Tag Archives: Prometheus

Odes 4:5

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Guy, nos meilleurs ans coulent
Comme les eaux qui roulent
D’un cours sempiternel ;
La mort pour sa sequelle
Nous ameine avec elle
Un exil éternel.
 
Nulle humaine priere
Ne repousse en arriere
Le bateau de Charon,
Quand l’ame nue arrive
Vagabonde en la rive
De Styx et d’Acheron.
 
Toutes choses mondaines
Qui vestent nerfs et veines
La mort égale prend,
Soient pauvres ou soient princes ;
Car sur toutes provinces
Sa main large s’estend.
 
La puissance tant forte
Du grand Achille est morte,
Et Thersite, odieux
Aux Grecs, est mort encores ;
Et Minos qui est ores
Le conseiller des dieux.
 
Jupiter ne demande
Que des bœufs pour offrande ;
Mais son frere Pluton
Nous demande, nous hommes,
Qui la victime sommes
De son enfer glouton.
 
Celuy dont le Pau baigne
Le tombeau nous enseigne
N’esperer rien de haut,
Et celuy que Pegase
(Qui fit soucer Parnase)
Culbuta d’un grand saut.
 
Las ! on ne peut cognaistre
Le destin qui doit naistre,
Et l’homme en vain poursuit
Conjecturer la chose
Que Dieu sage tient close
Sous une obscure nuit.
 
Je pensois que la trope
Que guide Calliope,
Troupe mon seul confort,
Soustiendroit ma querelle,
Et qu’indonté par elle
Je donterois la mort.
 
Mais une fiévre grosse
Creuse déjà ma fosse
Pour me banir là bas,
Et sa flame cruelle
Se paist de ma mouelle,
Miserable repas.
 
Que peu s’en faut, ma vie,
Que tu ne m’es ravie
Close sous le tombeau,
Et que mort je ne voye
Où Mercure convoye
Le debile troupeau !
 
[Et ce Grec qui les peines
Dont les guerres sont pleines
Va là bas racontant,
Poëte qu’une presse
Des épaules espaisse
Admire en l’écoutant.]
 
A bon droit Prométhée
Pour sa fraude inventée
Endure un tourment tel,
Qu’un aigle sur la roche
Luy ronge d’un bec croche
Son poumon immortel.
 
Depuis qu’il eut robée
La flame prohibée,
Pour les dieux despiter,
Les bandes incogneues
Des fiévres sont venues
Parmi nous habiter.
 
Et la mort despiteuse,
Auparavant boiteuse,
Fut légère d’aller ;
D’ailes mal-ordonnées
Aux hommes non données
Dedale coupa l’air.
 
L’exécrable Pandore
Fut forgée, et encore
Astrée s’en-vola,
Et la boîte féconde
Peupla le pauvre monde
De tant de maux qu’il a.
 
Ah ! le meschant courage
Des hommes de nostre âge
N’endure pas ses faits ;
Que Jupiter estuye
Sa foudre, qui s’ennuye
Venger tant de mesfaits !
Guy, our best years rush by
Like streams flowing
In their everlasting race ;
Death, as the sequel,
Brings us with it
Eternal exile.
 
No human prayer
Can push back
Charon’s boat
When the naked soul arrives
A wanderer at the river
Styx and Acheron.
 
All wordly things
Equipped with nerves and veins
Death takes equally,
Be they poor men or princes ;
For over all the empires
Its wide hand extends.
 
The strength, though great,
Of mighty Achilles is dead ;
And Thersites, hated
By the Greeks, is dead too ;
And Minos too, who was once
Advisor to the gods.
 
Jupiter requires only
Cattle as an offering ;
But his brother Pluto
Requires us, us men,
Who are the victims
Of his greedy hell.
 
He, whose tomb the Pau [Po]
Bathes, teaches us
To hope for nothing from on high,
And he too, whom Pegasus
(Who disquieted Parnassus)
Knocked down with his great leap.
 
Alas ! we cannot know
The fate which must come to us,
And man in vain seeks
To conjecture what thing
Our wise God keeps hidden
Beneath dark night.
 
I thought that the troop
Whom Calliope leads,
The troop which is my sole comfort,
Would support my complaint
And that, untamed by them,
I would tame death.
 
But a great fever
Is already digging my grave
To banish me down there,
And its cruel flame
Is feeding on my marrow,
A wretched repast.
 
