Tag Archives: Orpheus

Sonnet 160

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Or’ que Jupin espoint de sa semence,
Veut enfanter ses enfans bien-aimez,
Et que du chaud de ses reins allumez
L’humide sein de Junon ensemence :
 
Or’ que la mer, or’ que la vehemence
Des vents fait place aux grans vaisseaux armez,
Et que l’oiseau parmi les bois ramez,
Du Thracien les tançons recommence :
 
Or’ que les prez et ore que les fleurs
De mille et mille et de mille couleurs
Peignent le sein de la terre si gaye :
 
Seul et pensif aux rochers plus segrets
D’un cœur muet je conte mes regrets,
Et par les bois je vay celant ma playe.
 
 
 
 
 
                                                                           When Jupiter, aching with his seed,
                                                                           Wishes to give birth to his well-loved children,
                                                                           And with the warmth of his heated hips
                                                                           Sows it in Juno’s moist body;
 
                                                                           When the sea and the violence
                                                                           Of the winds makes space for great armed vessels,
                                                                           And the bird amongst the branchy woods
                                                                           Begins again her dispute with the Thracian;
 
                                                                           When the meadows and when the flowers
                                                                           With thousands and thousands and thousands of colours
                                                                           Paint the earth’s breast so gaily;
 
                                                                           [Then,] alone and thoughtful among the most hidden rocks
                                                                           With silent heart I tell of my regrets,
                                                                           And within the woods I hide my wound.

 

 

There are two ways to look at the Thracian in line 8. Perhaps he is Orpheus, whose singing traditionally competes with that of birds.  Or, as Muret learnedly tells us, perhaps ‘the bird is Philomela, changed into a nightingale, who complains of the assault of Tereus, king of Thrace, her brother in law (in Ovid Metamorphoses book 6)‘. Ronsard’s opening quatrain is based on a Vergilian original (of which more in a moment), but is surprisingly ‘graphic’ in its imagery – I can’t immediately think of another poem in which he virtually describes sexual intercourse as opposed to alluding to it! Perhaps it’s OK because it’s a classical allusion … !  It’s interesting too that he personalises the image much more than Vergil; Jupiter and Juno (a married couple of course – nothing untoward here!) rather than Vergil’s Heaven and Earth – an image which goes back all the way to the Egyptians and beyond.
 
To put it in context, here’s Vergil’s original (Georgics 2, lines 323-8):
 
Ver adeo frondi nemorum, ver utile silvis ;
Vere tument terrae et genitalia semina poscunt.
Tum pater omnipotens fecundis imbribus Aether
Coniugis in gremium laetae descendit, et omnes
Magnus alit magno commixtus corpore fetus.
Avia tum resonant avibus virgulta canoris, …
 
 
                                                                           Spring is so desired by the leaves of the groves, by the woods;
                                                                           Indeed the earth heaves and demands the life-bearing seed.
                                                                           Then the Heaven, the all-powerful father, with his rich rains
                                                                           Descends into the lap of his joyful bride, and the mighty god
                                                                           Joined with her mighty body nourishes all her offspring.
                                                                           Then the pathless woods resound to birdsong …
 
 
For all that Vergil is more impersonal, or less explicit, about the sexual dimension, it’s worth noticing his vocabulary:  the earth’s ‘heaving’ is not far from the the English ‘tumescent’, the ‘lap’ is regularly used as a polite synonym in sexual allusions, ‘commixtus’ (compare ‘commingling’ in English is a standard poetic word for sex, and ‘genitalia’ and ‘semina’ (from ‘semen’) pretty obviously carry similar associations!  So Ronsard in some ways hasn’t stepped far beyond his model… (And, in this context, I find it amusing that poetic allusion requires Jupiter to seed Juno’s ‘breast’ or ‘bosom’ (“sein”) which is q word still further removed than the ‘lap’ that Vergil uses!)
 
What’s interesting is how far we are supposed to reflect on this opening, after the middle sections of the poem slide the focus slightly onto more general springtime events, when we reach the conclusion. The solitude and silence directly reflect the middle of the poem, rather than the lusty opening; but there is clearly a subtext that solitude is more than just the absence of the beloved, it’s the absence of a sexual partner.
 
