Tag Archives: Narcissus

Chanson – Amours 2:66a

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At the end of Amours 2 (Marie) Ronsard places a cluster of chansons and other lyrics. Time to have a look at them!

Quand j’estois libre, ains qu’une amour nouvelle
Ne se fut prise en ma tendre moëlle,  
   Je vivois bien-heureux,
Comme à l’envy les plus accortes filles
Se travailloyent par leurs flammes gentilles,  
   De me rendre amoureux. 
 
Mais tout ainsi qu’un beau Poulain farouche,
Qui n’a masché le frein dedans la bouche,  
   Va seulet escarté,
N’ayant souci sinon d’un pied superbe
A mille bonds fouler les fleurs et l’herbe,  
   Vivant en liberté : 
 
Ores il court le long d’un beau rivage,
Ores il erre en quelque bois sauvage  
   Fuyant de sault en sault :
De toutes parts les Poutres hanissantes
Luy font l’amour pour néant blandissantes,  
   A luy qui ne s’en chaut. 
 
Ainsi j’allois desdaignant les pucelles,
Qu’on estimoit en beauté les plus belles,  
   Sans respondre à leur vueil :
Lors je vivois amoureux de moy-mesme,
Content et gay, sans porter couleur blesme  
   Ny les larmes à l’œil. 
 
J’avois escrit au plus haut de la face
Avec l’honneur une agreable audace  
   Plaine d’un franc desir :
Avec le pied marchoit ma fantaisie
Où je voulois sans peur ne jalousie  
   Seigneur de mon plaisir. 
 
Mais aussi tost que par mauvais desastre
Je vey ton sein blanchissant comme albastre,  
   Et tes yeux deux soleils,
Tes beaux cheveux espanchez par ondées,
Et les beaux lis de tes lévres bordées  
   De cent œillets vermeils : 
 
Incontinent j’appris que c’est service.
La liberté de mon ame nourrice,  
   S’eschappa loin de moy :
Dedans tes rets ma premiere franchise
Pour obeïr à ton bel œil, fut prise  
   Esclave sous ta loy. 
 
Tu mis cruelle en signe de conqueste,
Comme veinqueur tes deux pieds sur ma teste,  
   Et du front m’a osté
L’honneur, la honte, et l’audace première,
Acouhardant mon ame prisonniere,  
   Serve à ta volonté. 
 
Vengeant d’un coup mille fautes commises,
Et les beautez qu’à grand tort j’avois mises  
   Par-avant à mespris,
Qui me prioyent en lieu que je te prie :
Mais d’autant plus que merci je te crie,  
   Tu es sourde à mes cris, 
 
Et ne respons non plus que la fontaine
Qui de Narcis mira la forme vaine,  
   En vengeant à son bord
Mille beautez des Nymphes amoureuses,
Que cest enfant par mines desdaigneuses  
   Avoit mises à mort.
When I was free, and a novel love
Had not been caught in my tender marrow,
   I lived happily;
How the most attractive girls competitively
Worked hard with their gentle flames
   To make me fall in love!
 
But just as a handsome wild colt
Which has not chewed the curb in his mouth
   Wanders far and wide by himself,
Having no care except with his proud foot
To trample with a thousand leaps the flowers and grass,
   Living in liberty;
 
Sometimes he runs along a fair riverbank,
Sometimes he wanders in some wild wood
   Fleeing with leap upon leap;
And on every side whinnying fillies
Make love to him, flattering him for nothing,
   He who cares nothing for it.
 
Just so I used to disdain the maids
That everyone thought fairest of the fair,
   Without responding to their wishes;
Then, I was in love with myself,
Happy and joyful, not wearing this pale colour
   Nor with tears in my eyes.
 
I had written on my forehead,
Together with honour, a pleasant audacity
Filled with frank desire;
My imagination advanced with my feet
Wherever I wanted, without fear or jealousy,
The master of my pleasure.
 
But as soon as through terrible misfortune
I saw your breast white as alabaster
   And your eyes, twin suns,
Your fine hair pouring down in waves,
And the fair lilies of your lips bordered
   With a hundred pink carnations,
 
Straightway I learned what it is to be in service,
And liberty, the nurse of my soul,
   Fled far from me;
Within your nets my earlier freedom
Was caught, so that it obeyed your fair eyes,
   A slave beneath your law.
 
As a sign of your conquest you cruelly placed
Your two feet on my head, as conqueror,
   And took from my brow
Honour, shame, and my earlier boldness
Rendering my imprisoned soul a coward,
   Servant to your desires.
 
Avenging with one blow a thousand faults I’d committed
And the beauties whom, greatly in the wrong, I had held
Before this in scorn
Who had begged me, instead now I beg you.
But as often as I beg for mercy from you,
   You are deaf to my cries
 
And respond no more than the fountain
Which showed Narcissus the image of his shape
   Taking revenge on its bank
For the thousand beauteous nymphs in love
Which that boy, with his scornful manner,
   Had put to death.
 
 
As with so many of Ronsard’s lyrics, the fluency and apparent inevitability of his lines is amazing. It seems so easy, so natural – and yet it makes perfect poetry, it rhymes and scans as if by chance. Wonderful.
 
