment plus seur ne plus propice” (‘A spot truly more certain and more favourable’) – and then the following sestet. The first tercet is clearly weaker; the second providing, instead of a medieval image, a classical one (dedicating an offering by hanging it in the temple, reminding me again of Horace’s ode 1:5 – see here). Eussé-je l’or d’un prince ambitieux, Tu toucherois, nouveau temple, les cieux, Elabouré d’une merveille grande ; Et là, dressant à ma nymphe un autel, Sur les piliers de son nom immortel J’appenderois mon ame pour offrande. Had I the gold of an ambitious Prince, You would reach the heavens, a new temple, Built by a great marvel; And there, setting an altar to my nymph, On the columns of her immortal name I would hang my soul as an offering.
A classical frame for a familiar trope – but does’t Ronsard do it well?! Muret points out that “golden” is an epithet often applied by Greek poets to beauties, another subtle classical allusion. Venus’s origins in Cyprus have come up before. One ancient myth had it that elecampane (a member of the daisy family) grew from Helen’s tears when Paris stole her away to Troy – the plant is also known as Helenium. In Blanchemain’s version, line 10 appears as “Ce sang divin, tout sus l’heure conceut” (‘This divine blood at that very moment conceived’) which has the advantage of an urgency lacking in “fertilement” but does rather overload the line with ‘s’ sounds! This version also offers a couple of changes in the first quatrain: Celle qui est de mes yeux adorée, Qui me fait vivre entre mille trespas, Chassant un cerf, suivoit hier mes pas, Ainsi qu’Adon Cyprine la dorée ; She who is adored by my eyes, Who makes me live among a thousand deaths, As I was hunting a deer yesterday followed my path, As golden Cyprine did Adonis;
Nasquirent, l’une en Cypre, et l’autre en la Saintonge :
La Venus Cyprienne est des Grecs la mensonge,
La chaste Saintongeoise est une verité.
L’Avril se resjouist de telle nouveauté,
Et moy qui jour ny nuict d’autre Dame ne songe,
Qui le fil amoureux de mon destin allonge
Ou l’accourcist, ainsi qu’il plaist à sa beauté,
Je me sens bien-heureux d’estre nay de son âge.
Si tost que je la vy, je fus mis en servage
De ses yeux, que j’estime un sujet plus qu’humain,
Ma Raison sans combatre abandonna la place,
Et mon cœur se vit pris comme un poisson à l’hain :
Si j’ay failly, ma faute est bien digne de grace.
Blanchemain’s text varies in a couple of places: the opening line is one of them, where Blanchemain prints “Deux Venus en Avril de mesme deité…” (‘From the same godhead, two Venuses in April…’). Though Blanchemain opts for the same first line of the sestet (line 9) as Marty-Laveaux, he also offers an alternative in a footnote: “Je suis trois fois un Dieu, d’estre nay de son âge” (‘I am three times a god to have been born in her time.’) Though the ‘three gods’ picks up the ‘two Venuses’, it is a bit awkward & I can see why the other (later?) version is preferred. There is one other minor difference between the two versions: in line 3 Blanchemain prints “le mensonge” while the evrsion above has “la mensonge” – curiously, as ‘mensonge’ is (normally) masculine. Saintonge is a province on the Atlantic coast just north of Gascony (and also bordered by Poitou & Limousin), in which lies the city of Surgères, Hélène’s home.
D’Amathonte et d’Eryce, en la France passa :
Et me monstrant son arc, comme Dieu, me tança,
Que j’oubliois, ingrat, ses loix et ses mysteres. Il me frappa trois fois de ses ailes legeres :
Un traict le plus aigu dans les yeux m’eslança.
La playe vint au cœur, qui chaude me laissa
Une ardeur de chanter les honneurs de Surgeres. Chante (me dist Amour) sa grace et sa beauté,
Sa bouche ses beaux yeux sa douceur sa bonté :
Je la garde pour toy le sujet de ta plume. Un sujet si divin ma Muse ne poursuit. Je te feray l’esprit meilleur que de coustume : « L’homme ne peut faillir, quand un Dieu le conduit. The god of Love, abandoning the orchards of Cythera, Amathus and Eryx, has moved to France And showing me his bow like a god he scolded me For ungratefully forgetting his laws and mysteries. He struck me three times with his light wings; The sharpest of his arrows he shot in my eyes. The wound reached my heart, and that burning wound gave me A burning desire to sing of the glory of Surgères. “Sing,” said the god of Love to me “of her grace and beauty, Her lips, her fair eyes, her sweetness, her goodness; I am watching over her for you, to be the subject of your verse.” So godlike a subject my Muse was not seeking! “I shall make your spirit greater than it was; Man cannot fail, when a god leads him.” Ronsard sets out the inspiration for his new book of poems in a strongly classicising style, pointing to the direct inspiration – indeed, demands – of the god of love as his motivation. He also localises his Helen as the lady from Surgères – and indeed she remains the town’s principal claim to fame. Blanchemain’s version is identical except that he (curiously) prints “Un ardeur” at the beginning of line 8 – I don’t recall seeing it as a masculine noun elsewhere, maybe this is a typo? The opening classical allusions may need some explanation: though all are sites associated with Venus as goddess of love. The Palicastro (Old Town) on the island of Cythera has an archaic Greek temple to Venus (Aphrodite) ‘of the Heavens’; Amathus on Cyprus was the second-largest cult site for Venus in the ancient world (after her birthplace, Paphos); and mount Eryx in Sicily (now Monte San Giuliano), which was in ancient times considered equal to Etna as one of Sicily’s greatest mountains, was topped by another temple of Venus.
Mere des doux amours, à qui tousjours se joint
Le plaisir et le jeu, qui tout animal point
A tousjours reparer sa race perissante : Sans toy Nymphe aime-ris la vie est languissante,
Sans toy rien n’est de beau de vaillant ny de coint,
Sans toy la Volupté joyeuse ne vient point,
Et des Graces sans toy la grace est desplaisante. Ores qu’en ce printemps on ne sçauroit rien voir, Qui fiché dans le cœur ne sente ton pouvoir, Sans plus une pucelle en sera-t’elle exente ? Si tu ne veux du tout la traiter de rigueur, Au moins que sa froideur en ce mois d’Avril sente Quelque peu du brasier qui m’enflame le cœur. Venus of the foam, powerful Queen in Cyprus, Mother of sweet love, with whom always Pleasure and fun are joined, which every beast relies on To restore its dying breed forever: Without you, Nymph who loves to smile, life is tedious, Without you there is nothing fine, brave or pleasing, Without you happy pleasure never arrives, And without you the grace of the Graces itself is displeasing. There is nothing in this springtime one would expect to see Which does not feel, driven into its heart, your power; Will even a maiden be exempt from it? If you do not want at all to treat it harshly, At least may its coldness in this month of April feel Some part of the furnace which burns in my heart.