Tag Archives: Prometheus

Garnier’s tribute to Ronsard

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It is SO long since I posted anything here: I hope to get going again & finish off Helen 2 at least. Meanwhile, it felt right to include Garnier’s tribute to the dead Ronsard – not least because my own attempt to preserve his memory has faltered …

This elegy was originally published in Binet’s memorial volume, Discours de la Vie de Pierre de Ronsard, in 1586. It was picked up and anthologised in 1778, in volume 8 of the Annales poétiques, ou Almanach des Muses, after which it reappeared several times elsewhere, copied from that anthology,and can now be found in several places on the web. But the 1778 anthologisers quietly abbreviated Garnier’s text – removing approximately 50% of it! So the versions found elsewhere are likewise abbreviated and I think this is the first time the full original text has been reproduced online.

Elégie sur le trespas de feu Monsieur de Ronsard
 
A monsieur des Portes Abbé de Thiron
 
 
Nature est aux humains sur tous autres cruelle,
On ne voit animaux
En la terre et au ciel, ny en l’onde infidele,
Qui souffrent tant de maux.
 
Le rayon eternel de l’essence divine,
Qu’en naissant nous avons,
De mille passions noz tristes jours épine
Tandis que nous vivons :
 
Et non pas seulement vivants il nous torture,
Mais nous blesse au trespas,
Car pour prevoir la mort, elle nous est plus dure
Qu’elle ne seroit pas.
 
Si tost que nostre esprit dans le cerveau raisonne,
Nous l’alons redoutant,
Et sans cette frayeur que la raison nous donne,
On ne la craindroit tant.
 
Nous creignons de mourir, de perdre la lumiere
Du Soleil radieus,
Nous creignons de passer sur les ais d’une biere
Le fleuve stygieus.
 
Nous creignons de laisser noz maisons delectables,
Noz biens et noz honneurs,
Ces belles dignitez, qui nous font venerables
Remarquer des seigneurs.
 
Les peuples des forests, de l’air et des rivieres,
Qui ne voyent si loing,
Tombent journellement aux mortelles pantieres
Sans se gesner de soing.
 
Leur vie est plus heureuse, et moins sujette aus peines,
Et encombres divers,
Que nous souffrons chetifs en noz ames humaines,
De desastres couverts.
 
Ores nous poind l’amour, Tyran de la jeunesse,
Ores l’avare faim
De l’or injurieus, qui fait que chacun laisse
La vertu pour le gain.
 
Cetuy-cy se tourmente apres les grandeurs vaines,
Enflé d’ambition,
De cetuy-la l’envie empoisonne les veines
Cruelle passion.
 
La haine, le courroux, le depit, la tristesse,
L’outrageuse rancœur,
Et la tendre pitié du foeble qu’on oppresse,
Nous bourellent le cœur.
 
Et voila nostre vie, ô miserables hommes !
Nous semblons estre nez
Pour estre, cependant qu’en ce monde nous sommes,
Tousjours infortunez.
 
Et enquore, où le ciel en une belle vie
Quelque vertus enclost,
La chagrineuse mort qui les hommes envye
Nous la pille aussi tost.
 
Ainsi le verd email d’une riante prée
Est soudain effacé,
Ainsi l’aymable teint d’une rose pourprée
Est aussi tost passé.
 
La jeunesse de l’an n’est de longue durée,
Mais l’Hyver aux dois gours,
Et l’Esté embruny de la torche etherée
Durent [orig : durant] presque toujours.
 
Mais las ! ô doux Printems, vostre verdeur fanie
Retourne en mesme point,
Mais quand nostre jeunesse une fois est finie
Elle ne revient point.
 
La vieillesse nous prend maladive et facheuse,
Hostesse de la mort,
Qui pleins de mal nous pousse en une tombe creuse
D’où jamais on ne sort.
 
Des Portes, que la Muse honore et favorise
Entre tous ceux qui ont
Suivy le saint Phebus, et sa science aprise
Dessur le double mont.
 