But as we know, that’s the result of hard work & lots of re-working. Some variants in Blanchemain’s version to demonstrate the process.  The opening is different, there is an extra stanza, one of the existing stanzas is largely different, and there are plenty of other minor variants.  Easiest to see the whole thing again:
 
Quand j’estois libre, ains que l’amour cruelle
Ne fust esprise encore en ma mouelle,  
   Je vivois bien-heureux,
Comme à l’envy les plus accortes filles
Se travailloyent par leurs flammes gentilles,  
   De me rendre amoureux. 
 
Mais tout ainsi qu’un beau Poulain farouche,
Qui n’a masché le frein dedans la bouche,  
   Va seulet escarté,
N’ayant souci sinon d’un pied superbe
A mille bonds fouler les fleurs et l’herbe,  
   Vivant en liberté : 
 
Ores il court le long d’un beau rivage,
Ores il erre en quelque bois sauvage  
   Ou sur quelque mont haut ;
De toutes parts les Poutres hanissantes
Luy font l’amour pour néant blandissantes,  
   A luy qui ne s’en chaut. 
 
Ainsi j’allois desdaignant les pucelles,
Qu’on estimoit en beauté les plus belles,  
   Sans respondre à leur vueil :
Lors je vivois amoureux de moy-mesme,
Content et gay, sans porter couleur blesme  
   Ny les larmes à l’œil. 
 
J’avois escrit au plus haut de la face
Avec l’honneur une agreable audace  
   Plaine d’un franc desir :
Avec le pied marchoit ma fantaisie
De ça, de la, sans peur ne jalousie,
   Vivant de mon plaisir.
 
Mais aussi tost que par mauvais desastre
Je vey ton sein blanchissant comme albastre,  
   Et tes yeux deux soleils,
Tes beaux cheveux espanchez par ondées,
Et les beaux lis de tes lévres bordées  
   De cent œillets vermeils : 
 
Incontinent j’appris que c’est service.
La liberté, de ma vie nourrice,  
   Fuit ton œil felon
Comme la nue en temps serein poussée
Fuit à grands pas l’haleine courroucée  
   De l’oursal Aquilon.
 
[Et lors tu mis mes deux mains à la chaisne
Mon col au cep et mon cœur à la gesne,
   N’ayant de moy pitié,
Non plus, helas ! qu’un outrageux corsaire,
(O fier Destin) n’a pitié d’un forcère  
   A la chaisne lié.]
 
Tu mis apres en signe de conqueste,
Comme veinqueur tes deux pieds sur ma teste,  
   Et du front m’a osté
L’honneur, la honte, et l’audace première,
Acouhardant mon ame prisonniere,  
   Serve à ta volonté. 
 
Vengeant d’un coup mille fautes commises,
Et les beautez qu’à grand tort j’avois mises  
   Par-avant à mespris,
Qui me prioyent en lieu que je te prie :
Mais d’autant plus que merci je te crie,  
   Tu es sourde à mes cris, 
 
Et ne respons non plus que la fontaine
Qui de Narcis mira la forme vaine,  
   Vengeant dessus son bord
Mille beautez des Nymphes amoureuses,
Que cest enfant par mines desdaigneuses  
   Avoit mises à mort.
When I was free,and cruel love
Had not yet taken hold in my marrow,
   I lived happily;
How the most attractive girls competitively
Worked hard with their gentle flames
   To make me fall in love!
 
But just as a handsome wild colt
Which has not chewed the curb in his mouth
   Wanders far and wide by himself,
Having no care except with his proud foot
To trample with a thousand leaps the flowers and grass,
   Living in liberty;
 
Sometimes he runs along a fair riverbank,
Sometimes he wanders in some wild wood
   Or on some high mountain;
And on every side whinnying fillies
Make love to him, flattering him for nothing,
   He who cares nothing for it.
 
Just so I used to disdain the maids
That everyone thought fairest of the fair,
   Without responding to their wishes;
Then, I was in love with myself,
Happy and joyful, not wearing that pale colour
   Nor with tears in my eyes.
 
I had written on my forehead,
Together with honour, a pleasant audacity
Filled with frank desire;
My imagination advanced with my feet
Wherever I wanted, without fear or jealousy,
The master of my pleasure.
 
But as soon as through terrible misfortune
I saw your breast white as alabaster
   And your eyes, twin suns,
Your fine hair pouring down in waves,
And the fair lilies of your lips bordered
   With a hundred pink carnations,
 
 Straightway I learned what it is to be in service,
Andliberty, the nurse of my life,
   Fled your treacherous eye
As a cloud in clear weather
Flees at great pace when pushed by the angry breath
   Of polar Aquilo.
 
[And then you put my two hands to the chain,
My neck to the vine and my heart to shame,
Having no pity on me,
No more alas than a hostile corsair
Has pity – o proud fate! – on a galley-slave
Bound with a chain.]
 
As a sign of your conquest you then placed
Your two feet on my head, as conqueror,
   And took from my brow
Honour, shame, and my earlier boldness
Rendering my imprisoned soul a coward,
   Servant to your desires.
 
Avenging with one blow a thousand faults I’d committed
And the beauties whom, greatly in the wrong, I had held
Before this in scorn
Who had begged me, instead now I beg you.
But as often as I beg for mercy from you,
   You are deaf to my cries
 
And respond no more than the fountain
Which showed Narcissus the image of his shape
   Taking revenge on its bank
For the thousand beauteous nymphs in love
Which that boy, with his scornful manner,
   Had put to death.
 
