Tag Archives: Nicolas Richelet

Helen 2:10

Adieu belle Cassandre, et vous belle Marie,
Pour qui je fu trois ans en servage à Bourgueil :
L’une vit, l’autre est morte, et ores de son œil
Le ciel se resjouist dont la terre est marrie.
Sur mon premier Avril, d’une amoureuse envie
J’adoray vos beautez : mais vostre fier orgueil
Ne s’amollit jamais pour larmes ny pour dueil,
Tant d’une gauche main la Parque ourdit ma vie.
Maintenant en Automne encore malheureux
Je vy comme au Printemps de nature amoureux,
A fin que tout mon âge aille au gré de la peine.
Ores que je deusse estre affranchi du harnois,
Mon maistre Amour m’envoye à grands coups de carquois,
R’assieger Ilion pour conquerir Heleine.
                                                                            Farewell my lovely Cassandre, and you, lovely Marie,
                                                                            For whom I spent three years of servitude in Bourgueil ;
                                                                            The one lives on, the other is dead, and now heaven
                                                                            Rejoices in her eyes, to the earth’s regret.
                                                                            In the April of my youth I adored your beauties
                                                                            With an eager love ; but your arrogant pride
                                                                            Never softened for tears or grief :
                                                                            Fate has so left-handedly woven my life.
                                                                            Now in my autumn, still unfortunate,
                                                                            I live as in Spring amorous by nature,
                                                                            So that all my age goes at trouble’s wish.
                                                                            Now, when I ought to be free of war’s harness,
                                                                            Love my master sends me with great blows from his quiver
                                                                            To besiege Troy again, to conquer Helen.
If you ask me, this is not only a fine poem but the neatest of Ronsard’s summaries of his poetic career.
I’ve no intention of pulling it apart, but here’s a couple of small notes. In mythology Fate ‘weaves’ (line 8) the thread of everyone’s lives; weaving left-handed – like the word ‘sinister’ (left-hand in Latin) – brings misfortune. And you don’t need the reference to Helen of Troy explained again … But Richelet does so anyway: “Troy, where Helen was held. He speaks in several places of this love-affair as if his mistress was the Helen of Greece who stirred up so many wars. Thus Petrarch speaks of his Laura as that Daphne with whom Apollo was in love.”
Blanchemain’s version offers minor changes in the last tercet:
Et, ore que je deusse estre exempt du harnois,
Mon colonnel m’envoye à grands coups de carquois,
Rassieger Ilion pour conquerir Heleine.


                                                                            And now, when I ought to be free of war’s harness,
                                                                            My colonel sends me with great blows from his quiver
                                                                            To besiege Troy again, to conquer Helen.
“Ores que” is better than “Et ore que” with its hiatus, consistent with Ronsard’s desire to make the near-perfect that much more perfect. That it was not a straight-line process is made clear by the variant of line 4 Blanchemain also provides from 1578:  “Le ciel se resjouist dans la terre est Marie” (‘Heaven rejoices, Marie is in the ground’). Frankly, it’s a terrible soundalike for the line in the ‘definitive version’, not just because it sounds as if Heaven is rejoicing because Marie is dead, but also because rhyming ‘Marie’ with ‘Marie’ is undeniably feeble.

