Tag Archives: Muses

Amours 2 — dedicatory sonnet

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[A] ROBERT GARNIER, Prince des poëtes tragicques.
 
SONNET
 
Tu gravois dans le ciel les victoires de France,
Et de nos roys sceptrez ta lyre se paissoit,
Quand ce monarque Amour, qu’elle ne cognoissoit,
Eut vouloir de luy faire entonner sa puissance.
 
Bruslant de ce desir, une fleche il eslance
Que ta jeune poitrine imprudente reçoit ;
Puis, comme le travail en flattant te deçoit,
Tu te plais à chanter le cruel qui t’offence.
 
Son nom, qui ne rouloit sur le parler françois,
Maintenant plus enflé par ta gaillarde voix
Remplit l’air estranger de sa fameuse gloire ;
 
Si que luy, amorcé de ce premier honneur,
Frappe tous ceux qu’il voit dedans Pegase boire,
Pour trouver (mais en vain) encor un tel sonneur.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            [To] Robert Garnier, prince of tragic poets:
 
 
                                                                            You wrote in the heavens the victories of France,
                                                                            And your lyre was nourished by our sceptred kings,
                                                                            When that monarch Love, which it did not recognise,
                                                                            Chose to make it thunder of his power.
 
                                                                            Burning with this desire, he shot an arrow
                                                                            Which struck your careless youthful breast ;
                                                                            Then, as the work flattered to deceive you,
                                                                            You pleased yourself in singing of the cruel one who struck you.
 
                                                                            His name, which was not spoken in the French tongue,
                                                                            Now made greater by your cheerful voice
                                                                            Fills foreign air with his renowned glory;
 
                                                                            So much that he, beginning with this first trophy,
                                                                            Shoots all those whom he sees drinking from the Pegasis,
                                                                            To find (but yet in vain) another such singer.
 
 
 
Marty-Laveaux doesn’t print this dedicatory sonnnet to Garnier in his book; so this is Blanchemain’s version. We’ve met Garnier before: Ronsard wrote a series of sonnets to go at the front of Garnier’s own works as they were published; here is one dedicating Amours 2 to him. Garnier responded after Ronsard’s death with a magnificent elegy.
 
Ronsard shows how he takes ideas that many another poet has played with, and re-knits them into a work that is entirely new and fresh – while still managing to flatter and extol the dedicatee! Though Garnier is best known as a tragic poet (as Ronsard’s dedication reminds us), his first published work was the “Plaintes amoureuses” of 1565 – three years before his first tragedy, and written while he was still a 21-year-old law student. (The book has now been lost.) In fact, apart from his “Hymne de la Monarchye” (and his “Elegy to Ronsard”) poetry by Garnier outside his tragedies is still hard to find.
 
(In fact, even though the latter part of the Elegy has been anthologised over the centuries, and can be found on the web, I’ve been unable to find the original Elegy – as published immediately after Ronsard’s death along with a flood of other poetry in honour of the great man – re-printed in full since the sixteenth century. I feel another post coming on…)
 
So, in extraordinarily disingenuous fashion, given that du Bellay’s “L’Olive” appeared in 1549 and he himself had written 220 love sonnets in his 1st book of Amours in the early 1550s, Ronsard credits Garnier with introducing love-poetry into France … !  (Let us ignore, for the moment, the love poems not in sonnet form of all the preceding generations of poets, from Saint-Gelais to Marot to Villon to Christine de Pisan to Machaut …. !)
 
 
 
 
 
 

Amours 2:69

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Cesse tes pleurs, mon livre : il n’est pas ordonné
Du destin, que moy vif tu sois riche de gloire :
Avant que l’homme passe outre la rive noire,
L’honneur de son travail ne luy est point donné.
 
Quelqu’un apres mille ans de mes vers estonné
Voudra dedans mon Loir, comme en Permesse, boire,
Et voyant mon pays, à peine pourra croire
Que d’un si petit lieu tel Poëte soit né.
 
Pren, mon livre, pren cœur : la vertu precieuse
« De l’homme, quand il vit, est toujours odieuse :
« Apres qu’il est absent, chacun le pense un Dieu.
 
« La rancueur nuit tousjours à ceux qui sont en vie :
« Sur les vertus d’un mort elle n’a plus de lieu,
« Et la posterité rend l’honneur sans envie.
 
 
 
                                                                            Cease your tears, my book : it was not ordained
                                                                            By fate that, while I am alive, you should be rich in glory ;
                                                                            Before any man passes beyond the black river,
                                                                            The honour due his work is never given to him.
 