Just a few words about “l’oursal Aquilon” in the middle of the poem:  ‘oursal’ indicates ‘of the bear’ here indicating the Pole Star in the constellation of the Little Bear – which points north, where Aquilo, the north wind, blows from.  (Blanchemain puts the following stanza in [brackets] without explanation – this usually means it disappeared quite early on from the published editions.
 
 
 
 
 
 
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De la defloration de Lede (Odes 3:20)

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Time for one of Ronsard’s longer poems, I think! This is one of his mythological extravaganzas, and its topic is the ‘Defloration of Leda’ – it is dedicated to Cassandre(!)

Ronsard divides it into 3 ‘pauses’ or parts; and there are two alternative openings (the later 1587 one printed by Blanchemain in a footnote). For simplicity I’ve shown the two at the beginning of the poem. I’ve also added a number of ‘footnotes’, indicated in the text to make it easier to locate them.

Premier pause
 
Le cruel Amour, vainqueur
De ma vie, sa sujette,
M’a si bien écrit au cœur
Votre nom de sa sagette,
Que le temps, qui peut casser
Le fer et la pierre dure,
Ne le sauroit effacer
Qu’en moi vivant il ne dure.
 
[alternative opening (1587) :
Amour, dont le traict vainqueur
Fait en mon sang sa retraite,
M’a si bien escrit au cœur
Le nom de ma Cassandrette,
Que le tombeau mange-chair,
Logis de la pourriture,
Ne pourra point arracher
De mon cœur sa pourtraiture.]
 
Mon luth, qui des bois oyans
Souloit alléger les peines,
Las ! de mes yeux larmoyans
Ne tarit point les fontaines ;
Et le soleil ne peut voir,
Soit quand le jour il apporte,
Ou quand il se couche au soir,
Une autre douleur plus forte.
 
Mais vostre cœur obstiné,
Et moins pitoyable encore
Que l’Ocean mutine
Qui baigne la rive more,
Ne prend mon service à gré,
Ains d’immoler envie
Le mien, à luy consacré
Des premiers ans de ma vie.
 
Jupiter, espoinçonné
De telle amoureuse rage,
A jadis abandonné
Et son trône et son orage ;
Car l’œil qui son cœur estraint,
Comme estraints ores nous sommes
Ce grand seigneur a contraint
De tenter l’amour des hommes.
 
Impatient du desir
Naissant de sa flame esprise,
Se laissa d’amour saisir,
Comme une despouille prise.
Puis il a, bras, teste et flanc,
Et sa poitrine cachée
Sous un plumage plus blanc
Que le laict sur la jonchée.
 
Et son col mit un carcan
Avec une chaîne où l’œuvre
Du laborieux Vulcan
Admirable se descœuvre.
D’or en estoient les cerceaux,
Piolez d’émail ensemble.
A l’arc qui note les eaux
Ce bel ouvrage ressemble.
 
L’or sur la plume reluit
D’une semblable lumiere
Que le clair œil de la nuit
Dessus la neige premiere.
Il fend le chemin des cieux
Par un voguer de ses ailes,
Et d’un branle spatieux
Tire ses rames nouvelles.
 
Comme l’aigle fond d’en haut,
Ouvrant l’espais de la nue,
Sur l’aspic qui leche au chaud
Sa jeunesse revenue,
Ainsi le cygne voloit
Contre-bas, tant qu’il arrive
Dessus l’estang où souloit
Jouer Lede sur la rive.
 
Quand le ciel eut allumé
Le beau jour par les campagnes,
Elle au bord accoustumé
Mena jouer ses compagnes ;
Et, studieuse des fleurs
En sa main un pannier porte
Peint de diverse couleurs
Et peint de diverse sorte.
 
 
Seconde pause
 
D’un bout du pannier s’ouvroit,
Entre cent nues dorées,
Une aurore qui couvroit
Le ciel de fleurs colorées ;
Ses cheveux vagoient errans,
Souflez du vent des narines
Des prochains chevaux tirans
Le soleil des eaux marines.
 
Comme au ciel il fait son tour
Par sa voye courbe et torte,
Il tourne tout a l’entour
De l’anse en semblable sorte.
Les nerfs s’enflent aux chevaux
Et leur puissance indontée
Se lasse sous les travaux
De la penible montée.
 
La mer est peinte plus bas,
L’eau ride si bien sur elle,
Qu’un pescheur ne nieroit pas
Qu’elle ne fust naturelle.
Ce soleil tombant au soir
Dedans l’onde voisine entre
A chef bas se laissant cheoir
Jusqu’au fond de ce grand ventre.
 
Sur le sourci d’un rocher
Un pasteur le loup regarde,
Qui se haste d’approcher,
Du couard peuple qu’il garde ;
Mais de cela ne luy chaut,
Tant un limas luy agrée,
Qui lentement monte au haut
D’un lis au bas de la prée.
 
Un satyre tout follet,
Larron, en folastrant tire
La panetiere et le laict
D’un autre follet satyre.
L’un court après tout ireux,
L’autre defend sa despouille,
Le laict se verse sur eux,
Qui sein et menton leur souille.
 