How little is needed, mt life,
For you to be taken from me,
Shut in beneath my tomb,
And for me to see death
Where Mercury brings
The feeble troop !
 
[And that Greek who
Continually recounts down there
The pains with which war is filled,
The poet whom a crowd
Of wide shoulders
Admires as they listen.]
 
Rightly does Prometheus
For that trick he contrived
Endure such torment,
As, on his rock, an eagle
With its crooked beak gnaws
His immortal guts.
 
Since he stole away
The forbidden fire
To spite the gods,
The unknown bonds
Of fevers have come
To live among us ;
 
And resentful death,
Before that limping slowly,
Has become light on his feet.
With clumsy wings
Not granted to man
Daedalus cut through the air.
 
Cursed Pandora
Was forged and, still
A star, flew off
While the fruitful box
Peopled this poor world
With all the evils it had.
 
Ah, the paltry courage
Of the men of our age
Cannot endure their deeds ;
May Jupiter hold back
His thunderbolts, bored with
Avenging so many misdeeds !

 

This Ode is dedicated to Guy Pacate, prior of Sougé – a small village in the Loir region. Even today it consists of little more than one street and a church. Pacate had been one of the little group around Daurat in the 1540s, including Ronsard, du Bellay and Denisot, from which sprang the Pléiade. Among them he was apparently known for his learning and his gift for Latin poetry; though beyond their circle he seems obscure.  Perhaps it is relevant that, in the posthumous editions of Ronsard the dedication was to Jean Daurat himself, rather than this little-known satellite of his.
 
It’s certainly relevant that Pacate knew his classics: there is an array of classical references here rarely seen in such number in Ronsard’s poems! But at the same time Ronsard contrives an inward-looking reflection on death rather than a grand, public poem, suitable to the relative obscurity of the dedicatee.
 
Stanza 2 refers to the journey to the afterlife: souls would come down to the river Styx where they awaited Charon’s boat to ferry them over to Hades. (Mercury guided souls to the underworld – stanza 10.)
 
Stanza 4 contrasts Achilles with Thersites, the former the hero of the Iliad, the latter an annoying, cowardly tell-tale also on the Greek side; and adds Minos, once a king on earth, but tricked and killed in his bath by his daughters.
 
In stanza 6, Pau is famous as the birthplace of “noste Enric” (‘our Henry’), Henry IV of France; and earlier was the base of Gaston Fébus, whose Renaissance court paralleled that of Italian city-states. But this Pau is in fact the Po in north Italy, reputed to be where Phaethon fell when struck down by Jupiter’s thunderbolt. The second half of the stanza is about Perseus; other editions have “sourcer” rather than the (unique?) “soucer” which I have treated as if it were “soucier”: “Qui fit sourcer Parnase” would mean something like “who made a spring come from Parnassus”, the spring being the Hippocrene spring which was created when Pegasus stamped his foot, and which became sacred to the Muses.
 
The troop of Calliope in stanza 8 is the Muses – Calliope is the muse of epic poetry. In stanza 11, the poet is no doubt Homer; we have met Prometheus (stanzas 12-13), punished by the gods for bringing fire to man, regularly. In stanza 14 I have to admit the presence of Daedalus confuses me: there is no link to Pandora, nor did his flight lead to his own death. I assume that Ronsard is offering a simile – like Daedalus taking wing, death too became swifter.
 
Finally, in the penultimate stanza, Pandora is ‘forged’ because she the first woman, was made by Vulcan on Jupiter’s instructions. The story of the evils contained in Pandora’s box is well-known.
 
 
 
 
 
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Sonnet 109

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Le mal est grand, le remede est si bref
A ma douleur dont l’aigreur ne s’alente :
Que bas ne haut, dés le bout de la plante
Je n’ay santé jusqu’au sommet du chef.
 
L’œil qui tenoit de mes pensers la clef,
En lieu de m’estre une estoile drillante
Parmi les flots de l’amour violente,
Contre un despit a fait rompre ma nef.
 
Le soin meurtrier, soit que je veille ou songe,
Tigre affamé, de mille dents me ronge,
Pinçant mon cœur, mes poumons et mon flanc.
 
Et le penser importun qui me presse
Comme un vautour affamé, ne me laisse
Second Protée aux despens de mon sang.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            The pain is great, the remedy so quick,
                                                                            For my sadness whose bitterness does not lessen;
                                                                            So bottom to top, from the sole of my feet
                                                                            To the top of my head my health is gone.
 