                                                                            Someone, astonished by my verse after a thousand years,
                                                                            Will want to drink from my Loir, as from Permessus,
                                                                            And seeing my homeland will hardly be able to believe
                                                                            That from so small a place was such a poet born.
 
                                                                            Take heart, my book: “The precious virtue
                                                                            Of a man, while he lives, is always disliked;
                                                                            After he is gone, everyone thinks him a god.
 
                                                                            Rancour only harms those who are alive;
                                                                            It has no power over the virtues of the dead,
                                                                            And posterity renders honour without envy.”
 
 
 
A gently-classicising poem to end book 2 as originally conceived.  The black river in line 3 is the Styx, the border of the underworld; Permessus in line 6 is the spring on Mt Helicon, home of the Muses. Both do not demand great learning from Marie! Ronsard remains full of certainty about his eventual acceptance as France’s pre-eminent poet…!
 
Blanchemain’s early version has the usual array of variants in the first half: in the opening stanza the honour is due his book, not him, which is slightly more modest!  (The change in line 3 is one of those where Ronsard rejects a poetic inversion (“passé j’aye”) even though the replacement is rather prosaic by comparison: a pity.)

 
 
Cesse tes pleurs, mon livre : il n’est pas ordonné
Du destin que, moy vif, tu reçoives la gloire ;
Avant que passé j’aye outre la rive noire,
L’honneur que l’on te doit ne te sera donné.
 
Quelqu’un, apres mil ands, de mes vers estonné,
Voudra dedans mon Loir comme en Permesse boire,
Et, voyant mon pays, à peine voudra croire
Que d’un si petit champ tel poëte soit né.
 
Pren, mon livre, pren cœur : la vertu precieuse
De l’homme, quand il vit, est tousjours odieuse.
Après qu’il est absent, chacun le pense un dieu.
 
La rancueur nuit tousjours à ceux qui sont en vie ;
Sur les vertus d’un mort elle n’a plus de lieu,
Et la posterité rend l’honneur sans envie.
 
 
 
                                                                            Cease your tears, my book : it was not ordained
                                                                            By fate that, while I am alive, you should receive glory;
                                                                            Before I have passed beyond the black river,
                                                                            The honour people owe you will not be given you.
 
                                                                            Someone, astonished by my verse after a thousand years,
                                                                            Will want to drink form my Loir, as from Permessus,
                                                                            And seeing my homeland will hardly want to believe
                                                                            That from so small a countryside was such a poet born.
 
                                                                            Take heart, my book: “The precious virtue
                                                                            Of a man, while he lives, is always disliked;
                                                                            After he is gone, everyone thinks him a god.
 
                                                                            Rancour only harms those who are alive;
                                                                            It has no power over the virtues of the dead,
                                                                            And posterity renders honour without envy.”
 
 
 
And so we reach the end of book 2: merry Christmas! 
 
 
 

Amours 1: “Vow”

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The second of the two dedicatory sonnets included at the front of book 1. In the last line, Ronsard clearly imagines this poem appearing opposite the picture engraved at the front of the book, showing Cassandre (see top of my Amours 1 page.)

 

Divines Sœurs, qui sur les rives molles
De Castalie, et sur le mont Natal,
Et sur le bord du chevalin crystal
M’avez d’enfance instruit en vos escoles :
 
Si tout ravy des saults de vos caroles,
D’un pied nombreux j’ay guidé vostre bal :
Plus dur qu’en fer, qu’en cuivre et qu’en metal,
Dans vostre Temple engravez ces paroles :
 
RONSARD, AFIN QUE LE SIECLE AVENIR
DE TEMPS EN TEMPS SE PUISSE SOUVENIR
QUE SA JEUNESSE A L’AMOUR FIST HOMAGE :
 
DE LA MAIN DEXTRE APAND A VOSTRE AUTEL
L’HUMBLE PRESENT DE SON LIVRE IMMORTEL,
SON CŒUR DE L’AUTRE AUX PIEDS DE CESTE IMAGE. 
 
 
.                                                                            Divine sisters, who on the soft streams
.                                                                            Of Castalia, and on your native mount
.                                                                            And on the banks of the equine waters
                                                                           Have taught me since childhood in your school ;
 
.                                                                            If, swept away by leaping in your round-dances
                                                                           I have led your dances with many a step ;
.                                                                            [Then], stronger than in iron, in bronze or in metal
.                                                                            Engrave these words within your temple :
 
                                                                           Ronsard, so that future ages
                                                                           May from time to time recall
                                                                           That his youth paid homage to Love,
 
.                                                                            With his right hand places on your altar
.                                                                            The humble gift of his immortal book,
.                                                                            With the other his heart at the feet of this image.
 
