Tag Archives: Mercury

Gayetez et Epigrammes (48)


After that last poem, maybe something related…

L’âge premier de l’homme Enfance est appellé ;
Son cours est de quatre ans, maistrisé par la lune ;
Auquel il s’agrandit, desja serf de fortune,
Humide, delicat, d’ignorance voilé.
La Puerilité est nostre âge second ;
Son regne est de dix ans, gouverné par Mercure.
Vollage, sans arrest, est lors nostre nature,
Et l’esprit au sçavoir se veut rendre facond.
Le tiers est de huict ans, par Venus gouverné,
Qui rend homme amoureux en son Adolescence,
Son naturel enclin aux jeux et à la dance,
De flammes et de feux son cœur environné.
La Jeunesse est le quart, guidé par le soleil,
Regnant dix et neuf ans, poussant au mariage
L’homme qui veult (vivant) colloquer son mesnage,
Desireux de richesse, en force sans pareil.
Le quint est le Viril, suivant l’aspect de Mars ;
Son cours est de quinze ans, sa nature fascheuse,
Magnanime, constante, avare, dangereuse,
Rendant l’homme guerrier suivant ses estendars.
Le six, soubs Jupiter, dans douze ans faict son cours,
Jusqu’en l’an soixante-huit, âge nommé Vieillesse.
L’homme alors vers le ciel tout repentant s’adresse.
Soigneux de son salut, des humbles le secours.
Le Caduc est le sept des âges le dernier,
Où Saturne commande, arrestant sa carriere
En l’an quatre-vingt-huit. Nature à sa premiere
Foiblesse le conduit, retournant au premier.
On the Seven Ages of Man
The first age of man is called Infancy ;
It runs for four years, under the moon’s governance,
In which he grows bigger, already a slave to fortune,
Moist, delicate, veiled in ignorance.
Childhood is our second age ;
Its reign is ten years long, governed by Mercury.
Flighty, not stopping, is then our nature
And the spirit tries to become fluent in learning.
The third is eight years long, governed by Venus
Who makes men fall in love in their Adolescence,
Their natures inclined to games and the dance,
Their hearts beset by flames and fires.
Youth is the fourth, guided by the Sun,
Reigning for nineteen years, driving to marriage
The man who wishes, while alive, to establish his household,
Desiring riches, unequalled in strength.
The fifth is Manhood, following the aspect of Mars.
It runs for fifteen years, its nature irritable,
Kind-hearted, constant, greedy, eager for danger,
Making man a warrior following the standards.
    Old age
The sixth, under Jupiter, runs its course in twelve years
Up to the age of 68, the period called Old age.
Man then, repentant, directs himself to Heaven,
Careful of his salvation, the help of humble men.
Decrepitude is the seventh and last age,
Where Saturn holds sway, cutting short its career
In his 88th year. Nature leads him back
To his first feebleness, returning to the start.
Associating periods of life with different zodiacal signs or governing planets is nothing unusual in renaissance Catholicism, even if today Christianity generally excludes astrology. On the other hand, the popularity of Holst’s “Planets” suggests there is a continuing nostalgia for the days when we could believe the stars guided our lives…
This is an occasional piece which Blanchemain prints at the end of the Gayetez and Epigrammes, with a lengthy footnote, from which the following is excerpted: 
“I owe to M. Rathery, learned librarian, the reference to a volume preserved in the Imperial Library. This book, among many fine engravings by Martin de Voos and other engravers of the 16th century, contains a series of plates preceded by the title:
Figures and portraits of the seven ages of man, with texts in quatrains by the late M. de Ronsard at the foot of each. Drawn and engraved on principles set out by the late M. Baptiste Pellerin – 1595, Paris. …”
If you are interested, you can look through the plates on the Gallica website.

Odes 4:5



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.

Sonnet 133

Si l’on vous dit qu’Argus est une fable,
Ne le croyez bonne posterité,
Ce n’est pas feinte ains une vérité,
A mon malheur je la sens veritable.
Un autre Argus en deux yeux redoutable,
En corps humain non feint, non inventé,
Espie, aguete, et garde la beauté
Par qui je suis douteux et miserable.
Quand par ses yeux Argus ne la tiendroit,
Tousjours au col mignarde me pendroit,
Je cognois bien sa gentille nature.
Ha ! vray Argus, tant tu me fais gemir,
A mon secours vienne un autre Mercure,
Non pour ta mort, mais bien pour t’endormir.
                                                                            If they tell you that Argus is a fable
                                                                            Don’t believe them, o good posterity,
                                                                            He is not made up, but very truth,
                                                                            To my misfortune I feel it truly.
                                                                            Another Argus in two formidable eyes,
                                                                            In human form, not made up, not invented,
                                                                            Watches out, stays alert, and guards the beauty
                                                                            Who makes me doubtful and wretched.
                                                                            If Argus were not keeping her under his eyes,
                                                                            She’d always hang, winsome, on my neck –
                                                                            I know her gentle nature well.
                                                                            Oh, true Argus, how you make me sigh!
                                                                            May a second Mercury come to my aid,
                                                                            Not bringing you death but rather sleep.