Deux beliers qui se heurtoient
Le haut de leurs testes dures
Pourtraits aux deux bords estoient
Pour la fin de ses peintures.
Tel pannier en ses mains mist
Lede, qui sa troupe excelle,
Le jour qu’un oiseau la fist
Femme en lieu d’une pucelle.
 
L’une arrache d’un doigt blanc
Du beau Narcisse les larmes,
Et la lettre teinte au sang
Du Grec marry pour les armes.
De crainte l’œillet vermeil
Pallist entre ces pillardes,
Et la fleur que toy, Soleil,
Des cieux encor tu regardes.
 
A l’envi sont jà cueillis
Les verds tresors de la plaine,
Les bassinets et les lis,
La rose et la marjolaine,
Quand la vierge dit ainsi,
De son destin ignorante :
« De tant de fleurs que voicy
Laissons la proye odorante.
 
« Allons, troupeau bien-heureux,
Que j’aime d’amour naïve,
Ouyr l’oiseau douloureux
Qui se plaint sur nostre rive. »
Et elle, en hastant le pas,
Fuit par l’herbe d’un pied vite ;
Sa troupe ne la suit pas,
Tant sa carriere est subite ;
 
Du bord luy tendit la main,
Et l’oiseau, qui tressaut d’aise,
S’en approche tout humain,
Et le blanc yvoire baise.
Ores l’adultere oiseau,
Au bord par les fleurs se joue,
Et ores au haut de l’eau
Tout mignard près d’elle noue.
 
Puis, d’une gaye façon,
Courbe au dos l’une et l’autre aile,
Et au bruit de sa chanson
Il apprivoise la belle.
La nicette en son giron
Reçoit les flammes secrettes,
Faisant tout à l’environ
Du cygne un lict de fleurettes.
 
Luy, qui fut si gracieux,
Voyant son heure opportune,
Devint plus audacieux,
Prenant au poil la fortune.
De son col comme ondes long
Le sein de la vierge touche,
Et son bec luy mit adonc
Dedans sa vermeille bouche.
 
Il va ses ergots dressant
Sur les bras d’elle qu’il serre,
Et de son ventre pressant
Contraint la rebelle à terre.
Sous l’oiseau se debat fort,
Le pince et le mord, si est-ce
Qu’au milieu de tel effort
Ell’ sent ravir sa jeunesse.
 
Le cinabre çà et là
Couloura la vergongneuse.
A la fin elle parla
D’une bouche desdaigneuse :
« D’où es-tu, trompeur volant ?
D’où viens-tu, qui as l’audace
D’aller ainsi violant
Les filles de noble race ? 
 
« Je cuidois ton cœur, helas !
Semblable à l’habit qu’il porte,
Mais (hè pauvrette ! ) tu l’as,
A mon dam, d’une autre sorte.
O ciel ! qui mes cris entens,
Morte puissé-je estre enclose
Là bas, puis que mon printemps
Est despouillé de sa rose !
 
« Plustost vien pour me manger,
O veufve tigre affamèe,
Que d’un oiseau estranger
Je sois la femme nommée. »
Ses membres tombent peu forts,
Et dedans la mort voisine
Ses yeux jà nouoient, alors
Que luy respondit le cygne :
 
Troisiesme pause
 
« Vierge, dit-il, je ne suis
Ce qu’à me voir il te semble ;
Plus grande chose je puis
Qu’un cygne à qui je ressemble :
Je suis le maistre des cieux,
Je suis celuy qui desserre
Le tonnerre audacieux
Sur les durs flancs de la terre.
 
« La contraignante douleur
Du tien, plus chaud, qui m’allume,
M’a fait prendre la couleur
De ceste non mienne plume.
Ne te va donc obstinant
Contre l’heur de ta fortune :
Tu seras incontinant
La belle-sœur de Neptune,
 
« Et si tu pondras deux œufs
De ma semence feconde,
Ainçois deux triomphes neufs,
Futurs ornemens du monde.
L’un deux jumeaux esclorra :
Pollux, vaillant à l’escrime,
Et son frere, qu’on loûra
Pour des chevaliers le prime ;
 
« Dedans l’autre germera
La beauté, au ciel choisie,
Pour qui un jour s’armera
L’Europe contre l’Asie. »
A ces mots, elle consent,
Recevant telle avanture,
Et jà de peu à peu sent
Haute eslever sa ceinture.
 
 
Cruel Love, conqueror
Of my life, his subject,
Has written so well in my heart
Your name with his arrow
That time, which can break
Iron and hard stone,
Could not wipe it away
Such that it will not last in me while alive.
 
 
Love, whose conquering dart
Has made its home in my blood,
Has so well written in my heart
The name of my little Cassandre
That the flesh-eating tomb,
Where decay lives,
Could not take any part
From my heart of her portrait.
 
My lute, which is accustomed
To lessening the woes of the listening woods,
Alas, dries not the fountains
Of my weeping eyes;
And the sun cannot see,
Either when he brings the day
Or when he goes to bed at night,
Any other grief more strong.
 
But your stubborn heart,
Less pitiful still
Than the unruly ocean
Which bathes the Moorish coast,
Does not like my service,
But wants to sacrifice
My own, consecrated to it
From the earliest years of my life.
 