Helen 2:9

Ny la douce pitié, ny le pleur lamentable
Ne t’ont baillé ton nom : ton nom Grec vient d’oster,
De ravir, de tuer, de piller, d’emporter
Mon esprit et mon cœur, ta proye miserable.
Homere en se joüant de toy fist une fable,
Et moy l’histoire au vray. Amour, pour te flater,
Comme tu fis à Troye, au cœur me vient jetter
Le feu qui de mes oz se paist insatiable.
La voix, que tu feignois à l’entour du Cheval
Pour decevoir les Grecs, me devoit faire sage :
Mais l’homme de nature est aveugle à son mal,
Qui ne peut se garder ny prevoir son dommage.
Au pis-aller je meurs pour ce beau nom fatal,
Qui mit tout l’Asie et l’Europe en pillage.
                                                                            Neither sweet pity nor grievous weeping
                                                                            Gave you your name ; your Greek name has just now taken away,
                                                                            Seized, killed, pillaged, carried off
                                                                            My spirit and my heart as your wretched prey.
                                                                            Homer, enjoying himself, made a myth of you,
                                                                            But I have told the true story. Love, to flatter you,
                                                                            Has just thrown into my heart, as you did into Troy,
                                                                            A fire which feeds insatiably on my bones.
                                                                            The misleading words you used, as you circled the Horse,
                                                                            To deceive the Greeks should have made me wise ;
                                                                            But man is by nature blind to his own ills
                                                                            And cannot guard himself nor foresee what will hurt him.
                                                                            The worst part is, I am dying for this fair, deadly name
                                                                            Which put all Asia and Europe to pillage.
Lengthy footnotes today from Ronsard’s editor, Richelet, to explain the slightly tortuous meaning in several places in the poem.
In lines 1-2, Richelet explains, “the name she has was not given because of any sweetness in her, [nor] as coming from the word ‘eleein’ [Greek ελεειν, to weep], but rather from ‘helein’ [ελειν, to seize], ‘helinnuein’ [ελιννευειν, to rest], ‘helissein’ [ελισσειν, to whirl around], ‘helkein’ [ελκειν, to drag off] which are all words of ruin and damage.” (Though, as you can see, Liddell & Scott don’t agree that one of them – ‘helinneuein’ – falls into this category!) Note however that Ronsard’s French amounts to a set of meanings for just two of those words (‘helein’ and ‘helkein’) . I imagine we owe the inclusion of the other two, more obscure, words (one of which is doubtful) more to Richelet than to Ronsard.
At line 7, Blanchemain reminds us that Helen, with Sinon, gave the signal to the Greeks to emerge from the Trojan Horse and thus to burn Troy; though Richelet expounds at length on lines 9-11 which seem to refer to a slightly earlier episode: “after the Greeks had, by the counsel of Minerva, placed the horse in Troy, Venus, knowing their plan and wishing to have it discovered by the Trojans, came at night on the garb of an old woman to Helen, to give her information about the horse, in which among others was her husband Menelaus. At this report, as soon as she’d leapt from her bed, she came to the horse and spoke to the Greeks who were hidden insde, which frightened them so much that she thought she had put them in danger”. But this, it seems to me, does not fit with “que tu feignois” (the phrase to which Richelet attached the explanation): for Ronsard is clearly saying Helen ‘feigned’ another’s voice or said something misleading to the Greeks – as if she not Minerva were in disguise, or she was seeking to deceive the Greeks in the horse – which is not at all what Richelet describes. Rather, Ronsard is referring to Homer’s Odyssey (book 4, 270-290) where Menelaus tells Helen he knows how she came to the Horse “bidden by some god” to try to trick the Greeks into giving themselves away by imitating the voices of their wives and lovers. Sorry, Richelet: wrong this time.
Two minor variants in Blanchemain’s version: in line 2, “Helene vient d’oster” (‘Helen has just now taken away’); and at the beginning of line 8, “Ton feu…” (‘Your fire’)


Helen 2:2

A fin qu’à tout jamais de siecle en siecle vive
La parfaite amitié que Ronsard vous portoit,
Comme vostre beauté la raison luy ostoit,
Comme vous enchaisnez sa liberté captive :
A fin que d’âge en âge à noz neveux arrive,
Que toute dans mon sang vostre figure estoit,
Et que rien sinon vous mon cœur ne souhaitoit,
Je vous fais un present de ceste Sempervive.
Elle vit longuement en sa jeune verdeur :
Long temps apres la mort je vous feray revivre,
Tant peut le docte soin d’un gentil serviteur,
Qui veut en vous servant toutes vertus ensuivre.
Vous vivrez (croyez-moy) comme Laure en grandeur,
Au moins tant que vivront les plumes et le livre.
                                                                            That for ever, from age to age, may live on
                                                                            The perfect love which Ronsard bears you,
                                                                            Since your beauty has stolen his reason,
                                                                            Since you keep in chains his captive liberty ;
                                                                            That from age to age to our descendants may be known
                                                                            How your picture was everywhere in my blood,
                                                                            And how my heart desired nothing but you,
                                                                            I make you a gift of this sempervivum
                                                                            It lives long in its youthful freshness :
                                                                            A long time after death I shall make you live again,
                                                                            So far as the learned care of a noble servant
                                                                            Who wishes in serving you to follow all the virtues.
                                                                            You shall live, believe me, like Laura in greatness,
                                                                            At least as long as live pens and books.