                                                                            The eye which holds the key to my thoughts,
                                                                            Instead of being for me a dazzling star
                                                                            Amidst the surges of violent love,
                                                                            On resentment has wrecked my ship.
 
                                                                            Murderous grief, whether I wake or dream,
                                                                            Like a hungry tiger gnaws me with a thousand teeth,
                                                                            Nipping my heart, my breast, my guts.
 
                                                                            And the tiresome thoughts which press around me
                                                                            Like hungry vultures never leave me,
                                                                            A second Proteus shedding my blood.

 

 

 

I think this is a little gem, a great little poem with an arresting opening.
 
The reference to Proteus in the last line looks a little odd at first glance, for it was Prometheus the vulture attacked (and there was only one of it) while Proteus is defeated by Aristaeus (in Virgil) or Menelaus (in Homer). But Ronsard’s point is that the ‘tiresome thoughts’ are in many forms, as Proteus took many forms while fighting Aristaeus/Menelaus. So the thoughts are like a multiple Promethean vulture, constantly ripping at his guts, and take many forms like Proteus.
 
In his earlier version, the simile is simpler, limiting itself to the Promethean image. It is also clear that Ronsard spent time tightening up the poem as he worked on the later version: all the changes in the first dozen lines are improvements; in the last couplet Ronsard recognises as we have seen that he can be much more economical with his Promethean simile, and then double up in the final line.
 
 
Le mal est grand, le remede est si bref
A ma douleur, qui jamais ne s’alente,
Que, bas ne haut, dés le bout de la plante
Je n’ay santé jusqu’au sommet du chef.
 
L’œil qui tenoit de mes pensers la clef,
En lieu de m’estre une estoille drillante
Parmy les flots de l’Amour violente,
Contre un orgueil a fait rompre ma nef.
 
Un soin meurtrier, soit que je veille ou songe,
Tigre affamé, le cœur ne mange et ronge,
Suçant toujours le plus doux de mon sang.
 
Et le penser importun qui me presse
Et qui jamais en repos ne me laisse,
Comme un vautour me mord toujouors au flanc.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            The pain is great, the remedy so quick,
                                                                            For my sadness which never lessens;
                                                                            So bottom to top, from the sole of my feet
                                                                            To the top of my head my health is gone.
 
                                                                            The eye which holds the key to my thoughts,
                                                                            Instead of being for me a dazzling star
                                                                            Amidst the surges of violent love,
                                                                            On pride has wrecked my ship.
 
                                                                            A murderous grief, whether I wake or dream,
                                                                            Like a hungry tiger chews and gnaws my heart,
                                                                            Sucking always the sweetest of my blood.
 
                                                                            And the tiresome thoughts which press around me
                                                                            And which never leave me in peace,
                                                                            Like a vulture is always gnawing my side.
 
 
 
Blanchemain also offers a variant on the final couplet, which I take to be still earlier: it is weaker, its vocabulary flatter, it avoids the classical allusions, and it reduplicates the line ending in “sang” (‘blood’) at the end of both tercets which looks a little unimaginative!
 
 
Comme un mastin eschappé de sa laisse
Mange ma vie, et se noie en mon sang.
 
 
                                                                            Like a mastiff escaped from his leash
                                                                            Eats up my life, and steeps himself in my blood.
 
 
 
 
 

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 18

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L’amant est une beste, et beste est qui s’empestre
Dans les liens d’amour : sa peine est plus cruelle
Que s’il tournoit là bas la rou’ continuelle
Ou s’il bailloit son coeur aux vautours à repaistre.
 
Maugré luy dans son ame à toute heure il sent naistre
Un joyeux desplaisir, qui douteux l’espointelle.
Quoy ? l’espointelle ! ainçois le gesne et le martelle :
Sa raison est veincuë, et l’appetit est maistre.
 
Il ressemble à l’oiseau, lequel plus se remuë
Captif dans les gluaux, tant plus fort se rengluë,
Se debatant en vain d’eschapper l’oiseleur.
 
Ainsi tant plus l’amant les rets d’amour secoüe,
Plus à l’entour du col son destin les renoüe,
Pour jamais n’eschaper d’un si plaisant malheur.
 
 
 
                                                                      A lover is a beast, and a beast is he who entangles himself
                                                                      In the bonds of love; his affliction is worse
                                                                      Than if he was continually turning the wheel down below
                                                                      Or if he left his heart open for vultures to feed on.
 