Jupiter, excited
By a similar passionate love,
Once abandoned
His throne and his storm;
For his eye, which compelled his heart
As sometimes our hearts are compelled,
Compelled this great lord
To try a human love.
 
Impatient with the desire
Growing from his love-struck flame,
He gave himself over to love
Like the captured spoils of war.
Then his arms, head and flanks
And his breast he head
Beneath a plumage whiter
Than milk on scattered rushes.
 
And his neck wore a collar
With a chain, on which the work
Of hard-working Vulcan
Could be seen and admired.
The hoops were of gold
Together with enamel of many colours.
The bow which the waters draw
This lovely piece of work resembled.
 
Gold shone out on his feathers
With a light like
The bright eye of the night
On a first snow.
He cleaved his path through the heavens
With the sail of his wings,
And with a measured beat
He pulled his new oarage.
 
As the eagle swoops from on high,
Making an opening in the thick clouds,
Upon the asp which, in the heat, licks
Its recovered youthfulness;1
So the swan flew
Down here to arrive
Upon the pool where Leda
Was accustomed to play on the bank.
 
When fair day had lit
The sky over the fields,
She led her companions to play
On the usual bank
And fascinated by flowers
She bore in her hand a basket
Painted in many colours
And painted many ways.
 
 
 
 
On one end of the basket was shown2
Amidst a hundred golden clouds
A Dawn which covered
The sky with colourful flowers;
Her waving hair flying,
Blown by the breath from the nostrils
Of the nearby horses drawing
The sun from the waters of the sea.3
 
As it makes its journey in the heavens
On its curved, twisting route,
It turns entirely around
The handle [of the basket] in a similar way;
The sinews on the horses swell
And their undaunted power
Tires under the labours
Of the arduous climb.
 
The sea is painted below,
The water ripples so well on it
That a fisherman would not deny
That it was natural;
And the sun sinking at evening
Into the waves beside, goes in
With head lowered, letting itself fall
Right to the bottom of its great belly.
 
On the brow of a rock
A shepherd watches a wolf
Which hastens to get near
The cowardly race which he guards;
But he cares not about that
So much he is amused by a snail
That slowly climbs to the top
Of a lily, at the bottom of the meadow.
 
A frolicking satyr,
A thief, as he frolics steals
A basket and milk
From another frolicking satyr;
The one runs after him, utterly livid,
The other defends his spoils,
The milk gets tipped over them
And soils their breasts and chins.
 
Two rams crashing together
The tops of their hard heads
Shown at the two edges were
The last of its pictures.
Such was the basket which Leda took
In her hands, she who outshines her followers,
On the day when a bird would make her
A woman instead of a maid.
 
One [of the ladies] picked with her white fingers
The tears of fair Narcissus,
And the letters painted by the blood
Of the Greek distraught over the armour. 4
In fear the pink carnation
Pales amidst these looters,
And so too the flower which you, o Sun,
Still watch over from the heavens.
 
As competitively they were picking
The green treasures of the plain,
The buttercup and lily,
The rose and marjoram,
The maid spoke thus,
Ignorant of her fate:
“Leave your perfumed prey,
The flowers that are so many here.
 
Come, my happy band
Whom I love with an artless love,
Come and hear the sad bird
Who laments upon our riverbank.”
And she, hurrying her steps,
Ran through the grass with quick feet;
Her band did not follow,
So sudden was her flight.
 
On the bank, she held out her hand to it
And the bird, which was fidgeting with pleasure,
Approached her, entirely like a man,
And kissed her white ivory.
Sometimes the false bird 5
Played on the bank amidst the flowers,
Sometimes on top of the water
It swam, all daintily, near her.
 
Then in a jolly fashion
It curved both wings over its back,
And with the sound of its singing
It tamed the fair maid.
The silly girl felt
His hidden fire in her lap,
Making all around
The swan little flowers of light.
 
He, from being so gracious,
As he saw his opportune moment
Became more daring,
Going with fortune’s flow.
With long waves of his neck
He touched the maid’s breast
And then placed his beak
Within her crimson mouth.
 
Putting his spurs upon
The arms of her he grasped,
And pressing down with his belly,
He forced her, unwilling, to the ground.
Beneath the swan she fought hard,
Pinching and biting him, yet it was
That in the midst of her efforts
She felt her youth stolen away.
 
Cinnabar here and there
Coloured the shamed lass.
In the end she spoke
In a disdainful voice:
“Where are you from, you flying deceiver?
Where do you come from, who dare
To go around thus raping
Girls of noble race?
 
I thought your heart, alas,
Was like the colours you wear,
But – poor me! – you have one
Of another sort, to my destruction.
O heavens, who hear my cries,
I would rather be dead and shut up
Down below, since my springtime
Has been stripped of its rose!
 
Rather come and eat me,
Some hungry widowed tigress,
Than that I should be called the wife
Of some unknown bird.”
Her limbs fell strengthless
And her eyes were already swimming
In death, her neighbout, when
The swan replied thus to her:
 
 
 
“Maiden,” he said, “I am not
What I seem to you as you see me;
Greater things can I do
Than the swan I appear;
I am the master of the heavens,
I am he who looses
The insolent thunderbolts
Upon the hard flanks of the earth.
 