Vous voyez ce Ronsard, merveilles de nostre age,
L’honneur de l’Univers,
Paitre de sa chair morte, inevitable outrage,
Une source de vers.
 
De rien vostre Apollon, ny les Muses pucelles
Ne luy ont profité,
Bien qu’ils eussent pour luy les deux croppes jumelles
De Parnasse quitté :
 
Et qu’ils eust conduits aux accords de sa Lire
Dans ce François sejour,
Pour chanter de noz Roys, et leurs victoires dire,
Ou sonner de l’amour.
 
C’est grand cas, que ce Dieu, qui des enfance l’aime,
Afranchit du trespas
Ses divines chansons, et que le chantre mesme
N’en affranchisse pas.
 
Vous en serez ainsi : car bien que vostre gloire,
Espandue en tous lieux,
Ne descende estoufée en une tombe noire
Comme un peuple otieux,
 
Et que voz sacrez vers, qui de honte font taire
Les plus grands du metier,
Nous facent choir des mains, quand nous en cuidons faire,
La plume et le papier.
 
Si verres vous le fleuve où tout le monde arrive,
Et payrez le denier
Que prend pour nous passer jusques à l’autre rive
L’avare Nautonnier.
 
Que ne ressemblons nous aus vagueuses rivieres
Qui ne changent de cours ?
Ou au branle eternel des ondes marinieres
Qui reflotent toujours ?
 
Et n’est-ce pas pitié, que ces roches pointues,
Qui semblent depiter,
De vents, de flots, d’oraige, et de foudres batues,
L’ire de Jupiter,
 
Vivent incessament, incessament demeurent
Dans leurs membres pierreux,
Et que des hommes, tels que ce grand Ronsard, meurent
Par un sort rigoureux ?
 
O destin lamentable ! un homme qui approche
De la divinité
Est ravy de ce monde, et le front d’une roche
Dure un eternité.
 
Qui pourra desormais d’une alaine assez forte
Entonner comme il faut
La gloir de mon Roy, puisque la muse est morte
Qui le chantoit si haut ?
 
Qui dira ses combats ? ses batailles sanglantes ?
Quand jeune, Duc d’Anjou,
De sa main foudroya les troupes protestantes
Aux plaines de Poictou ?
 
Des portes qui sera-ce ? une fois vostre Muse,
Digne d’estre en son lieu,
Fuyant l’honneur profane aujourdhuy ne s’amuse
Qu’au loüanges de Dieu.
 
Et qui sera-ce donc ? quelle voix suffisante,
Pour sonner gravement
Joyeuse nostre Achil, dont la gloire naissante
S’acroist journellement ?
 
Qui dira son courage, indomtable à la peine,
Indomtable à la peur,
Et comme il appareille avec une ame humaine
Un magnanime cœur ?
 
Comme il est de l’honneur, du seul honneur avare,
D’autres biens liberal,
Cherissant un chacun, fors celuy qui s’egare
Du service royal ?
 
Ne permette Clion et Phebus ne permette
Que Ronsard abattu
Par l’ennuyeuse mort, ne se treuve Poëte
Qui chante sa vertu.
 
Adieu, mon cher Ronsard, l’abeille en vostre tombe
Face tousjour son miel,
Que le baume Arabic à tout jamais y tombe,
Et la manne du ciel.
 
Le Laurier y verdisse avec le lierre
Et le Mirthe amoureus,
Riche en mille boutons, de toutes parts l’enserre
Le Rosier odoreus :
 
Le tin, le baselic, la franche Marguerite,
Et nostre Lis François,
Et cette rouge fleur, où la pleinte est escrite
Du malcontent Gregeois.
 
Les Nymphes de Gâtine, et les Nayades sainctes,
Qui habitent le Loir,
Le venant arroser de larmettes epreintes,
Ne cessent de douloir.
 
Las ! Cloton a tranché le fil de vostre vie
D’une piteuse main,
La voyant de vieillesse et de goutes suyvie,
Torturage inhumain.
 