An ordinary offering – a succulent houseplant – generates the conceit of ‘ever-living’ through the memorial of poetry; and suddenly we are back in the world of Petrarch and Laura. As we give up pens and books for online messaging and e-books, it would be nice to think Ronsard will survive the changeover 🙂

Nicolas Richelet, early editor of the Helen poems, offers this footnote on the sempervivum:  “A kind of simple which takes its name from its nature. It is not without cause that he makes this present, sempervivum is also used to make someone fall in love. That’s why in ancient times it was attached to house doors, to chase away all hatred and hostility.”
(This use of sempervivum was apparently unknown to Culpepper, whose Herbal says ‘Our ordinary Houseleek is good for all inward heats, as well as outward, and in the eyes or other parts of the body: a posset made of the juice is singularly good in all hot agues, for it cooleth and tempereth the blood and spirits and quencheth the thirst; and is also good to stay all defluction or sharp and salt rheums in the eyes, the juice being dropped into them. If the juice be dropped into the ears, it easeth pain…. It cooleth and restraineth all hot inflammations, St. Anthony’s fire (Erysipelas), scaldings and burnings, the shingles, fretting ulcers, ringworms and the like; and much easeth the pain and the gout.’ – from Wikipedia.)
Blanchemain has only two variants, plus a third hidden in a footnote. In line 4 he has a chnage of tense, “Comme vous enchaisniez … ” (‘Since you have kept in chains …’); and in line 13 “Vous vivrez et croistrez …” (‘You shall live and increase like Laura in greatness’), which is perhaps better in meaning but has none of the rhythmic complexity of the revised version. The footnote offers a variant of the opening, “A fin qu’en renaissant …” (‘That through being reborn from age to age may live on …’), which offers two slightly different ways of reading the opening: being reborn from age to age, in order to live on; or living on from age to age through being reborn.