 
 
An appeal to the Muses (and their Castalian spring), as so often in the poems in the book. We’ve already noted elsewhere that the spring is also associated with Pegasus, whose (equine) hoof stamping the ground caused it to flow. There’s also a reminiscence of Horace and his odes specifying dedications in temples. Note that, even at the start of his career, Ronsard is already sure his book will be ‘immortal’ – even while it is ‘humble’!
 
Blanchemain’s version is nearer in time to the beginning of the career, of course:
 
 
Divines Sœurs, qui sur les rives molles
Du fleuve Eurote et sur le mont natal
Et sur le bord du chevalin crystal
M’avez nourri maître de vos escoles :
 
Si mille fois en vos douces carolles,
Le guide-danse, ay conduit vostre bal :
Plus dur qu’en fer, qu’en cuivre et qu’en metal,
En vostre Temple engravez ces paroles :
 
Ronsard, afin que le siecle à venir
De père en fils se puisse souvenir
D’une beauté qui sagement affole,
 
De la main dextre append à nostre autel
L’humble discours de son livre immortel,
Son cœur de l’autre aux pieds de ceste idole.
 
 
 
.                                                                            Divine sisters, who on the soft streams
.                                                                            Of river the river Eurotas, and on your native mount
.                                                                            And on the banks of the equine waters
.                                                                            Have brought me up as a master in your lessons ;
 
.                                                                            If a thousand times in your sweet round-dances
.                                                                            I have steered your balls as leader of the dance ;
.                                                                            [Then], stronger than in iron, in bronze or in metal
.                                                                            Engrave these words in your temple :
 
.                                                                            Ronsard, so that the age to come
.                                                                            May recall from father to son
.                                                                            A beauty who wisely made men mad,
 
.                                                                            With his right hand places on our altar
.                                                                            The humble words of his immortal book,
.                                                                            With the other his heart at the feet of this idol.
 
 
 
Here the Muses are located by the river Eurotas – whose spring is in (the real, southern Greek) Arcadia. Note too that Ronsard is not just participating in, but leading, the Muses’ dances!  Devotees of Ronsard’s variants may also enjoy this version which Blanchemain footnotes, again showing the (lesser) variants from the late Marty-Laveaux version:
 
 
Divin troupeau, qui sur les rives molles
De Castalie, et sur le mont Natal,
Et sur le bord du chevalin crystal
Assis, tenez vos plus saintes escoles
 
Si quelquefois, aux sauts de vos carolles,
M’avez receu par un astre fatal :
Plus dur qu’en fer, qu’en cuivre et qu’en metal,
Dans vostre Temple engravez ces paroles :
 
RONSARD, AFIN QUE LE SIECLE AVENIR
MAUGRE LE TEMPS, SE PUISSE SOUVENIR
QUE SA JEUNESSE A L’AMOUR FIST HOMAGE :
 
DE LA MAIN DEXTRE APAND A VOSTRE AUTEL
L’HUMBLE PRESENT DE SON LIVRE IMMORTEL,
SON CŒUR DE L’AUTRE AUX PIEDS DE CESTE IMAGE. 
 
 
.                                                                            Divine company, who on the soft streams
.                                                                            Of Castalia, and on your native mount
.                                                                            And seated on the banks of the equine waters
.                                                                            Hold your most holy lessons
 
.                                                                            If sometimes in the leaps of your round-dances
.                                                                            You have accepted me by some fateful star,
.                                                                            [Then], stronger than in iron, in bronze or in metal
.                                                                            Engrave these words within your temple :
 
                                                                           Ronsard, so that future ages
                                                                           Despite time’s [passing], may recall
                                                                           That his youth paid homage to Love,
 
.                                                                            With his right hand places on your altar
.                                                                            The humble gift of his immortal book,
.                                                                            With the other his heart at the feet of this image.
 
 
 
 **EDIT**  complete Cassndre poems (Amours 1) now available as a pdf here.
 

Amours 1.229

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J‘alloy roulant ces larmes de mes yeux,
Or’ plein de doute ore plein d’esperance,
Lors que Henry loing des bornes de France
Vengeoit l’honneur de ses premiers ayeux :
 
Lors qu’il trenchoit d’un bras victorieux
Au bord du Rhin l’Espagnole vaillance,
Ja se traçant de l’aigu de sa lance
Un beau sentier pour s’en aller aux cieux.
 
