Tag Archives: Plato

Helen – book 2 – sonnet 1

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Let’s now turn to the last of the three main sonnet-sequences, and work towards completing the Helen series…

Soit qu’un sage amoureux ou soit qu’un sot me lise,
Il ne doit s’esbahir voyant mon chef grison,
Si je chante d’amour : tousjours un vieil tison
Cache un germe de feu sous une cendre grise.
 
Le bois verd à grand’ peine en le souflant s’attise,
Le sec sans le soufler brusle en toute saison.
La Lune se gaigna d’une blanche toison,
Et son vieillard Tithon l’Aurore ne mesprise.
 
Lecteur, je ne veux estre escolier de Platon,
Qui la vertu nous presche, et ne fait pas de mesme :
Ny volontaire Icare, ou lourdaut Phaëthon,
 
Perdus pour attenter une sotise extreme :
Mais sans me contrefaire ou Voleur ou Charton,
De mon gré je me noye et me brusle moy-mesme.
 
 
 
                                                                            Whether a wise lover or whether a fool reads me,
                                                                            He ought not to be astonished, seeing my grey hairs,
                                                                            That I’m singing of love; ancient embers always
                                                                            Hide the germ of a fire beneath the grey ash.
 
                                                                            Green wood is kindled with great difficulty, by blowing on it,
                                                                            But dry wood burns at any time without blowing;
                                                                            The moon has got herself a white fleece,
                                                                            And Dawn does not despise her old Tithonus.
 
                                                                            Reader, I do not wish to be a scholar of Plato
                                                                            Who preaches us virtue but does not do as he says;
                                                                            Nor willingly [to be] Icarus, or clumsy Phaethon,
 
                                                                            Destroyed by attempting their extreme folly;
                                                                            But without pretending to be that thief or carter,
                                                                            I’d willingly give myself to drowning or burning.
 
 
 
Beginning the second book of helen poems, Ronsard cannot avoid admitting his age and potentially foolish behaviour! But, in an image I don’t recall him using earlier, he compares how well ‘old’ and ‘young’ wood burns …
 
The classical references are fairly simple ones:  Aurora and her aged lover Tithonus; Icarus who flew too near the sun, Phaethon who lost control of Apollo’s sun-chariot and was killed. Note however that Ronsard re-characterises both myths (line 13):  Icarus did not steal the wings he used, but foolishly mis-used what he’d been given; and there’s no particular sense that Phaethon was unable to drive skilfully (like a ‘carter’), only that the sun-god’s horses were too much for him.
 
Blanchemain has one variant in his text (line 4, “Cache un germe de feu dessous la cendre grise”) not affecting the meaning, and offers a variant of line 10 in a footnote: “Qui, pour trop contempler, a tousjours le teint blesme” (‘Who from too much studying always has a pallid look’). Frankly, that version of line 10 is much more apposite – fitting the context of the outward appearances which the rest of the poem discusses – than the later variant which is only loosely picked up by the denigratory ‘thief and carter’ of line 13; presumably it was the explosion of sharp ‘t’ sounds that Ronsard sought to avoid.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Helen 2:6

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Anagramme
 
Tu es seule mon cœur, mon sang et ma Deesse,
Ton œil est le filé et le RÉ bien-heureux,
Qui prend quand il luy plaist les hommes genereux,
Et se prendre des sots jamais il ne se laisse. 
 
Aussi honneur vertu prevoyance et sagesse,
Logent en ton esprit, lequel rend amoureux
Tous ceux qui de nature ont un cœur desireux
D’honorer les beautez d’une docte Maistresse. 
 
Les noms ont efficace et puissance et vertu;
Je le voy par le tien lequel m’a combatu
Et l’esprit et le corps par armes non legeres. 
 
Son destin m’a causé mon amoureux souci.
Voila comme de nom d’effect tu es aussi
LE RÉ DES GENEREUX, Elene de Surgeres.

 

 
                                                                            Anagram
 
                                                                            You alone are my heart, my blood, my goddess;
                                                                            Your eye is the happy line and net
                                                                            Which catches noble men whenever it wants
                                                                            And never allows itself to be caught by fools.
 
                                                                            Honour too, and virtue, foresight and wisdom
                                                                            Live within your soul, which makes all those
                                                                            Fall in love who naturally have a heart eager
                                                                            To honour the beauties of a learned mistress.
 
                                                                            Names have effect and power and magic;
                                                                            I see this through yours, which has overcome
                                                                            Me, body and soul, with its substantial weapons.
 
                                                                            It was the fate which caused my wound of love.
                                                                            So too by effectual name you are
                                                                            THE NET OF NOBLE SOULS, Elene de Surgeres.
 
 
A neat anagram.  Both Marty-Laveaux and Blanchemain print LE RÉ DES GENEREUX, but actually it needs to be LE RÉ DES GENEREUS (a common plural form in Ronsard anyway) for the anagram to work!
 