 There’s not much variation in Blanchemain’s version: the opening quatrain goes as follows:
 
 
Or’ que Jupin, espoint de sa semence,
Hume à longs traits les feux accoustumez,
Et que le chaud de ses reins allumez
L’humide sein de Junon ensemence;
 
 
                                                                            When Jupiter, aching with his seed,
                                                                            Breathes in long breaths of the well-known fires,
                                                                            And when the warmth of his heated hips
                                                                            Seeds Juno’s moist body;

 

 
 
 

Ode 5:3 – a footnote

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If you followed my link to the Tombeau de Marguerite de Valois Royne de Navarre, you’ll have noticed that the version of the ode published there was (surprise surprise) rather different! Here, for the completist in you (and me), is the originally-published 1551 version.

 

Aux trois sœurs, Anne, Marguerite et Jane de Seymour, Princesses Angloises, Ode par Pierre de Ronsard Vandomois.
 
Le Conte d’Alsinois [=Denisot] au lecteur :
Amy Lecteur, je t’ay bien voulu faire quelques petites annotations sur les Odes de Ronsard, te promettant continuer a l’avenir sur toutes ses œuvres, affin de te soulagier de peine : j’entens à toi qui n’as encor long temps verse à la lecon des Poëtes. 
 
[‘Dear Reader, I was keen to help you with several small notes on the Odes of Ronsard, promising to continue in future for all his works, to save you trouble; I mean, any of you who have not spent a long time drinking in the learning of our Poets.’  See footnotes below the text.]
 
Quand les filles d’Achelois,
La fable Secilienne,
Qui foullerent de leurs voix
La douceur Hymettienne
Virent jaunir la toison,
Et les Soudards de Jason
Ramer la Barque parlante
Pres de leur gyron volante :
 
Elles d’ordre flanc à flanc,
Oisives au front des ondes,
D’un peigne d’yvoire blanc
Friserent leurs tresses blondes,
Et mignotant de leurs yeux
Les attraiz delicieux,
D’une œillade languissante
Guetterent la Nef passante.
 
Puis souspirerent un chant
De leurs gorges nompareilles,
Par douce force allechant
Les plus gaillardes oreilles,
Affin que le son pippeur
Fraudast l’honneste labeur
Des Heroës de la Grece
Amorcéz de leur caresse.
 
Ja ces Demydieux estoient
Prestz de tumber en servage,
Et ja dontéz se jettoient
Dans la prison du rivage,
Sans Orphée, qui soudain
Prenant son luc en la main,
Opposé contre elles joüe
Loing des autres, sur la proüe :
 
Affin que le contreson
De sa repoussante lyre
Perdist au vent leur chanson
Premier qu’entrer au Navire,
Et qu’il tirast du danger
Ce jeune peuple estranger,
Qui devoit par la Libye
Porter sa mere affoiblie.
 
Mais si le Harpeur fameux
Ouyoit le luc des Serenes
Qui sonne aux bordz écumeux
Sur les Angloises arenes :
Son luc payen il fendroit,
Et disciple se rendroit
Dessous leur chanson Chrestienne
Dont la voix passe la sienne.
 
Car luy enflé de vains motz
Devisoit a-l’avanture,
Ou des membres du Chaos
Ou du sein de la nature ;
Mais ces Vierges chantent mieux
Le vray Manouvrier des cieux,
Nostre demeure eternelle,
Et ceulx qui vivent en elle.
 
Las, ce qu’on voit de mondain
Jamais ferme ne se fonde,
Ains fuit et refuit soudain
Comme le branle d’une onde
Qui ne cesse de rouller,
De s’avançer et couller,
Tant que rampant il arrive
D’un grand heurt contre sa rive :
 
La Science au paravant
Si long temps orientale,
Peu a peu marchant avant
S’apparoist occidentale :
Et sans jamais se borner
Ell’ n’a cessé de tourner,
Tant qu’elle soit parvenue
A l’autre rive incognue.
 
Là, de son grave souci
Vint affoller le courage
De ces troys Vierges icy,
Les trois seules de nostre aage :
Et si-bien les sçeut 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 Memoire,
Des aultres vierges le nom
Sera cler 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 oublyé sa terre
Quelquesfois, et demeuré
Trois ans en vostre Angleterre,
De pres voyant le Soleil
Quant il se panche au sommeil
Plonger au seing de vostre onde
La Lampe de tout le monde.
 