Vous sainct troupeau, mon soustien et ma gloire,
Dont le beau vol m’a l’esprit enlevé,
Si autrefois m’avez permis de boire
 
Les eaux qui ont Hesiode abreuvé,
Soit pour jamais ce souspir engravé
Au plus sainct lieu du temple de Memoire.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            I have been continually pouring these tears from my eyes,
                                                                            Now full of doubt, now of hope,
                                                                            While Henri, far from the bounds of France,
                                                                            Has avenged the honour of his first ancestors ;
 
                                                                            While he has broken with his victorious arm
                                                                            Spain’s valour, on the banks of the Rhine,
                                                                            Marking out with the point of his lance
                                                                            A fair path to raise himself to the heavens.
 
                                                                            Oh holy troop, my support and my glory,
                                                                            Whose lovely flight has lifted my spirits,
                                                                            If previously you have allowed me to drink
 
                                                                            The waters which generously you gave Hesiod,
                                                                            May this my plaint be for ever engraved
                                                                            In the holiest place in Memory’s temple. 
 
 
Simplicity, as Ronsard closes his first book of sonnets. And also a glance at the ‘real world’ around him: for this was not a time of peace and love in European politics! The Italian wars were a major feature of Henri II’s reign, all the way through the 1550s, and early victories led ultimately to the embarrassing Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis… The Spanish on the Rhine are, incidentally, the Habsburgs – for that family controlled Austro-Germanic Europe as well as Iberian Europe.
 
So, Ronsard acknowledges that love poetry may not seem the right thing at this time, while gently swinging the balance back towards the pre-eminence of poetry at the end. (Hesiod claimed inspiration from drinking at the fountain of the ‘holy troop’ of Muses on Mt Helicon.)
 
Blanchemain’s version shows considerable variation in the sestet: the opening octet was not changed.
 
 
Vous sainct troupeau qui desus Pinde errez,
Et qui de grâce ouvrez et desserrez
Vos doctes eaux à ceux qui les vont boire
 
Si quelquefois vous m’avez abreuvé,
Soit pour jamais ce souspir engravé
Au plus sainct lieu du temple de Memoire
 
 
                                                                                        Oh holy troop who wander upon Pindus
                                                                                       And who by grace open and release
                                                                                       Your learned waters to those who come to drink them,
 
                                                                                       If sometimes you have given me to drink
                                                                                       May this my plaint be for ever engraved
                                                                                       In the holiest place in Memory’s temple.
 
 
 
  Note how in this earlier version Ronsard does not refer back to Hesiod, but simply offers his own name as proof enough of the Muses’ generosity! There remains one other variant of the later version at the top of the page: in line 12, where yet another great poet enters: “L’eau dont amour a Petrarque abreuvé…” (‘The waters which love generously gave to Petrarch…’)
 
 
 
 
 
 

Amours 1.228

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Mon Des-Autels, qui avez dés enfance
Puisé de l’eau qui coule sur le mont,
Où les neuf Sœurs dedans un antre font
Seules à part leur saincte demeurance :
 
Si autrefois, l’amoureuse puissance
Vous a planté le myrte sur le front,
Enamoure de ces beaux yeux qui sont
Par vos escrits l’honneur de nostre France :
 
Ayez pitié de ma pauvre langueur,
Et de vos sons adoucissez le cœur
D’une qui tient ma franchise en contrainte.
 
Si quelquefois en Bourgoigne je suis,
Je flechiray par mes vers, si je puis,
La cruauté de vostre belle Saincte.
 
 
 
 
 
                                                                            My dear Des Autels, you who have since childhood
                                                                            Drawn from the waters which flow on the mount
                                                                            Where the nine sisters, within a cave, make
                                                                            Alone and apart their holy residence ;
 
                                                                            If once the power of love
                                                                            Placed laurels upon your brow,
                                                                            Enamoured of those fair eyes which are
                                                                            Through your writings the credit of our France ;
 
                                                                            [Now] have pity on my weak pining
                                                                            And with your music soften the heart
                                                                            Of the one who holds my liberty in chains.
 
                                                                            And if sometime I am in Burgundy
                                                                            I shall turn aside with my verse, if I can,
                                                                            The cruelty of your fair Saint. 
 
 
 
Amidst the chansons and elegies which conclude the first book, there are a couple of final sonnets. This is one of them, a quick tribute to Ronsard’s friend Guillaume Des Autels, “gentilhomme Charrolois”. He was a cousin of Pontus de Tyard and, through the literary circle around him in Lyons became a sometime member of the Pleiade. Indeed, most of Des Autels’ poetry comes from the 1550s, when he was in his twenties. His birthplace is uncertain, though clearly in or near the city of Charolles in Burgundy; the date of his death likewise unknown. Des Autels always referred to his beloved as ‘his Saint’ in his verse, echoed here by Ronsard. Ronsard’s book of “Discours” opens with an elegy to Des Autels, one of several tributes to his fellow-poet.
 