Elsewhere Blanchemain’s version diverges from Marty-Laveaux’s, with changes at the start of each ‘stanza’ but the first:
 
 
Tu es seule mon cœur, mon sang et ma deesse,
Ton œil est le filé et le ré bien-heureux
Qui prend, quand il lui plaist, les hommes genereux,
Et se prendre des sots jamais il ne se laisse. 
 
L’honneur, la chasteté, la vertu, la sagesse,
Logent en ton esprit, lequel rend amoureux
Tous ceux qui de nature ont un cœur desireux
D’honorer les beautez d’une docte maistresse. 
 
Les noms (a dit Platon) ont très grande vertu ;
Je le voy par le tien, lequel m’a combatu,
Et l’esprit et le corps par armes non legeres. 
 
Sa deïté causa mon amoureux soucy.
Voila comme de nom, d’effect tu es aussi
LE RÉ DES GENEREUX, Elene de Surgeres.
 
 
 
                                                                           You alone are my heart, my blood, my goddess;
                                                                           Your eye is the happy line and net
                                                                           Which catches noble men whenever it wants
                                                                           And never allows itself to be caught by fools.
 
                                                                           Honour, chastity, virtue, wisdom
                                                                           Live within your soul, which makes all those
                                                                           Fall in love who naturally have a heart eager
                                                                           To honour the beauties of a learned mistress.
 
                                                                           Names (said Plato) have very great magic;
                                                                           I see this through yours, which has overcome
                                                                           Me, body and soul, with its substantial weapons.
 
                                                                           It was the deity which caused my wound of love.
                                                                           So too by effectual name you are
                                                                           THE NET OF NOBLE SOULS, Elene de Surgeres.
 
 
 
Blanchemain also offers a second variant of line 12 (the opening of the final tercet): “Sa force à moy fatale a causé mon soucy” (‘Its power, fatal to me, caused my wound’).
 
 
 
 
 

Sonnet 81

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Pardonne moy, Platon, si je ne cuide
Que sous le rond de la voute des Dieux,
Soit hors du monde, ou au profond des lieux
Que Styx entourne, il n’y ait quelque vuide.
 
Si l’air est plein en sa voute liquide,
Qui reçoit donc tant de pleurs de mes yeux,
Tant de soupirs que je sanglote aux cieux,
Lors qu’à mon dueil Amour lasche la bride ?
 
Il est du vague, ou si point il n’en est,
D’un air pressé le comblement ne naist :
Plus-tost le ciel, qui piteux se dispose
 
A recevoir l’effet de mes douleurs,
De toutes parts se comble de mes pleurs,
Et de mes vers qu’en mourant je compose.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Pardon me, Plato, if i do not believe
                                                                            That beneath the circle of the Heavens’ vault,
                                                                            Whether beyond the world or in the depths of the parts
                                                                            Which Styx surrounds, there is no void [vacuum].
 
                                                                            If the air is full in its watery vault,
                                                                            Where is there room for so many tears from my eyes,
                                                                            So many sighs which I sob to the heavens,
                                                                            Since Love gave rein to my grief ?
 
                                                                            Is it from emptiness, or if not from there,
                                                                            From air under pressure, that its full-ness is born?
                                                                            No: rather heaven, which is pitiful and willing
 
                                                                            To receive the effect of my depair,
                                                                            Is filled in all parts with my tears,
                                                                            And with my verse which, dying, I compose.

 

 

Some philosophy-cum-science from Ronsard:  Plato did not believe in the existence of a vacuum (or perhaps rather any ‘void’/emptiness) in the world, Ronsard answers that there must be or he’ll over-fill everything with his tears. (I’ve copied his double-negative in the opening quatrain:  I must say working through the grammar here was rather testing!) Plato held that the universe was continually ‘becoming’ – self-generating – so that any temporary gaps between matter would be filled by this process; at the beginning of the sestet Ronsard is referring to these arguments about the nature of its ‘becoming’. As always, he turns the intellectual discussion to an extravagant love metaphor, in a charming fashion.
 
Fortunately the earlier Blanchemain version is substantially similar, with only minor variants in the language. In line 4, the Styx “emmure” (‘walls in’ rather than ‘surrounds’) the underworld; in line 5 the air is filled “en sa courbure humide” (‘in its wet curvature’ instead of ‘in its watery vault’); and in line 9 “Il est du vague, ou certes, s’il n’en est” (‘It is from emptiness, or certainly if not’, rather than ‘if not from there’).
 
The next sonnet, no.82, can be found here.
 
 [ PS.  I am amused to see the opening phrase re-used, with a twist, half way through this sonnet in the Marie set! I’m sure that’s entirely deliberate.]
 