Odes 3.21



Gaspar, qui, loin de Pegase,
As les filles de Parnase
Conduites en ta maison,
Ne sçais-tu que moy, poête,
De mon Phoebus je souhéte
Quand je fais une oraison ?
Les moissons je ne quiers pas
Que le faux arrange à bas
Sur la Beauce fructueuse ;
Ny tous les cornus troupeaux
Qui sautent sur les coupeaux
De l’Auvergne montueuse ;
Ny l’or sans forme qu’ameine
La mine pour nostre peine ;
Ny celuy qui est formé
Portant d’un roy la figure
Ou la fiere pourtraiture
De quelque empereur armé ;
Ny l’ivoire marqueté
En l’Orient acheté
Pour parade d’une sale ;
Ny les cousteux diamans
Magnifiques ornemens
D’une majesté royale ;
Ny tous les champs que le fleuve
Du Loir lentement abreuve ;
Ny tous les prez emmurez
Des plis de Braye argentine ;
Ny tous les bois dont Gastine
Void ses bras en-verdurez ;
Ny le riche accoustrement
D’une laine qui dément
Sa teinture naturelle
Ez chaudrons du Gobelin,
S’yvrant d’un rouge venin
Pour se disguiser plus belle
Que celuy dans une coupe
Toute d’or boive à la troupe
De son vin de Prepatour,
A qui la vigne succede,
Et près Vendôme en possede
Deux cents arpens en un tour.
Que celuy qui aime Mars
S’enrolle entre les soldars,
Et face sa peau vermeille
D’un beau sang pour son devoir,
Et que la trompette, au soir,
D’un son luy raze l’aureille.
Le marchant hardiment vire
Par le mer de sa navire
La proue et la poupe encor ;
Ce n’est moy, bruslé d’envie,
A tels despens de ma vie,
Rapporter des lingots d’or.
Tous ces biens je ne quiers point,
Et mon courage n’est poingt
De telle gloire excessive.
Manger o mon compagnon
Ou la figue d’Avignon,
Ou la provençale olive,
L’artichôt et la salade,
L’asperge et le pastenade,
Et les pompons tourangeaux,
Me sont herbes plus friandes
Que les royales viandes
Qui se servent à monceaux.
Puis qu’il faut si tost mourir,
Que me vaudroit d’acquerir
Un bien qui ne dure guere,
Qu’un heritier qui viendroit
Après mon trespas vendroit
Et en feroit bonne chere ?
Tant seulement je desire
Une santé qui n’empire ;
Je desire un beau sejour,
Une raison saine et bonne
Et une lyre qui sonne
Tousjours le vin et l’amour.
Gaspar, who – without Pegasus –
Has brought the daughters of Parnassus
Into your home,
Do you not know what I, a poet,
Ask of my Apollo
When I make him a prayer ?
Crops I don’t request,
Those which the scythe cuts down
Upon the fruitful Beauce ;
Nor do I ask for all the horned troop
Which leap upon the scarps
Of the mountainous Auvergne ;
Nor shapeless gold which the mine
Provides for our trouble ;
Nor do I ask to be one made
To bear a king’s figure
Or the proud appearance
Of some armed emperor ;
Nor inlaid ivory
Bought in the East
For some dishonest woman’s display ;
Nor costly diamonds,
Magnificent ornaments
Of royal majesty ;
Nor all the fields which the river
Loir slowly waters ;
Nor all the meadows walled in
By the bends of the silvery Braye ;
Nor all the woods with which Gastine
Sees his arms greened ;
Nor the rich clothing
Of wool which gives the lie to
Its natural colour
In Gobelin’s cauldrons,
Drinking in the red poison
To disguise itself, more beautiful
Than his wine of Prepatour,
Which he himself, in a cup
Made all of gold, drinks to his troop –
The vines to which he succeded
And possesses near Vendome
Two hundred acres of them.
Let he who loves Mars [war]
Enrol among his soldiers,
And print his pink skin
With bright blood for his work,
And let the evening trumpet
With its call crash on his ear.
Let the merchant boldly steer
Over the sea his ship’s
Prow and poop too ;
It’s not for me, burning with desire
At such cost to my life,
To bring back golden ingots.
All these good things I seek not at all,
And my courage is not pricked
To such excessive glory.
Eating with my friend
Figs from Avignon
Or olives from Provence,
Artichokes and salad,
Asparagus and parsnip
And melons from Tours,
These are tastier foods
Than the king’s meat
Which is served in mountains.
Since we must die so soon,
What use to me is gaining
Some good thing which hardly lasts,
Which my inheritor will come
After my death and sell
And make a great deal from ?
I simply desire
Health which doesn’t worsen ;
I desire a fine time here,
My reason unimpaired,
And a lyre which sings
Always of wine and love.
Blanchemain reprints several footnotes from Richelet’s commentary.In the 4th stanza, he notes that “tous les champs” are ‘the fields of his Vendome region’ (as we’d have guessed from the references to the Braye & Gastine); in the following stanza he tells us that Gobelin was  ‘formerly the famous & rich dyer of Paris’, though we now think of his Belgin tapestry factory; and explains that the “rouge venin” (‘red poison’) is scarlet dye in which the wool is soaked for a long time. A stanza later, he epxlains that Prepatour is ‘an excellent wine, whose vine belongs to the king & is in his domain in the Vendome’.
The stanzas 3rd & 4th from last also deserve a note or two: Ronsard says “Manger o mon compagnon”, which I guess to be Provençal dialect (“o” for “au”?), suited to the Avignon/Provencal food mentioned in the following lines, and or the Auvergne form which Gaspar hails. “Pastenade” is also Provençal, and there is even today a special variety of melon (“pompon”) grown around Tours: see here.
And what of Gaspar himself? Ronsard’s friend Gaspar (or Gaspard) was another of that learned circle of humanists, known among other things for translating Machiavelli into French – particularly ‘Le Prince’ and “Les discours de l’estat de paix et de guerre”, the former apparently undertaken between 1547 and 1553 but not published till the 1560s, one of three roughly contemporary translations of the notorious work.