The nine sisters of the opening stanza are of course the Muses, whose home was on Mount Helicon; though they are normally associated with the springs and sacred grove there, not a cave. The Corcyrian cave on mount Parnassus is, however, sacred to the Muses; and there is a stray reference in Pausanias to a rck ‘worked like a cave’ in the grove on Helicon. Perhaps Ronsard amalgamated the two!
 
 
 

 

 
 
 
 
                                                                             
 
 

Amours 1.175

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Je ne suis point, Muses, accoustumé
De voir vos sauts sous la tarde serée :
Je n’ay point beu dedans l’onde sacrée,
Fille du pied du cheval emplumé.
 
De tes beaux rais vivement allumé,
Je fu Poëte : et si ma voix recrée,
Et si ma lyre en t’enchantant t’agrée,
Ton œil en soit, non Parnasse, estimé.
 
Certes le Ciel te devoit à la France,
Quand le Thuscan, et Sorgue, et sa Florence,
Et son Laurier engrava dans les cieux :
 
Ore trop tard, beauté plus que divine,
Tu vois nostre age, helas ! qui n’est pas digne
Tant seulement de parler de tes yeux.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            I am not at all accustomed, Muses,
                                                                            To watch you leaping in the late evening ;
                                                                            I have not drunk from the sacred waters,
                                                                            Springing from the foot of the winged horse.
 
                                                                            Excited and aroused by your fair eyes, [my love],
                                                                            I became a poet ; and if my voice entertains,
                                                                            And my lyre as it sings to you pleases you,
                                                                            Your eyes, not Parnassus, deserve the praise.
 
                                                                            Surely heaven owed France your presence,
                                                                            Since the Tuscan [Petrarch] had engraved in the heavens
                                                                            The Sorgue, his Florence, and his laurels.
 
                                                                            Yet too late, more-than-divine beauty,
                                                                            You see our age which, alas, is not worthy
                                                                            Even just to speak of your eyes.
 
 
 
Here Ronsard stakes his claim to be firmly in the line of the great poets: though typically he does it while undermining the traditional classical image and placing himself in the petrarchan line of love poets. So (first quatrain) he denies inspiration from the Muses – whose Hippocrene spring on Mount Helicon was created when Pegasus struck the ground with his hoof –  while (second quatrain) deriving it from his lady-love – or, as we might say in English, his ‘muse’… In English the transition from “vous / Muses” to “tu / Cassandre” is not obvious, so I have added a few words at the end of line 5 to make the translation clear. Parnassus, like Helicon, is home to the Muses.
 
In the sestet, the focus moves forward to the Italian renaissance, with Petrarch as the comparator. Though mostly associated with Florence, Petrarch lived for many years in Avignon (seat of the anti-Popes), and the Sorgue flows through Avignon. His ‘laurels’ are both the laurels won by the greatest poets (hence ‘poet laureate’), and a reference to Laura, his lady and ‘muse’. The final tercet point to the length of time between Petrarch and Ronsard – some two centuries – and another hint of a classical theme with the ‘golden age’ descending to a later ‘silver age’ and so forth, the later ages clearly not as great or as worthy as the former.
 
Blanchemain’s version offers variants in the octet:
 
 
Je ne suis point, Muses, accoustumé
Voir vostre bal sous la tarde serée ;
Je n’ay point beu dedans l’onde sacrée,
Fille du pied du cheval emplumé.
 
De tes beaux rais chastement allumé,
Je fu poëte ; et si ma voix recrée,
Et si ma lyre aucunement agrée,
Ton œil en soit, non Parnasse, estimé
 
 
                                                                            I am not at all accustomed, Muses,
                                                                            To watch your dance in the late evening ;
                                                                            I have not drunk from the sacred waters,
                                                                            Springing from the foot of the winged horse.
 
                                                                            Chastely aroused by your fair eyes, [my love],
                                                                            I became a poet ; and if my voice entertains
                                                                            And my lyre pleases a little,
                                                                            Your eyes, not Parnassus, deserve the praise.
 
 
Worth noting that in line 7, “agrée” teeters between both ‘to please’ and ‘to harmonise’ – whereas in the revised version at the top of this post there is less room for ambiguity, though perhaps “harmonises with you” is just about implied…
 
 
 
 
 

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.