 

Sonnet 74

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Les Elemens et les Astres, à preuve
Ont façonné les rais de mon Soleil,
Vostre œil, Madame, en beauté nompareil,
Qui çà ne là son parangon ne treuve.
 
Dés l’onde Ibere où le Soleil s’abreuve,
Jusqu’à l’autre onde où il perd le sommeil,
Amour ne voit un miracle pareil,
Sur qui le Ciel tant de ses graces pleuve.
 
Cet œil premier m’apprit que c’est d’aimer :
Il vint premier tout le cœur m’entamer,
Servant de but à ses fleches dardées.
 
L’esprit par luy desira la vertu
Pour s’en-voler par un trac non batu
Jusqu’au giron des plus belles Idées.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            The Elements and Stars fashioned
                                                                            Their masterpiece, the rays of my Sun,
                                                                            Your eyes, my Lady – unequalled in beauty,
                                                                            Which nowhere find a comparator.
 
                                                                            From the Iberian sea where the sun drinks deeply,
                                                                            To the other sea where he wakes from sleep,
                                                                            Love sees no like miracle
                                                                            On which Heaven has rained so many of its graces.
 
                                                                            Those eyes first taught me what it is to love;
                                                                            They first came to break into all my heart,
                                                                            Which provided the target for their barbed arrows.
 
                                                                            Through those eyes, my spirit sought virtue
                                                                            So that it might fly on some unbeaten track
                                                                            To the bosom of the finest Ideals.

 

 

I have changed the image in line 1 – my image comes from apprenticeships in the arts, Ronsard’s comes from the craft of the armourer: the “preuve” is a test, a competition, but especially a competition of the noble, jousting kind. So in Ronsard’s image the ‘weapon’ of Cassandre’s eyes was made to be tested in combat against others. In the final line, as well, I have used ‘Ideals’ but in fact Ronsard refers to Platonic Forms or ‘Ideas’.  For a reader today, chivalry and Platonic philosophy are perhaps less current than they would be to Ronsard’s learned renaissance audience and I’ve switched to images that may carry more immediate impact today.
 
However, note that Blanchemain quotes Muret’s commentary on line 1, where he ‘translates’ “à preuve” as “à qui mieux” (‘who better?’) – ‘The stars – who better – created Cassandre’s radiant eyes’. Muret also suggests that the final line really means ‘to the bosom of God’ [ he uses the words “la divinité” as a humanist! ].
 
Blanchemain’s earlier version has a number of variants throughout, so here is his version complete:
 
 
Les Elemens et les Astres, à preuve
Ont façonné les rais de mon Soleil,
Je dis son œil, en beauté nompareil,
Qui çà ne là son parangon ne treuve.
 
Dés l’onde Ibere où le Soleil s’abreuve,
Jusques au lit de son premier réveil,
Amour ne void un miracle pareil,
Sur qui le Ciel tant de ses graces pleuve.
 
Cet œil premier m’apprit que c’est d’aimer :
Il vint premier ma jeunesse animer
A la vertu, par ses flammes dardées.
 
Par lui mon cœur premièrement s’aila,
Et loin du peuple à l’écart s’envola
Jusqu’au giron des plus belles Idées.
 
 
 
 
 
                                                                           The Elements and Stars made
                                                                           Their masterpiece, the rays of my Sun –
                                                                           I mean her eyes – unequalled in beauty,
                                                                           Which nowhere find a comparator.
 
                                                                           From the Iberian sea where the sun drinks deeply,
                                                                           To the bed of his first waking,
                                                                           Love sees no like miracle
                                                                           On which Heaven has rained so many of its graces.
 
                                                                           Those eyes first taught me what it is to love;
                                                                           They first came to excite my youth
                                                                           To virtue, with their barbed flames.
 
                                                                           Through those eyes, my heart first took wing,
                                                                           And flew aside, far from the people,
                                                                           To the bosom of the finest Ideals.

 

 
 
 

Sonnet 53

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J’errois à la volee, et sans respect des lois
Ma chair dure à donter me commandoit à force,
Quand tes sages propos despouillerent l’escorce
De tant d’opinions que frivoles j’avois.
 
En t’oyant discourir d’une si saincte vois,
Qui donne aux voluptez une mortelle entorce,
Ta parole me fist par une douce amorce
Contempler le vray bien duquel je m’esgarois.
 
Tes mœurs et ta vertu, ta prudence et ta vie
Tesmoignent que l’esprit tient de la Deité :
Tes raisons de Platon, et ta Philosophie,
 
Que le vieil Promethee est une vérité,
Et qu’apres que du ciel eut la flame ravie
Il maria la Terre à la Divinité.
 
 
 
                                                                              I was wandering at random, and respecting no laws
                                                                              My flesh, hard to tame, was compelling me by force,
                                                                              When your wise words peeled away the rind
                                                                              From those many frivolous thoughts I had.
 