Voire et d’avoir quelquesfois
Tant levé sa petitesse,
Que soubz l’outil de sa voix
Il pollist vostre hautesse :
Vous ouvrant les beaux secretz
Des vieux Latins et les Grecz,
Dont l’honneur se renouvelle
Par vostre Muse nouvelle.
 
Doncques puis que les espritz
D’Angleterre et de la France,
Bandéz d’une ligue, ont pris
Le fer contre l’Ignorance :
Et que nos Roys se sont faictz
D’ennemys, amys parfaictz,
Tuans la guerre cruelle
Par une paix mutuelle.
 
Avienne qu’une de vous,
Noüant la mer passagere,
Se joigne à quelqu’un de nous
Par une nopce estrangere :
Lors voz escriptz avancéz
Se voiront recompenséz
D’une aultre Ode mieux sonnée,
Qui crîra vostre Hymenée.
When the daughters of Achelous,
In the Sicilian fable,
Who with their voices trampled underfoot
The sweetness of Hymettus,
Saw the fleece growing golden,
And Jason’s soldiers
Rowing the talking ship
Near their leaping bosom:
 
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,
With languishing looks
Closely watched the passing ship.
 
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 heroes
From their honourable 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 them 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 their song
Which first came aboard the ship,
And drew away from danger
That young tribe of travellers
Who needed to take
Through Libya their enfeebled mother.
 
But if the famous harper
Heard the lute of the Sirens
Which plays on the foamy edges
Of the English 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 our 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 its 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
Has 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
For some time and remained
For three years in your England,
Seeing from close by the Sun
As it dips towards its rest
Plunge into the bosom of your waters
the Light of the whole world.
 
Indeed sometimes [he boasts] of having
So raised up his own littleness
That with the tool of his own talent
He polished up your high style;
Opening to you the fair secrets
Of the ancient Latins and Greeks,
Whose honour is renewed
In your new muse.
 
So, 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 passable sea,
Might join herself with some one of us
In a foreign marriage;
Then your precocious writings
Will see themselves rewarded
With another Ode better played,
Which will announce your wedding.
 
1st stanza:
“les filles d’Achelois”, the Sirens sung by poets in the fables of Sicily
“La douceur Hymettienne”, honey
“la Barque parlante”, Jason’s ship which spoke & predicted the fortunes of the Argonauts in Apollonius
 
3rd stanza:
“Des Heroës de la Grece”, the brave Argonauts
 
5th stanza:
“Qui devoit par la Libye /Porter sa mere affoiblie”, the Argonauts, halted in the Libyan Syrte (desert) were warned in a dream by a certain Nymph, to take their mother, enfeebled by so many ills, through the deserts of Africa to Lake Triton. Their mother was their ship which first bore them in its belly from Thessaly to Colchos. Apollonius book 3.
 
7th stanza:
“Ou des membres du Chaos /Ou du sein de la nature”, Orpheus composed a book of the genealogy of the gods, as he himself bears witness in the first book of the Argonauts
 
12th stanza:
“Denisot se vante heuré …”, the Count of Alsinois, formerly tutor to these three Ladies
“Quant il se panche au sommeil”, this passage must be understood as they say ‘by common sense’ for in truth the sun does not fall (as it seems to fall) into England’s sea; but rather into Spain’s. (Statius: “Cadiz, the bed of the sun”)
 
15th stanza:
“Noüant la mer passagere”, ‘nouant’ (‘swimming’) because he calls them Sirens; ‘passagere’ for ‘passable’, the active for the passive.
 
 

Ode 5:3

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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 77

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Le sang fut bien maudit de la Gorgonne face,
Qui premier engendra les serpens venimeux !
Ha ! tu devois, Helene, en marchant dessus eux,
Non écrazer leurs reins mais en perdre la race.
 