Voyant la povre France en son corps outragee
Par le sanglant effort
De ses enfans, qui l’ont tant de foys ravagee,
Soupirer à la mort :
 
Le Souysse aguerry, qui aus combats se loüe,
L’Anglois fermé de flots,
Ceux qui boivent le Pau, le Tage et la Danoüe,
Fondre dessus son dos.
 
Ainsi que le Vautour, qui de griffes bourelles
Va sans fin tirassant
De Promethé le foye, en patures nouvelles
Coup sur coup renaissant.
 
Les meurtres inhumains se font entre les freres,
Spectacle plein d’horreur,
Et deja les enfans courent contre leurs peres
D’une aveugle fureur :
 
Le cœur des Citoyens se remplit de furies,
Les Paysans ecartez
Meurent comme une haye : on ne voit que turies
Par les chams desertez.
 
Et puis alez chanter l’honneur de nostre France
En siecles si maudits,
Attendez-vous qu’aucun vos labeurs recompense
Comme on faisait jadis ?
 
La triste povreté noz chansons accompaigne,
La Muse, les yeus bas,
Se retire de nous, voyant que lon dedaigne
Ses antiques ebats.
 
Vous estes donque heureus, et vostre mort heureuse,
O Cigne des François,
Ne lamentez que nous, dont la vie ennuyeuse
Meurt le jour mile fois.
 
Vous errez maintenant aux campaignes d’Elise,
A l’ombre des Vergers,
Où chargent en tout tems, asseurez de la Bise,
Les jaunes Orengers :
 
Où les prez sont toujours tapissez de verdure,
Les vignes de raisins,
Et les petits oyseaus, gasoüillans au murmure
Des ruisseaus cristalins.
 
Là le Cedre gommeus odoreusement sue,
Et l’arbre du Liban,
Et l’Ambre, et Myrrhe, au lit de son Pere receüe,
Pleure le long de l’an.
 
En grand’ foule acourus, autour de vous se pressent
Les heros anciens,
Qui boyvent le nectar, d’ambrosie se paissent,
Aux bords Elisiens :
 
Sur tous le grand Eumolpe, et le divin Orphee,
Et Line, et Amphion,
Et Musee, et celuy, dont la plume eschauffee
Mist en cendre Ilion.
 
Le loüengeur Thebain, le chantre de Mantoüe,
Le Lyrique latin,
Et aveques Seneque, honneur grand de Cordoüe,
L’amoureus Florentin :
 
Tous vont battant des mains, sautellent de liesse,
S’entredisant entre eux,
Voyla celuy, qui donte et l’Itale et la Grece
En poëmes nombreus :
 
L’un vous donne sa lyre, et l’au[t]re sa trompette,
L’autre vous veut donner
Son Myrthe, son Lierre, ou son Laurier profette,
Pour vous en couronner.
 
Ainsi vivez heureuse, ame toute divine,
Tandis que le destin
Nous reserve aus malheurs de la France, voysine
De sa derniere fin.
 
Elegy on the death of the late M.de Ronsard
 
To M. Desportes, abbot of Thiron
 
 
Nature is to men above all others cruel,
We do not see animals
On earth or in the skies, or in the treacherous seas,
Suffering so many ills.
 
The eternal ray of the divine essence
Which we receive at birth
With a hundred passions troubles our sad days
While we live.
 
And not only while we live does it torture us,
But injures us at our death,
For foreseeing death is to us harder
Than the event itself will be.
 
As soon as our spirit reasons within our brains,
We begin to fear it,
And without this terror which reason gives us
We would not be so frightened of it.
 
We are frightened of dying, of losing the light
Of the radiant Sun,
We are frightened of crossing, on the planks of a bier,
The Stygian river;
 
We are frightened of leaving our delightful homes,
Our goods and our honours,
Those fine dignities which make us respected
And noticed by lords.
 
The inhabitants of the forests, the air and the rivers
Who do not see so far,
Fall daily to death-dealing snares
Without troubling themselves with worries.
 