A painful compulsion
For your warmer [colour], which excites me,
Made me take on the colour
Of these feathers which are not mine.
So do not go on complaining
About the misfortune of your fate;
You will forthwith be
Neptune’s sister-in-law,
 
And so you will lay two eggs
From my fruitful seed,
And with them two new triumphs,
Future ornaments of the world.
One will disclose two twins:
Pollux, valiant in the swordfight,
And his brother who will be praised
As the finest of horsemen;
 
Within the other will grow
The beauty, chosen for heaven,
For whom one day Europe
Will take arms against Asia.”
At these words, she accepted,
Gaining such an outcome,
And then little by little felt
Her belt rising higher.
 
 Footnotes:
 1 i.e. its new skin after shedding the old2 the description of what is painted on the basket, which fills the remainder of the poem, is a gentle parody of the descriptions of heroes’ shields in Homer and Virgil.

3 i.e. the sun’s chariot, pulled by fiery horses, rising from the sea at dawn

4 the narcissus grew from the tears of Narcissus; the ‘flower of Ajax’ [perhaps a fritillary (lily) or a larkspur] grew from the blood spilled at his suicide on failing to win the arms of Achilles, and the Greeks read its markings as the letters AI (= ‘ah, woe!’)

5 the French word means both ‘fake’ and ‘adulterous’; ‘false’ carries something of the same effect in English

 
 Those unfamiliar with the myth – which was a major source of inspiration to Renaissance artists – should glance at Wikipedia, or this indicative set of images! The reference in the last stanza is to Helen of Troy.

Sonnet 158

Standard
En m’abusant je me trompe les yeux,
Aimant l’objet d’une figure vaine.
O nouveauté d’une cruelle peine !
O fier destin ! ô malice des Cieux !
 
Faut-il que moy de moy-mesme envieux,
Pour aimer trop les eaux d’une fonteine,
Que ma raison par les sens incertaine
Cuide en faillant son mal estre son mieux ?
 
Donques faut-il que le vain de ma face
De membre à membre aneantir me face,
Comme une cire aux raiz de la chaleur ?
 
Ainsi pleuroit l’amoureux Cephiside,
Quand il sentit dessus le bord humide
De son beau sang naistre une belle fleur.
 
 
 
 
 
                                                                           In deceiving me my eyes are mistaken,
                                                                           Loving the substance of an empty image.
                                                                           O the novelty of this cruel pain!
                                                                           O proud destiny! O malevolence of heaven!
 
                                                                           Must it be, being in love with myself
                                                                           From loving too much the waters of a spring,
                                                                           That my reason, through my senses uncertain,
                                                                           Should believe wrongly that its own harm is what’s best for it?
 
                                                                           And so, must the empty nothing of my appearance
                                                                           Make me disappear completely, limb by limb,
                                                                           Like wax in the rays of the [sun’s] heat?
 
                                                                           Thus did Narcissus weep, in love,
                                                                           When he saw on the moist bank
                                                                           Created from his fair blood a beautiful flower.

 

 

‘Cephisides’ (line 12) is a classical form, ‘son of Cephisus’ – we’ve met Alcides, son of Alceus, elsewhere as a name for Hercules. The river-god Cephisus was father of Narcissus.
 
Whenever Ronsard resorts to two lines of pretty ordinary exclamations (line 3-4), there’s usually a problem or a lack of inspiration. And this is no different: I find it hard to get excited about this sonnet … However, though Ronsard re-worked the poem a fair bit, those two lines remained untouched!  Here is Blanchemain’s version complete:
 
 
 
Que lâchement vous me trompez, mes yeux,
Enamourés d’une figure vaine !
O nouveauté d’une cruelle peine !
O fier Destin ! ô malice des Cieux !
 
Faut-il que moy, de moy-mesme envieux,
Pour aimer trop les eaux d’une fontaine,
Je brûle après une image incertaine
Qui pour ma mort m’accompagne en tous lieux ;
 
Et quoi ! faut-il que le vain de ma face
De membre en membre aneantir me face,
Comme une cire aux raiz de la chaleur !
 
Ainsi pleuroit l’amoureux Cephiside,
Quand il sentit, dessus le bord humide,
De son beau sang naistre une belle fleur.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            How despicably you deceive me, my eyes,
                                                                            Enamoured of an empty image!
                                                                            O the novelty of this cruel pain!
                                                                            O proud destiny! O malevolence of heaven!
 
                                                                            Must I, being in love with myself
                                                                            From loving too much the waters of a spring,
                                                                            I burn after a wavering image
                                                                            Which to cause my death accompanies me everywhere;
 
                                                                            What then? Must the empty nothing of my appearance
                                                                            Make me disappear completely, limb by limb,
                                                                            Like wax in the rays of the [sun’s] heat?
 
                                                                            Thus did Narcissus weep, in love,
                                                                            When he saw on the moist bank
                                                                            Created from his fair blood a beautiful flower.

 

 

 
 
 

Sonnet 157

Standard
De la mielleuse et fielleuse pasture,
De qui le nom s’appelle trop aimer
Qui m’est et sucre et riagas amer,
Sans me saouler je pren ma nourriture.
 