                                                                              Hearing you air these ideas in so saintly a voice
                                                                              Which gives to pleasure a fatal twist,
                                                                              Your words like sweet bait made me
                                                                              Reflect on that true good whose way I had lost.
 
                                                                              Your manners, your virtue, your prudence, your life
                                                                              All witness that the spirit holds something of the divine;
                                                                              Your reasoning from Plato, and your Philosophy,
 
                                                                              [Witness] that old Prometheus is a fact,
                                                                              And that after he had torn fire from heaven
                                                                              He married Earth to the Divine.
  
 
 
Frankly I find, in the metaphysics of the first half, that the sound is at least as important as the meaning!  Specifically, I’m not sure how to visualise ‘peeling the rind from my varied thoughts’, or how discussing wise ideas in a saintly voice gives the pleasure of hearing them ‘a fatal twist’. But there is no denying that there is resonance and weight in those lines.
 
In the second half, Ronsard no doubts expects us to associate Plato with ‘platonic love’ (i.e. unconsummated), as well as to understand the more direct reference to Platonic ‘Forms’ – that is, the idealised (heavenly) versions of imperfect earthly things. Ronsard of course wants to imply that Helene’s perfections are un-Platonic in the sense that they are as perfect as the heavenly versions: that is what his last couplet is about.  Prometheus was of course punished eternally by the gods for stealing fire and giving it to mankind – a symbol of mankind’s inventiveness and advancement, bringin man near to being godlike; in the myth, neither the gods nor the ancients provide any real sense of a ‘marriage of heaven and earth’, rather more a continued struggle between them, but that is not Ronsard’s point here!
 
Blanchemain offers us two variants of the last couplet, as Ronsard worked on its weight and sonority over the years. The earliest version is the one he prints in his text:
 
Et qu’en ayant la flame à Jupiter ravie,
Il maria la Terre à la Divinité.
 
                                                                              And that having torn fire from Jupiter
                                                                              He married Earth to the Divine.
 
 
In a footnote he provides a later version which approaches, but is not yet, the final form printed by Marty-Laveaux:
 
Et qu’apres que du ciel la flame il eut ravie
Il maria la Terre à la Divinité.
 
                                                                              And that after he had torn fire from heaven
                                                                              He married Earth to the Divine.
 
 
Losing the weak participle ‘ayant’ from the line was obviously a good thing; and it is interesting to see the subtle search for weight and resonance in the penultimate line in the two versions of the same words – finally achieving greater weight by eliminating the elisions (‘ciel_la’ and ‘flame_il’).  Here, clearly I think, the latest version is the winner!
 
 
 
 
 

Sonnet 21

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Qu’Amour mon coeur, qu’Amour mon ame sonde,
Luy qui cognoist ma seule intention,
Il trouvera que toute passion
Veufue d’espoir par mes veines abonde.
 
Mon Dieu que j’aime !  Est-il possible au monde,
De voir un coeur si plein d’affection,
Pour la beauté d’une perfection,
Qui m’est dans l’ame en playe si profonde ?
 
Le cheval noir qui ma Royne conduit,
Suivant le traq où ma chair l’a seduit,
A tant erré d’une vaine traverse,
 
Que j’ay grand’ peur (si le blanc ne contraint
Sa course folle, et ses pas ne refraint
Dessous le joug) que ma raison ne verse.
 
 
 
                                                                       Ah, that Love would sound my heart, my soul,
                                                                       He who understands my sole intent ;
                                                                       He will find that every passion
                                                                       Issuing from hope, bounds through my veins.
 
                                                                       God, how I love !  Is it possible in this world
                                                                       To see a heart so full of the affection
                                                                       For the beauty of her perfection
                                                                       Which I have so deeply scored into my soul?
 
                                                                       The black horse which draws my queen,
                                                                       Following the track on which my flesh has drawn her,
                                                                       Has wandered so far in his vain passage
 
                                                                       That I am very afraid (if the white horse does not restrain
                                                                       His mad rush, and subdue his steps
                                                                       Beneath the yoke) that my reason may be overturned.
 
 
Ronsard’s metaphor in the final sestet is explained thus by Blanchemain:  “By his queen he means his reason; by the black horse, a sensual and disordered appetite, leading the soul to fleshly pleasures;  by the white horse, a  truthful and moderate appetite, leading always to good governance. This allegory is drawn from Plato’s dialogue called ‘Phaedo, or Of Beauty’. ”  In Blanchemain’s edition he has “que ma royne ne verse” in the last line – the version above at least gives us a chance to make sense of Ronsard’s allegory without needing the explanatory footnote!
 
Just to add, ‘veufue’ is a term I’ve only ever seen in the context of publishing, and cannot be sure of the translation. Any alternatives gratefuly considered!