                                                                      Despite himself he feels at every moment born in his hear
                                                                      A disagreeable joy, which stabs him with doubt.
                                                                      Yes – stabs him! That’s how it troubles him and beats him down;
                                                                      His reason is overcome, and desire is the master.
 
                                                                      He is like a bird which, the more it struggles
                                                                      Caught on limed twigs, the more firmly it gets stuck,
                                                                      Fighting in vain to escape the bird-catcher.
 
                                                                      How much more then, as the lover struggles in the nets of love,
                                                                      Does his fate tie them tighter around his neck,
                                                                      So that he can never escape so pleasant a misfortune.
 
 
The continually-turning wheel is a reference to Ixion’s punishment in Hades; the vultures feeding on the heart perhaps a (loose) reference to Prometheus.
 
Blanchemain’s version has only a couple of changes, though one of them re-models the first line quite significantly!  His is “Ah ! que malheurueux est celui-là qui s’empestre…” (‘Ah, how unhappy is he who entangles himself…’). The only other change is in line 11’s second half which becomes “et tant plus se rengluë” (‘the more it gets stuck’).
 
 
 
 

Sonnet 13

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Pour aller trop tes beaux soleils aimant,
Non pour ravir leur divine etincelle,
Contre le roc de ta rigueur cruelle
Amour m’attache à mille clous d’aimant.
 
En lieu d‘un Aigle, un Soin cruellement
Souillant sa griffe en ma playe eternelle,
Ronge mon coeur, et si ce Dieu n’appelle
Madame, à fin d’adoucir mon tourment.
 
Mais de cent maux, et de cent que j’endure,
Fiché cloué dessus ta rigueur dure,
Le plus cruel me seroit le plus dous,
 
Si j’esperois apres un long espace
Venir à moy l’Hercule de ta grace,
Pour delacer le moindre de mes nouds.
 
 
 
                                                                       For daring to love your lovely suns [eyes] too much,
                                                                       Though not to steal their divine sparkle,
                                                                       Love has pinned me with the thousand nails of a lover
                                                                       Against the rock of your cruel harshness.
 
                                                                       In place of an Eagle, Care cruelly
                                                                       Soiling his talons in my eternal wound
                                                                       Gnaws at my heart, and yet this God does not summon
                                                                       My lady so as to soften my torment.
 
                                                                       But of a hundred ills and a hundred more which I endure,
                                                                       Stuck, nailed to your severe harshness,
                                                                       The cruellest will be for me the sweetest,
 
                                                                       If I can hope that, after a long interval,
                                                                       The Hercules of your grace will come to me
                                                                       To untie the least of my bonds.
 
 
The sonnet parallels Ronsard’s fate as lover with that of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods and was pinned to a rock, his liver torn daily by an eagle as punishment.  According to legend, Hercules came and killed the eagle.
 
This is a bit contrived, and so it won’t be a surprise that Ronsard wasn’t satisfied with the result. Another version of his work-in-progress, in the first octet:
 
 
Pour estre en vain tes beaux soleils aimant,
Non pour ravir leur divine etincelle,
Contre le roc de ta rigueur cruelle
Amour m’attache à mille clous d’aimant.
 
En lieu d‘un Aigle, un Soin horriblement
Claquant du bec at tresmoussant de l’aisle,
Ronge, goulu, ma poitrine immortelle
Par un desir qui naist journellement.
 
 
 
                                                                       For being a lover in vain of your lovely suns [eyes],
                                                                       Though not to steal their divine sparkle,
                                                                       Love has pinned me with the thousand nails of a lover
                                                                       Against the rock of your cruel harshness.
 
                                                                       In place of an Eagle, Care cruelly
                                                                       Snapping his beak and flapping his wings
                                                                       Gnaws, the glutton, at my immortal heart
                                                                       Through a desire which is re-born daily.
 
 
 

Sonnet 12

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J’espère et crain, je me tais et supplie,
Or’ je suis glace et ores un feu chaud,
J’admire tout et de rien ne me chaut,
Je me delace et mon col je relie.
 
Rien ne me plaist sinon ce qui m’ennuie :
Je suis vaillant et le coeur me défaut,
J’ay l’espoir bas j’ay le courage haut,
Je doute Amour et si je le desfie.
 
Plus je me picque, et plus je suis retif,
J’aime estre libre, et veux estre captif,
Tout je desire, et si n’ay qu’une envie.
 