Ce bel œil brun, qui force ma nature,
D’un jeusne tel me fait tant consumer,
Que je ne puis ma faim des-affamer
Qu’au seul regard d’une vaine peinture.
 
Plus je la voy, moins saouler je m’en puis :
Un vray Narcisse en misere je suis.
Hé qu’Amour est une cruelle chose !
 
Je cognoy bien qu’il me fera mourir,
Et si ne puis ma douleur secourir,
Tant j’ay sa peste en mes veines enclose.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Of the honey-sweet, bitter-gall food
                                                                            Whose name is ‘loving too much’,
                                                                            Which is to me both sugar and bitter arsenic,
                                                                            I eat without being satisfied.
 
                                                                            That fair brown eye which overcomes my nature
                                                                            Feeds me so much of that kind of meal
                                                                            That I can no longer un-hunger my hunger
                                                                            Except only by looking at an empty picture.
 
                                                                            The more I see it, the less I can be satisfied;
                                                                            A true Narcissus in my wretchedness I am.
                                                                            Ah, how cruel a thing is Love!
 
                                                                            I fully understand that it will kill me,
                                                                            And yet I cannot help my sadness,
                                                                            So much of its poison is locked up in my veins.
 
 
 
The reference to Narcissus is, in contrast with the learned references of the last poem, nice and straightforward – as Narcissus gazed at his own reflection, so Ronsard gazes at his lady’s portrait – and no doubt there is a hint that he is in some sense reflected in her…  Those who have aview on the Academy’s attempts to keep the French language pure will also have a view on Ronsard’s invention of the word ‘to un-hunger’!
 
Only minor differences in the earlier Blanchemain version, the initial quatrains becoming:
 
 
De la mielleuse et fielleuse pasture
Dont le surnom s’appelle trop aimer,
Qui m’est et sucre et riagas amer,
Sans me saouler je pren ma nourriture :
 
Car ce bel œil qui force ma nature
D’un tel jeuner m’a tant fait consumer,
Que je ne puis ma faim des-affamer
Qu’au seul regard d’une vaine peinture.
 
 
 
                                                                            Of the honey-sweet, bitter-gall food
                                                                            Whose surname is ‘loving too much’,
                                                                            Which is to me both sugar and bitter arsenic,
                                                                            I eat without being satisfied.
 
                                                                            For that fair eye which overcomes my nature
                                                                            Has fed me so much of that kind of meal
                                                                            That I can no longer un-hunger my hunger
                                                                            Except only by looking at an empty picture.

 

There is a further variant:

 

De cette douce et fielleuse pasture
Dont le surnom s’appelle trop aimer,
Qui m’est et sucre et riagas amer,
Sans me saouler je pren ma nourriture :
 
Car ce bel œil qui force ma nature
D’un si long jeun m’a tant fait épasmer,
Que je ne puis ma faim des-affamer
Qu’au seul regard d’une vaine peinture.
 
Plus je la voy, moins saouler je m’en puis :
Un vray Narcisse en misere je suis.
Hé qu’Amour est une cruelle chose !
 
Je cognoy bien qu’il me fera mourir,
Et si ne puis a mon mal secourir,
Tant j’ay sa peste en mes veines enclose.

 
 
 
                                                                            Of that sweet, bitter-gall food
                                                                            Whose surname is ‘loving too much’,
                                                                            Which is to me both sugar and bitter arsenic,
                                                                            I eat without being satisfied.
 
                                                                            For that fair eye which overcomes my nature
                                                                            Has made me faint with so much of that kind of meal
                                                                            That I can no longer un-hunger my hunger
                                                                            Except only by looking at an empty picture.
 

 
                                                                            The more I see it, the less I can be satisfied;
                                                                            A true Narcissus in my wretchedness I am.
                                                                            Ah, how cruel a thing is Love!
 
                                                                            I fully understand that it will kill me,
                                                                            And yet I cannot help my illness,
                                                                            So much of its poison is locked up in my veins.
 

Sonnet 10

Standard
De ceste belle, douce, honneste chasteté
Naissoit un froid glaçon, ains une chaude flame,
Qu’encores aujourd’huy esteinte sous la lame
Me reschauffe, en pensant quelle fut sa clarté.
 
La traict que je receu, n’eut le fer espointé :
Il fut des plus aigus qu’Amour nous tire en l’ame,
Qui s’armant d’un trespas, par le penser m’entame,
Et sans jamais tomber se tient à mon costé.
 
Narcisse fut heureux mourant sur la fontaine,
Abusé de miroër de sa figure vaine :
Au moins il regardoit je ne sçay quoy de beau.
 
L’erreur le contentoit, voyant sa face aimee :
Et la beauté que j’aime, est terre consumee.
Il mourut pour une ombre et moy pour un  tombeau.
 
 
 
 
                                                                                             From this fair, sweet, respectable chastity
                                                                                             Was born a cold icicle, and too a hot flame,
                                                                                             Which still today – extinguished beneath the blade –
                                                                                             Warms me, in thinking of the brightness that was hers.
 
                                                                                             The wound that I received was not pointed steel:
                                                                                             It was among the sharpest that Love shoots into our hearts
                                                                                             Which, arming itself with a death, through my thoughts slices me
                                                                                             And stays, without ever falling, at my side.
 