 Sometimes Ronsard’s use of his classical learning is there to make you smile rather than think hard. Today is one of those days!  Argus was the hundred-eyed, never-sleeping watchman who guarded Io from Jupiter; Mercury, the trickster, charmed him to sleep and then (in the myth) killed him.
After deciding to include sonnet 132 (from 1572) in his 1560 edition, Blanchemain obviously felt relaxed and included this one as well while noting he took it from the last 1584 edition! His version is identical. He quotes Muret’s footnote – which incidentally comes from the 1560 edition! – in which Muret states that ‘this poem in no way belongs to Cassandre’. I don’t know why he came to that conclusion, unless it was ‘inside information’ from his friendship with Ronsard and acquaintance with his poems.



Sonnet 73

Pipé d’Amour, ma Circe enchanteresse
Dedans ses fers m’arreste emprisonné,
Non par le goust d’un vin empoisonné,
Non par le jus d’une herbe pecheresse.
Du fin Gregeois l’espée vangeresse,
Et le Moly par Mercure ordonné,
En peu de temps du breuvage donné
Peurent forcer la force charmeresse :
Si qu’à la fin le Dulyche troupeau
Reprint l’honneur de sa premiere peau,
Et sa prudence au-paravant peu caute.
Mais pour mon sens remettre en mon cerveau,
Il me faudroit un Astolphe nouveau,
Tant ma raison est aveugle en sa faute.
                                                                            Snared by Love, my enchantress, my Circe
                                                                            Holds me imprisoned within her chains;
                                                                            She did not use the taste of poisoned wine,
                                                                            Nor the juice of a sinful herb.
                                                                            The avenging sword of the wily Greek
                                                                            And the cure for the enchantment ordained by Mercury
                                                                            In a short while were able to overpower
                                                                            The power of the charm in the drink they were given;
                                                                            So that, in the end, the Dulychean troop
                                                                            Recovered the honour of its original shape
                                                                            And its prudence, though formerly so incautious.
                                                                            But to put my sense back in my brain
                                                                            I would need a new Astolpho,
                                                                            So blind is my reason to its failing.



Circe is the enchantress who transforms Odysseus’ crew into pigs in the 10th book of the ‘Odyssey’.  She uses a potion and a magic wine-cup. Note that the pigs run free, and are not kept chained; but they are metaphorically chained by the enchantment. They are rescued by Odysseus (the wily Greek) who – at Mercury’s recommendation – uses the plant ‘molu’ or ‘moly’ to prevent the witch’s magic affecting him.  [Some argue that the men were only metaphorically transformed into pigs, their humanity taken away by a hallucinogen of some kind; the snowdrop has anti-hallucinogenic properties (apparently!) so may be ‘moly’.] Dulichium was one of the islands of which Odysseus was king; possibly one of the Echinades, or nearby Cephalonia?
Astolpho takes us to a rather more modern epic – Ariosto’s ‘Orlando Furioso’. Astolpho is the powerful champion who restores Orlando to his senses after he has been maddened by love. Originally one of Charlemagne’s paladins, Astolpho/Astolfo in Ariosto has acquired a range of magical weapons and steeds. He flies on a hippogriff, meets St John the Apostle, then takes Elijah’s chariot to the moon, where he finds Orlando’s lost wits in a bottle…!
Blanchemain’s version has only 3 minor changes – though one affects the very beginning of the poem!  The early version begins “Du tout changé, ma Circe…” (‘Changed in every way, my Circe holds me…’). In line 8 Odysseus’ sword and ‘moly’ “Forcèrent bien la force charmeresse” (‘overpowered easily the power of the charm’) – not noticeably better or worse than the alternative repetition of ‘forcer’! And in line 10 the troop “reprit” instead of “reprint” (recovered) its honour – a difference only between treating ‘troop’ as plural or singular.