Un Promethée en passions je suis.
J’ose, je veux, je m’efforce, et ne puis
Tant d’un fil noir la Parque ourdit ma vie.
 
 
                                                                       I hope and fear, I’m silent, I beg;
                                                                       Now I’m like ice, now like hot fire;
                                                                       I’m amazed at everything, and care for nothing;
                                                                       I relax, and then tense my neck again.
 
                                                                       Nothing pleases me, except what bores me;
                                                                       I’m courageous and my heart fails me;
                                                                       I have no hope, I have high hopes;
                                                                       I doubt Love, and even so I defy him.
 
                                                                       The more I’m goaded, the more stubborn I get;
                                                                       I love to be free, and want to be imprisoned;
                                                                       I want everything, and yet have only one wish.
 
                                                                       I’m like a Prometheus in my suffering,
                                                                       I dare, I wish, I make great efforts but achieve nothing,
                                                                       In such a way does Fate with her black thread order my life.
 
 
 
 In Greek myth, Prometheus had his body torn every day by an eagle, and every night his wounds healed. Fate (or the Fates) measured out everyone’s life with their thread, and when they cut the thread, you died.
 
 It won’t surprise you that a variant of the last 6 lines was also offered by Ronsard. Here it is:
 
 
Plus je me picque, et plus je suis retif.
J’aime etre libre. et veux etre captif.
Cent fois je meurs, cent fois je prend naissance.
 
Un Promethée en passions je suis.
Et pour aimer pendant toute puissance
Crier mercy seulement je ne puis.
 
 
                                                                       The more I’m goaded, the more stubborn I get;
                                                                       I love to be free, and want to be imprisoned;
                                                                       I die again and again, again and again I’m reborn.
 
                                                                       I’m like a Prometheus in my suffering
                                                                       And, to love through every trial,
                                                                       Just cannot cry ‘enough’.
 

 
 
 

Sonnet 44

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Je voudrois estre Ixion et Tantale,
Dessus la roue et dans les eaux là bas,
Et nu à nu presser entre mes bras
Ceste beauté qui les anges égale.
 
S’ainsin estoit, toute peine fatale
Me seroit douce et ne me chaudroit pas,
Non, d’un vautour fussé-je le repas,
Non, qui le roc remonte et redevale.
 
Voir ou toucher le rond de son tetin
Pourroit changer mon amoureux destin
Aux maiestez des Princes de l’Asie :
 
Un demy-dieu me feroit son baiser,
Et sein sur sein mon feu desembraser,
Un de ces Dieux qui mangent l’Ambrosie.
 
 
 
                                                                       I’d be Ixion and Tantalus
                                                                       On the wheel or in the waters of the Beyond
                                                                       To hold naked in my arms
                                                                       This beauty who equals the angels.
 
                                                                       If it were so, every deadly pain
                                                                       Would be sweet to me and wouldn’t bother me
                                                                       No, I’d even be a vulture’s meal
                                                                       Even if he climbed the rock again and re-ate me.
 
                                                                       To see or touch the curve of her breast
                                                                       Could change my destiny as a lover
                                                                       To the majestic fate of the princes of Asia:
 
                                                                       Her kiss would make me a demi-god
                                                                       And to cool my fire, breast to breast,
                                                                       Would make me one of the gods who feed on ambrosia.
 
 
 
In Greek myth, Ixion was broken on a wheel in Hades every day; and Tantalus forever kept tied in a lake with food and drink just out of reach – ‘tantalisingly’ close as we say. Prometheus had his liver ripped out every day by a vulture (or eagle) and it grew back overnight.
 
Blanchemain’s last sestet is rather different:
 
 
Luy tastonner seulement le tetin,
Ce seul plaisir changeroit mon destin
Au sort meilleur des princes de l’Asie :
 
Un demy-dieu me feroit son baiser,
Et flanc à flanc mon feu desembraser,
Un de ceux-là qui mangent l’ambrosie.
 
 
                                                                       Just to fumble with her breast,
                                                                       That one pleasure would change my destiny
                                                                       To the better lot of the princes of Asia:
 
                                                                       Her kiss would make me a demi-god
                                                                       And to cool my fire, side by side,
                                                                       Would make me one of those who feed on ambrosia.
 
He also offers yet another version of the beginning of line 13, “Et en son feu mon feu desembraser” (‘And in her fire cool mine’).
 
 

You can read Tony Kline’s version in verse here