                                                                                             Narcissus was happy dying on his spring,
                                                                                             Deceived by a mirror with his own empty form;
                                                                                             At least he was looking at something fair.
 
                                                                                             The error of seeing his beloved face contented him;
                                                                                             But the beauty that I love is now absorbed into the earth.
                                                                                             He died for a shadow, I for a tomb.

 

 
 
 
 

Sonnet 5

Standard
    DIALOGUE.
Le Passant, et le Genie.
 
    LE PASSANT
Veu que ce marbre enserre un corps qui fut plus beau
Que celuy de Narcisse, ou celuy de Clitie,
Je suis esmerveillé qu’une fleur n’est sortie,
Comme elle feit d’Ajax, du creux de ce tombeau.
 
    LE GENIE
L’ardeur qui reste encore, et vit en ce flambeau,
Ard la terre d’amour, qui si bien a sentie
La flame, qu’en brazier elle s’est convertie,
Et seiche ne peut rien produire de nouveau.
 
Mais si Ronsard vouloit sur sa Marie espandre
Des pleurs pour l’arroser, soudain l’humide cendre
Une fleur du sepulchre enfanteroit au jour.
 
    LE PASSANT
A la cendre on cognoist combien vive estoit forte
La beauté de ce corps, quand mesmes estant morte
Elle enflame la terre et la tombe d’amour.
 
 
 
                                                                                            Dialogue – the Passer-by and the Spirit
 
                                                                                             P: 
                                                                                            Since this marble encloses a form which was more lovely
                                                                                            Than that of Narcissus, or that of Clytie,
                                                                                            I am astonished that a flower has not sprouted
                                                                                            From the hollow of this tomb as it did from Ajax’s.
 
                                                                                            S:
                                                                                            The hot passion which remains, and lives in this torch,
                                                                                            Burns with love the very earth, which has so felt
                                                                                            The flame that it is changed into a brazier
                                                                                            And, dried out, can produce nothing new.
 
                                                                                            But if Ronsard wished to scatter on his Marie
                                                                                            Tears to water it, suddenly the moist ashes
                                                                                            Would give birth to a flower from the tomb.
 
                                                                                            P:
                                                                                            Even as ashes, we understand how strong when alive was
                                                                                            The beauty of this form, when even being dead
                                                                                            She burns the earth and the tomb with love.
 
 
Blanchemain makes only one tiny change – in line 10, he alers the article so it reads “soudain d‘humide cendre…”.  That makes the translation of lines 10-11 something like ‘ …suddenly from the moist ashes / Of the tomb would be born a flower’.
 
We all know that Narcissus thought himself the most beautiful thing on earth; there are plenty of nymphs called Clytie, but the one we want is probably the daughter of Pandareus (she is also known as Merope), to whom Juno gave wisdom and beauty.  The flower of Ajax – thought by some to be larkspur – grew from his blood following his suicide, a flower marked ‘Ai’ (the first letters of his name, and also a Greek exclamation ‘ah!’, ‘woe’, ‘oh!’.
 
 
 

Sonnet 72

Standard

 

This is the final sonnet of book 2, although there are some further ‘stanzas for Helen’ following it  – – which are therefore technically the last Helen poem! 
 
 
A fin que ton honneur coule parmy la plaine
Autant qu’il monte au Ciel engravé dans un Pin,
Invoquant tous les Dieux, et respandant du vin :
Je consacre à ton nom ceste belle Fontaine.
 
Pasteurs, que vos troupeaux frisez de blanche laine
Ne paissent à ces bords : y fleurisse le Thin,
Et tant de belles fleurs qui s’ouvrent au matin,
Et soit dite à jamais la Fontaine d’Heleine.
 
Le passant en Esté s’y puisse reposer,
Et assis dessus l’herbe à l’ombre composer
Mille chansons d’Helene, et de moy luy souvienne.
 
Quiconques en boira, qu’amoureux il devienne :
Et puisse en la humant, une flame puiser
Aussi chaude qu’au coeur je sens chaude la mienne.
 
 
 
 
                                                                      So that your reputation may go throughout the countryside,
                                                                      So it can rise to the heavens, engraved on a pine tree,
                                                                      Calling on all the gods and pouring out wine –
                                                                      I consecrate to your name this lovely fountain.
 
                                                                      Shepherds, may your flocks clad in white wool
                                                                      Pasture on these banks; may thyme flourish there
                                                                      And so many fair flowers as open in the morning,
                                                                      And may it be named forever the fountain of Helen.
 
                                                                      The passer-by in summer may rest there,
                                                                      And sitting on the grass in the shade, compose
                                                                      A thousand songs about Helen, and remind her of me,
 
                                                                      Whoever drinks from your water, let him become enamoured;
                                                                      And in drinking it in, may he draw a flame
                                                                      As hot, as I feel my own flame hot in my heart.
 
 
Blanchemain offers a variant of the opening line:
 
A fin que ton renom s’estende par la plaine …
 
                                                                      So that your renown may extend throughout the countryside …
 
 
He also has a different 3rd line in the second quatrain:
 
Et la fleur, dont le maistre eut si mauvais destin,
 
                                                                     And the flower whose master had so bad a fate
 
The master who “had so bad a fate” is either Narcissus (Blanchemain’s preference) or Hyacinth.