Ode 5:3


The mention of Nicolas Denisot in a recent post sent me off looking for more information. I was fascinated to discover that Ronsard had been one of several Pleiade poets (others were du Bellay and Baif) who contributed poems to a book Denisot saw through the presses in 1551. It was of course early days for the Pleaide poets but it’s still an impressive list! And it secured Denisot’s reputation as a poet.

The book was the Tombeau de Marguerite de Valois Royne de Navarre; you can read it here. But this book was itself a translation (or rather a set of translations) by these French poets of the Hecatodistichon composed by Denisot’s erstwhile pupils in England. For he had spent two or three years there as their tutor before being recalled to France, and their poem in memory of Margaret of Navarre, who died late in 1549 shortly after Denisot’s return to France, no doubt reflected Denisot’s own style and preferences as much as their own. At any rate, Denisot enthusiastically saw the Hecatodistichon through the presses in 1550, and then prevailed on his humanist friends to pull together the Tombeau, whose subtitle is: “Composed first in Latin Distichs by three sisters and Princesses in England; then translated into Greek, Italian and French by several excellent poets of France.” Daurat provided the Greek translation; du Bellay, Denisot and Baif the French; and Jean Pierre de Mesme (who had previously translated Ariosto into French) provided the Italian.

The three princesses were the Seymour sisters – Anne, Margaret and Jane; it’s believed their father hoped to marry Jane to Edward VI, so the family certainly did move in the highest circles. Ronsard’s ode sets their work up as the dawn of culture in England, hitherto ‘barbarous’, and he indicates hopes for an Anglo-French literary rapprochement built on these foundations. Richelet adds notes on the ode (re-published in 1552 in Ronsard’s book 5) to the effect that the ode is “for three learned daughters of England, instructed and taught by Denisot, count of Alsinois”; “because at that time these three ladies had composed a book in Christian distichs, in Latin, terrifically well written, which were soon translated into Greek, Italian and French, and were dedicated to Mme Marguerite, only sister of king Henry II”.