Nous estions l’autre jour en une verte place
Cueillans m’amie et moy des bouquets odoreux :
Un pot de cresme estoit au milieu de nous deux,
Et du laict sur du jonc cailloté comme glace :
 
Quand un serpent tortu de venin tout couvert,
Par ne sçay quel malheur sortit d’un buisson vert
Contre le pied de celle à qui je fay service,
 
Tout le cœur me gela, voyant ce monstre infait :
Et lors je m’escriay, pensant qu’il nous eust fait
Moy, un second Orphée et elle une Eurydice.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            That blood was truly cursed which, from the Gorgon’s head,
                                                                            First formed venomous serpents!
                                                                            Ah, Helen, you should as you walked over them
                                                                            Not have crushed their guts but destroyed their race.
 
                                                                            We were the other day in a green spot,
                                                                            My love and I, picking sweet-smelling bouquets;
                                                                            There was a pot of cream between us two
                                                                            And milk on a reed mat, clotted like ice;
 
                                                                            When a twisting serpent all covered in venom
                                                                            By some ill-chance, leaving a green bush,
                                                                            Struck the foot of her to whom I make my service;
 
                                                                            My heart froze, seeing that wicked beast ;
                                                                            And then I cried out, thinking that he would have made of us
                                                                            Me a second Orpheus and her another Eurydice.

 

 

Take a moment to savour the only 12-syllable lines in the Amours de Cassandre (apparently!).
 
The snaky hair of the Gorgons (led by Medusa) is well known. Less well known is the very obscure story of Helen (of Troy) crushing an African snake, thus causing the species’ strange halting movement, on the way home to Sparta after the fall of Troy…  And, though Euridice died of a snake bite, Ronsard is also thinking of the great love of Orpheus for her.
 
Ronsard tinkered with this sonnet as much as any he didn’t re-write substantially, so here is the complete Blanchemain (early) version with changes marked. Blanchemain, probably rightly, feels the first line in this version is so obscure it needs a footnote to point us in the direction of Medusa.
 
 
Le sang fut bien maudit de la hideuse face,
Qui premier engendra les serpens venimeux !
Tu ne devois, Helene, en marchant dessus eux,
Leur écrazer leurs reins et en perdre la race.
 
Nous estions l’autre jour en une verte place
Cueillans m’amie et moy les fraisiers savoureux :
Un pot de cresme estoit au milieu de nous deux,
Et sur du jonc du laict cailloté comme glace :
 
Quand un vilain serpent de venin tout couvert,
Par ne sçay quel malheur sortit d’un buisson vert
Contre le pied de celle à qui je fay service,
 
Pour la blesser à mort de son venin infait ;
Et lors je m’escriay, pensant qu’il nous eust fait
Moy, un second Orphée et elle une Eurydice.
 
 
 
                                                                           That blood was truly cursed which, from the hideous head,
                                                                           First formed venomous serpents!
                                                                           Helen, you should as you walked over them
                                                                           Have crushed their guts and destroyed their race.
 
                                                                           We were the other day in a green spot,
                                                                           My love and I, picking tasty strawberries;
                                                                           There was a pot of cream between us two
                                                                           And milk on a reed mat, clotted like ice;
 
                                                                           When a wretched serpent all covered in venom
                                                                           By some ill-chance, leaving a green bush,
                                                                           Struck the foot of her to whom I make my service,
 
                                                                           To wound her to death with its wicked venom;
                                                                           And then I cried out, thinking that he would have made of us
                                                                           Me a second Orpheus and her another Eurydice.

 

  [Edit:  I have returned to line 8 after reading Louise Rogers Lalaurie’s discussion paper on translation. She points out that ‘laits caillotés’ were like little blancmanges, we might say ‘set’ rather than ‘clotted’. So it might be clearer to translate as something like ‘A pale blancmange mound, like an ice-cream, upon rushes’? ]
 
 
 

Sonnet 72

Standard
Amour, que n’ay-je en escrivant, la grace
Divine autant que j’ay la volonté ?
Par mes escrits tu serois surmonté,
Vieil enchanteur des vieux rochers de Thrace.
 
Plus haut encor que Pindare et qu’Horace,
J’appenderois à ta divinité
Un livre faict de telle gravité,
Que du Bellay luy quitteroit la place.
 
Si vive encor Laure par l’Univers
Ne fuit volant dessus les Thusques vers,
Que nostre siecle heureusement estime,
 
Comme ton nom, honneur des vers François,
Victorieux des peuples et des Roys,
S’en-voleroit sus l’aisle de ma ryme.
 
 
 

 

                                                                            Love, why have I not, as I write, divine
                                                                            Favour that matches my eagerness?
                                                                            You would be overcome by my writing,
                                                                            Ancient enchanter of the ancient rocks of Thrace!
 
                                                                            Higher still than Pindar and Horace,
                                                                            I would add to your divinity in
                                                                            A book written with such gravity
                                                                            That du Bellay would make way for it!
 
                                                                            Laura does not fly so fleetly through
                                                                            The world within those Tuscan verses
                                                                            Which our age happily esteems,
 
                                                                            As your name, the honour of French verse,
                                                                            Victorious over peoples and kings,
                                                                            Would fly on the the wings of my poetry.

 

 

Ronsard is in emulatory mode here: a poem written to make the point that he sees himself as the successor of the great love poets of the past, and as great as or greater than those of his own day. So he calls up the names of Horace, Rome’s greatest lyric poet; Pindar, the greatest of the Greeks (according to Quintilian at least – “of the nine lyric poets, Pindar is by far the greatest”); and by implication Petrarch, the greatest of the Italians (Laura being his muse, Tuscany being his home) and Orpheus himself, the greatest of all poets (the Thracian ‘enchanter’). With them, who else to be Ronsard’s challenger as the greatest poet of the day than Joachim du Bellay, his close friend, whose “L’Olive”, the first French set of love sonnets, was Ronsard’s immediate inspiration?
 
So beautifully crafted as a poem of emulation with the other great love poets: how strange then that its first version was instead addressed to his Lady! The poem itself is largely unchanged, and still makes the same competitive point; but the address distracts attention from that purpose – though it does place the poem in the context of the book of love poems to Cassandre, in a way that the later variant does not!
 
Blanchemain’s version begins:
 
Que n’ay-je, Dame, en escrivant, …
 
                                                                           Why have I not, my Lady, as I write, …
 
He also has one other minor change in line 7, where the book is “enflé de telle gravité” (‘puffed up with such gravity’). That version, at least to me, sits more happily in the context of ‘higher’ – int he later version raising divinity higher by attaching a great weight seems rather an odd image, here at least we might have an image of a lighter-than-air balloon carrying the weight 🙂

 

 
 
 
 

Sonnet 54

Standard
O doux parler dont les mots doucereux
Sont engravez au fond de ma memoire :
O front, d’Amour le Trofée et la gloire,
O doux souris, ô baisers savoureux :
 
O cheveux d’or, ô coutaux plantureux,
De lis, d’œillets, de porfyre, et d’yvoire :
O feux jumeaux d’où le Ciel me fit boire
A si longs traits le venin amoureux :
 
O dents, plustost blanches perles encloses,
Lévres, rubis, entre-rangez de roses,
O voix qui peux adoucir un Lion,
 
Dont le doux chant l’oreille me vient poindre :
O corps parfait, de tes beautez la moindre
Merite seule un siege d’Ilion.
 
 
 
 
                                                                           O sweet speech whose soft words
                                                                           Are engraved deep in my memory;
                                                                           O brow, the trophy and glory of Love;
                                                                           O sweet smile, and sweet-tasting kisses;
 
                                                                           O golden hair, o bounteous hills
                                                                           Of lilies and pinks, of porphyry and ivory;
                                                                           O twin fires from which Heaven made me drink
                                                                           Such long draughts of love’s poison;
 
                                                                           O teeth, or rather a row of white pearls.
                                                                           Rubies for lips, interspersed with roses,
                                                                           O voice which could tame a lion,
 
                                                                           Whose sweet song has just come to my ear;
                                                                           O perfect form, the least of your beauties
                                                                           Alone would justify the siege of Troy.
  