Quand les filles d’Achelois,
Les trois belles chanteresses,
Qui des homme par leurs vois
Estoient les enchanteresses,
Virent jaunir la toison,
Et les soldars de Jason
Ramer la barque argienne
Sur la mer Sicilienne,
Elles, d’ordre, flanc à flanc,
Oisives au front des ondes,
D’un peigne d’yvoire blanc
Frisotoient leurs tresses blondes,
Et mignotant de leurs yeux
Les attraits delicieux,
Aguignoient la nef passante
D’une œillade languissante.
Puis souspirerent un chant
De leurs gorges nompareilles,
Par douce force alléchant
Les plus gaillardes aureilles ;
Afin que le son pipeur
Fraudast le premier labeur
Des chevaliers de la Grece
Amorcés de leur caresse.
Ja ces demi-dieux estoient
Prests de tomber en servage,
Et jà domptés se jettoient
Dans la prison du rivage,
Sans Orphée, qui, soudain
Prenant son luth en la main,
Opposé vers elles, joue
Loin des autres sur la proue,
Afin que le contre-son
De sa repoussante lyre
Perdist au vent la chanson
Premier qu’entrer au navire,
Et qu’il tirast des dangers
Ces demi-dieux passagers
Qui devoient par la Libye
Porter leur mere affoiblie.
Mais si ce harpeur fameux
Oyoit le luth des Serenes
Qui sonne aux bords escumeux
Des Albionnes arenes,
Son luth payen il fendroit
Et disciple se rendroit
Dessous leur chanson chrestienne
Dont la voix passe la sienne.
Car luy, enflé de vains mots,
Devisoit à l’aventure
Ou des membres du Chaos
Ou du sein de la Nature ;
Mais ces vierges chantent mieux
Le vray manouvrier des cieux,
Et sa demeure eternelle,
Et ceux qui vivent en elle.
Las ! ce qu’on void de mondain
Jamais ferme ne se fonde,
Ains fuit et refuit soudain
Comme le branle d’une onde
Qui ne cesse de rouler,
De s’avancer et couler,
Tant que rampant il arrive
D’un grand heurt contre la rive.
La science, auparavant
Si long temps orientale,
Peu à peu marchant avant,
S’apparoist occidentale,
Et sans jamais se borner
N’a point cessé de tourner,
Tant qu’elle soit parvenue
A l’autre rive incogneue.
Là de son grave sourcy
Vint affoler le courage
De ces trois vierges icy,
Les trois seules de nostre âge,
Et si bien les sceut tenter,
Qu’ores on les oit chanter
Maint vers jumeau qui surmonte
Les nostres, rouges de honte.
Par vous, vierges de renom,
Vrais peintres de la mémoire,
Des autres vierges le nom
Sera clair en vostre gloire.
Et puis que le ciel benin
Au doux sexe feminin
Fait naistre chose si rare
D’un lieu jadis tant barbare,
Denisot se vante heuré
D’avoir oublié sa terre,
Et passager demeuré
Trois ans en vostre Angleterre,
Et d’avoir cogneu vos yeux,
Où les amours gracieux
Doucement leurs fleches dardent
Contre ceux qui vous regardent.
Voire et d’avoir quelquefois
Tant levé sa petitesse,
Que sous l’outil de sa vois
Il polit vostre jeunesse,
Vous ouvrant les beaux secrets
Des vieux Latins et les Grecs,
Dont l’honneur se renouvelle
Par vostre muse nouvelle.
Io, puis que les esprits
D’Angleterre et de la France,
Bandez d’un ligue, ont pris
Le fer contre l’ignorance,
Et que nos roys se sont faits
D’ennemis amis parfaits,
Tuans la guerre cruelle
Par une paix mutuelle,
Advienne qu’une de vous,
Nouant la mer passagere,
Se joigne à quelqu’un de nous
Par une nopce estrangere ;
Lors vos escrits avancez
Se verront recompensez
D’une chanson mieux sonnée,
Qui cri’ra vostre hymenée.
When the daughters of Achelous,
The three fair singers
Who were with their voices
Enchantresses of men,
Saw the fleece growing golden,
And Jason’s soldiers
Rowing the ship, the Argo,
On the Sicilian sea,
Lined up side by side
Lazily at the front of the waves,
With combs of white ivory
They were curling their blonde tresses
And, hinting with their eyes
At their delicious attractions,
Making signs to the passing ship
With a languishing look.
Then they sigh a song
From their peerless throats,
With its sweet force alluring
The strongest ears;
So that the snaring sound
Draws the Greek knights
From their primary task,
Attracted by their caresses.
Now would those half-gods have been
Ready to fall into slavery,
Now overcome would they have thrown themselves
Into the river’s prison,
Unless Orpheus, suddenly
Taking up his lute in his hand,
Opposing the ladies had played
Far from the others on the [ship’s] prow,
So that the counter-tune
Of his lyre, repelling it,
Lost in the wind the song
Which first came aboard the ship,
And drew away from danger
Those half-god travellers
Who needed to take
Through Libya their enfeebled mother.
But if that famous harper
Heard the lute of the Sirens
Which plays on the foamy edges
Of Albion’s sands,
His pagan lute he would break
And would become a disciple
Of their Christian song
Whose tones surpass his own.
For he, full of empty words,
Invented at random
Out of the limbs of Chaos
Or the heart of Nature;
But these maids sing better
Of the true maker of the heavens
And his eternal home
And those who live in it.
Alas, what you see in the world
Never rests firm on its foundations,
But ebbs and flows suddenly
Like the motion of the waves
Which never stop rolling,
Advancing and falling back,
As long as they come crashing
With a great shock against the shore.
Knowledge, hitherto
For so long a thing of the East,
Little by little moving forward
Now appeared in the West,
And without ever limiting itself
Never stopped changing,
So that it arrived
At the other shore unknown.
There with its haughty gravity
It arrived to bewilder the courage
Of these three maids here,
The only three of our age,
And so well did it tempt them
That soon you could hear them singing
Many a paired verse which outdid
Our own, which blush with shame.
Through you, maidens of renown,
True painters of memory,
The fame of other maidens
Will be bright in your glory.
And since benign heaven
Made to be born so rare a thing
In the sweet feminine sex,
And in a place hitherto so barbarous,
Denisot boasts himself happy
To have forgotten his own land
And remained a traveller
For three years in your England,
And to have known your eyes
From which gracious cupids
Softly dart their arrows
Against those who look on you.
Indeed sometimes [he boasts] of having
So raised up his own littleness
That with the tool of his own talent
He polished up your youthfulness,
Opening to you the fair secrets
Of the ancient Latins and Greeks,
Whose honour is renewed
In your new muse.
Ah, since the spirits
Of England and of France,
Bound in a league, have taken up
Arms against ignorance,
And since our kings have become,
Instead of enemies, perfect friends
Killing cruel war
Through a mutual peace,
May it come about that one of you,
Swimming the passage of the sea,
Might join herself with some one of us
In a foreign marriage;
Then your precocious writings
Will see themselves rewarded
With a song better played,
Which will announce your wedding.

(Let me admit that the second line of that last stanza is a bit of a paraphrase! “Nouer” was an antique word even in Ronsard’s day, equivalent to “nager” (‘to swim’).)

The poem falls into three equal sections: the classical introduction, the generalities about the awakening of culture in England; and then the specific praise of the three ladies. In the classical opening, Achelous was the chief river-deity of classical myth and father of the Sirens.  The legend of Jason and the Argonauts, in search of the Golden Fleece, is well-known, though it’s usually the meeting of Odysseus and the Sirens we read; less well-known is that Orpheus was one of the Argonauts.




Sonnet 54

Bienheureux fut le jour où mon ame sujette
Rendit obeissance à ta douce rigueur,
Quand d’un traict de ton œil tu me perças le cœur,
Qui ne veut endurer qu’un autre luy en jette.
La Raison pour neant au chef fit sa retraite,
Et se mit au dongeon, comme au lieu le plus seur :
D’esperance assaillie et prise de douceur,
Trahit ma liberté, tant elle est indiscrette.
Le Ciel le veult ainsi, qui pour mieux offenser
Mon cœur, le baille en garde à la foy du Penser :
Qui trompe ma raison desloyal sentinelle,
Vendant de nuict mon camp aux soudars des Amours.
J’auray tousjours en l’ame une guerre eternelle :
Mes pensers et mon cœur me trahissent tousjours.
                                                                              Happy was the day on which my soul, your subject,
                                                                              Made obeisance to your sweet harshness,
                                                                              When you pierced with a dart from your eye that heart of mine
                                                                              Which cannot endure another glance at it.
                                                                              Reason made her retreat to a vacant place, my head,
                                                                              And put herself in the dungeon, as being the securest of places;
                                                                              Attacked by hope and conquered by sweetness
                                                                              She betrayed my freedom, so indiscreet is she.
                                                                              Heaven too wished this, which (to better attack
                                                                              My heart) had set to guard it the trustworthiness of Thought;
                                                                              But that disloyal sentinel deceived my reason,
                                                                              Selling my camp at night to the troops of Love.
                                                                              I shall always have eternal war in my soul;
                                                                              My thoughts and my heart are always betraying me.
Richelet explains line 5:  ‘he follows the opinion of several including Aristotle who place the seat of reason in the heart, which – attacked by the eyes of Helen – forced and required reason to fall back and retreat to the head; from this cause lovers are considered without reason because Love chases reason from the heart when he wounds it’.
I could use an explanation for line 4 myself! The grammar is “[Mon coeur] Qui ne veut endurer qu’un autre [traict] luy en(?) jette” ‘My heart cannot endure that another dart shoot it with [it? them?]’, though perhahaps I am meant to read “…un autre [oeil] luy en [=de traicts d’oeil] jette” ‘My heart cannot endure that another eye shoot it with darts from the eye’?   Thoughts welcome!  I have translated vaguely ‘another’ which (like the French) might refer back to eyes or darts…
Blanchemain offers 3 variant lines in his chosen text, and then a  further 4 in a footnote! In both cases the opening quatrain is untouched, so here are the remaining ‘stanzas’ first in his preferred text:
La Raison pour neant au chef fit sa retraite,
Et se mit au dongeon, comme au lieu le plus seur :
D’esperance assaillie et prise de douceur,
Rendit ma liberté, qu’en vain je re-souhaite.
Le Ciel le veult ainsi, qui pour mieux offenser
Mon cœur, le baille en garde à la foy du Penser :
lequel trahit mon camp, desloyal sentinelle,
Ouvrant l’huis du rempart aux soudars des Amours.
J’auray tousjours en l’ame une guerre eternelle :
Mes pensers et mon cœur me trahissent tousjours.
                                                                              Reason made her retreat to a vacant place, my head,
                                                                              And put herself in the dungeon, as being the securest of places;
                                                                              Attacked by hope and conquered by sweetness
                                                                              She gave up my freedom, whichc I vainly demand back.
                                                                              Heaven too wished this, which (to better attack
                                                                              My heart) had set to guard it the trustworthiness of Thought;
                                                                              Which betrayed my camp, a disloyal sentinel,
                                                                              Opening the gates of the fort to the troops of Love.
                                                                              I shall always have eternal war in my soul;
                                                                              My thoughts and my heart are always betraying me.
And here is the footnoted variant:
La Raison pour neant au chef fit sa retraite,
Et se mit au dongeon, comme au lieu le plus seur :
D’esperance assaillie et prise de douceur,
Trahit ma liberté, tant elle est indiscrette.
Mon destin le permet, qui pour mieux m’offenser
Baille mon cœur en garde à la foy du Penser :
Qui trompe son seigneur, desloyal sentinelle,