 
A sonnet provides enough space to describe the lady’s face, but not get much further! What intrigues me about this sonnet is how Ronsard changed the ending from the earlier version (Below). What began as a ‘standard’ run-through of features with a longing final couplet, becomes in the late version above twisted into a mythological context. Twisted rather than transformed: the reference to the beautiful Helen of Troy [Ilion/Ilium], ‘the face that launched a thousand ships’, looks as if it has been imposed on the poem rather than growing organically from it, I feel. Working backwards, Ronsard has then incorporated lion-taming to give the poem a gentle push in the direction of myth, and justify that ending: I can’t think of a myth where a lion is tamed by singing, other than the generic Orpheus tale, but maybe there isn’t anything more than a generic reference here.
 
So, time to look at Blanchemain’s more conventional early version.  There is a minor change in line 4, “sourcis” (‘eyebrows’) for “souris” (‘smile’), but the second half is radically different: here is the final sestet in Blanchemain’s version:
 
 
O vermeillons ! ô perlettes encloses,
O diamants ! ô lis pourprés de roses,
O chant qui peux les plus durs émouvoir,
 
Et dont l’accent dans les âmes demeure.
Eh ! dea ! beautés, reviendra jamais l’heure
Qu’entre mes bras je vous puisse ravoir ?
 
 
 
                                                                           O crimson [lips] , o row of little pearls,
                                                                           O diamonds, o lilies crimsoned with roses,
                                                                           O song which could move the hardest,
 
                                                                           Whose tones remain in the soul.
                                                                           Oh heavens, you beauties, will the time ever come
                                                                           That I may hold you again in my arms?
 
The use of “vermeillons” in line 9 as a substantive is unusual, even drawing attention from lexicographers.
 
In a footnote Blanchemain also gives us an intermediate(?) version of the final four lines, where Ronsard achieves (in my view) a rather better transition to a less extreme mythological end-point:  for me, perhaps, the most attractive version of the ending despite it being the ‘chosen’ text of neither of my editions!!
 
 
… O voix qui peux ainsi qu’un enchanteur,
 
Coup dessus coup toute mon ame esteindre !
Pour son pourtrait Nature te fit peindre :
L’outil la Grace, Amour en fut l’autheur.
 
 
 
                                                                          … O voice which could like an enchanter
 
                                                                          Overcome all my soul blow by blow!
                                                                          Nature had you painted as her portrait;
                                                                          Grace was the brush, Love the artist.
 
 
 
 

Élégie – part 1

Standard

Another long poem as the book draws to an end. Unlike the ‘Stanzas’ at the beginning of the book, this elegy gradually disintegrates from its initially-standard stanza-form into a series of shorter & longer segments. I guess the more erratic length is suposed to ‘unbalance’ the reader and convey distress. Personally, I find it slightly annoying, but that’s just my opinion!

Like the ‘Stances’, I have decided to ‘publish’ this 150-line poem in several parts.

Le jour que la beauté du monde la plus belle
Laissa dans le cercueil sa despouille mortelle
Pour s’en-voler parfaite entre les plus parfaits,
Ce jour Amour perdit ses flames et ses traits,
Esteignit son flambeau, rompit toutes ses armes,
Les jetta sur la tombe, et l’arrousa de larmes :
Nature la pleura, le Ciel en fut fasché
Et la Parque d’avoir un si beau fil trenché.
 
Depuis le jour couchant jusqu’à l’Aube vermeille
Phenix en sa beauté ne trouvoit sa pareille,
Tant de graces au front et d’attraits elle avoit :
Ou si je me trompois, Amour me decevoit.
Si tost que je la vey, sa beauté fust enclose
Si avant en mon cœur, que depuis nulle chose
Je n’ay veu qui m’ait pleu, et si fort elle y est,
Que toute autre beauté encores me desplaist.
 
 Dans mon sang elle fut si avant imprimee,
Que tousjours en tous lieux de sa figure aimee
Me suivoit le portrait, et telle impression
D’une perpetuelle imagination
M’avoit tant desrobé l’esprit et la cervelle,
Qu’autre bien je n’avois que de penser en elle,
En sa bouche en son ris en sa main en son œil,
Qu’encor je sens au cœur, bien qu’ils soient au cercueil.
 
J’avois au-paravant, veincu de la jeunesse,
Autres dames aimé (ma faute je confesse) :
Mais la playe n’avoit profondement saigné,
Et le cuir seulement n’estoit qu’esgratigné,
Quand Amour, qui les Dieux et les hommes menace,
Voyant que son brandon n’eschauffoit point ma glace,
Comme rusé guerrier ne me voulant faillir,
La print pour son escorte et me vint assaillir.
 
Encor, ce me dit-il, que de maint beau trofee
D’Horace, de Pindare, Hesiode et d’Orfee,
Et d’Homere qui eut une si forte vois,
Tu as orné la langue et l’honneur des François,
Voy ceste dame icy : ton cœur tant soit il brave,
Ira sous son empire, et fera son esclave.
Ainsi dit, et son arc m’enfonçant de roideur,
Ensemble dame et traict m’envoya dans le cœur.
 
 Lors ma pauvre raison des rayons esblouye
D’une telle beauté se perd esvanouye,
Laissant le gouvernail aux sens et au desir,
Qui depuis ont conduit la barque à leur plaisir.
 
Raison, pardonne-moy : un plus caut en finesse
S’y fust bien englué, tant une douce presse
De graces et d’amours la suivoient tout ainsi
Que les fleurs le Printemps, quand il retourne ici.
The day on which the most beautiful of the world’s beauty
Left in the coffin her mortal remains
To fly off, perfect among the most perfect,
On that day Love lost his flame and his arrows,
Put out his torch, broke all his weapons,
Threw them on the tomb and bedewed it with tears:
Nature wept for her, Heaven was angered
And Fate too, at having cut so fair a thread.
 
From sunset to rosy dawn
Phoenix could not find her equal in beauty,
Such grace and charms she had in her face;
Or, if I’m wrong, Love deceives me.
As soon as I saw her, her beauty was kept
So much at the front of my mind [heart] that since then nothing
Have I seen which pleased me, and there it is so strong
That all other beauty still  displeases me.
 
In my blood she was imprinted so far to the front
That always in all places the image of her
Beloved form follows me, and such an impression
Of this perpetual fancy
Has so robbed me of spirit and rational thought
That I have no other benefit than thinking of her,
Of her lips, her smile, her hand, her eye
Which I still feel in my heart though they are in the grave.
 
 I have in the past, conquered by youthful desire,
Loved other ladies – I confess my fault;
But the wound did not bleed so deeply
And my hide was just scratched,
When Love, who threatens gods and men,
Seeing that his torch was not warming my ice at all
And like a cunning warrior not wanting to lose me,
Took her for his escort and came to besiege me.
 
 Although, he said to me, with many a fair trophy
From Horace, Pindar, Hesiod and Orpheus
And Homer too who was so powerful a voice,
You have embellished the language and the glory of the French people,
See this lady here: your heart however brave it is
Will fall under her power, and become her slave.
So he said, and his bow crushing me with its violence
Sent both dart and lady together into my heart.
 
Then my weak reason, dazzled by the glare
Of such a beauty, fainted and was lost,
Leaving control to feeling and desire,
Which since then have steered my boat at their pleasure.
 
Reason, forgive me: one more cunning in subtlety
Would easily have been caught like this, so sweet a crowd
Of graces and loves followed her just like
The flowers follow Spring, when it returns here.
 
 
There is only one variant in Blanchemain’s text of this section – of the last line and a half.  Blanchemain has:
 
                                        …tant une douce presse
De graces et d’amours en volant la suivoient,
Et de ses doux regards ainsi que moy vivoient.
 
 
                                                                                                                 … so sweet a crowd
                                                                              Of graces and loves follow her in flight
                                                                              And live on her sweet glances, as I do.
 
 
 Perhaps a quick word on the various classical allusions.  In the first stanza, and again at the end of the poem (in the third section as blogged here) Fate (la Parque) is invked with the image of ‘cutting the thread’ of life; the three Fates span a thread for every man’s life & when the third sister Atropos cut that thread that ended the man’s life. Phoenix was a brother of Europa who, after she was carried off by Jupiter, set off to seek her; eventually settling in Phoenicia, he was believed to have fathered children by many mothers.
 
The list of poets includes the traditionally greatest poets of the classical world: Homer and Hesiod, the archetypes of Greek epic and pastoral poetry; Pindar, originator of the ode; Horace the greatest of the Latin lyrical poets. Orpheus of course was the legendary singer whose songs were powerful enough to raise the dead.