Vendant de nuict mon camp
et mon cœur aux Amours
J’auray tousjours en l’ame une guerre eternelle :
Mes pensers et mon cœur me trahissent tousjours.
                                                                              Reason made her retreat to a vacant place, my head,
                                                                              And put herself in the dungeon, as being the securest of places;
                                                                              Attacked by hope and conquered by sweetness
                                                                              She betrayed my freedom, so indiscreet is she.
                                                                              My fate permtted this, which (to better attack me)
                                                                              Set my heart under guard of the trustworthiness of Thought;
                                                                              But that disloyal sentinel deceived its lord,
                                                                              Selling my camp and heart at night to Love.
                                                                              I shall always have eternal war in my soul;
                                                                              My thoughts and my heart are always betraying me.



Sonnet 52

Dessus l’autel d’Amour planté sur vostre table
Me fistes un serment, je vous le fis aussi,
Que d’un cœur mutuel à s’aimer endurcy
Nostre amitié promise iroit inviolable.

Je vous juray ma foy, vous feistes le semblable,
Mais vostre cruauté, qui des Dieux n’a soucy,
Me promettoit de bouche, et me trompoit ainsi :
Ce-pendant vostre esprit demeuroit immuable.

O jurement fardé sous l’espece d’un Bien !
O perjurable autel ! ta Deité n’est rien.
O parole d’amour non jamais asseuree !

J’ay pratiqué par vous le proverbe des vieux :
Jamais des amoureux la parole juree
N’entra (pour les punir) aux oreilles des Dieux.


                                                                              Upon the altar of Love, stood on your table,
                                                                              You made me a vow and I made you one too,
                                                                              That with mutual hearts, strengthened to love one another,
                                                                              Our promised love would be inviolable.
                                                                              I swore you my oath, you swore the same,
                                                                              But your cruelty which cares not for the gods
                                                                              Made me the promise with your mouth only, and so deceived me;
                                                                              Your spirit yet remains unchangeable.
                                                                              O prison-sentence disguised beneath the appearance of Good!
                                                                              O betraying altar! your divinity is nothing.
                                                                              O word of love, never certain!
                                                                              I have experienced through you the proverb of the ancients:
                                                                              Never shall the sworn word of lovers
                                                                              Reach (as their punishment) the ears of the gods.
The earlier Blanchemain version has a minor variant of line 2: “Vous me fistes serment, et je le fis aussi” (‘You made me a vow, and I made it too’). 
Richelet offers an explanatory footnote:  ‘Helene and [Ronsard] had made an oath to love one another with inviolable love. [Claude] Binet told me that this oath was sworn on a table carpeted in laurels, symbol of eternity, to mark the mutual linkage of their love proceeding from Virtue, which is immortal.‘ 
This of course contradicts my view that Ronsard’s love for Helene was essentially platonic and poetic!  I might hide behind a defence that Binet is merely reporting what Ronsard imagined as a background for his poem.  But I suspect you will find that that is stretching my disbelief a little too far…… 🙂