Their life is happier, and less subject to the troubles
And various burdens
Which we weakly suffer in our human souls,
Overcome by disasters.
 
Sometimes love afflicts us, that tyrant of our youth,
Sometimes the greedy hunger
For harmful gold, which makes everyone abandon
Virtue for gain.
 
This man torments himself seeking empty greatness,
Puffed up with ambition,
That man’s veins are poisoned by envy,
That cruel passion.
 
Hatred, anger, spite, sorrow,
Hurtful bitterness,
And tender pity for the weak who are oppressed
Bubble away in our hearts.
 
And that’s our life, o wretched men!
We seem to be born
To be, while we are in this world,
Always unfortunate.
 
And even when heaven includes
Some happiness in a good life,
Sorrowful death which envies men
Steals it from us soon enough.
 
Just so the fresh mosaic of a gay meadow
Is suddenly wiped away,
Just so the lovely tint of a crimson rose
Is soon enough past.
 
The year’s youth does not last long,
But Winter with his stiff fingers
And Summer scorched by the heavenly flame
Last almost forever.
 
Alas, sweet Spring, your faded freshness
Returns to the same state [each year]
But when once our youth is finished
It does not return.
 
Old age takes us, sickly and disagreeable,
Death’s hostess,
And, full of ills, pushes us into a dug grave
From which none ever escapes.
 
Desportes, whom the Muse honours and favours
Among all those of us who have
Followed holy Apollo and learned his wisdom
Upon the double mount:
 
You see this Ronsard, the marvel of our age,
The glory of the world,
Feeding with his dead flesh – an inescapable indignity –
A stream of worms.
 
Nothing have your Apollo and his maiden Muses
Profited him,
Although for him they abandoned
The twin mounts of Parnassus,
 
And although they have spent time, to the harmonies of his lyre,
In this France of ours,
To sing of our Kings and announce their victories,
Or to celebrate love.
 
It’s very clear that the god who loved him from infancy
Excepted from death
His divine songs, and yet could not except from it
The singer himself.
 
It will be the same for you: for although your glory,
Spreading to every place,
Will not descend, smothered, into a dark tomb
Like unproductive folk’s,
 
And though your sacred verse, which for shame makes
The greatest in the business fall silent,
Makes the pen and paper fall from our hands,
When we wish to use them:
 
Yet still you will see the river where every man arrives,
And you will pay the penny
Which the greedy Boatman takes
That we may pass to the other side.
 
Why are we not like the rippling waters
Which don’t change their course?
Or the eternal movement of the sea’s waves
Which break and break again?
 
Isn’t it a pity that those sharp rocks
Which seem to despise
The winds, the tides, storms and battering of lightning,
The anger of Jupiter,
 
Live on eternally, remain eternally
In their stony forms,
And that men like the great Ronsard die
By harsh fate?
 
O grievous destiny! A man who approaches
The divine
Is stolen from this world, and a rock-face
Lasts an eternity.
 
Who will be able henceforth with so strong a voice
To thunder as they should
Of my King’s glory, since the muse is dead
Who sang it so loudly?
 
Who shall sing of his combats? Of his bloody battles?
Who when young, as the Duke of Anjou,
Overthrew with his might the protestant troops
On the plains of Poitou …
 
Deportes, who will it be? Once, perhaps, your muse
Was worthy to be in his place;
But fleeing worldly honours today she employs herself
Only in the praise of God.
 
So who will it be? What voice sufficient
To celebrate gravely
Our joyous Achilles, whose budding glory
Grows daily?
 
Who shall speak of his courage, unconquered by strife,
Unconquered by fear,
And how it equipped with a human soul
A magnanimous heart?
 
How it is hungry for honour, for honour alone,
Liberal with other good things,
Cherishes everyone, even those who fall away
From the king’s service?
 
Do not permit, Clio, and Apollo do not permit
That Ronsard, defeated
By grievous death, should not find a Poet
To sing of his worth.
 
Farewell, my dear Ronsard, may the bees always
Make their honey on your tomb,
May balm from Arabia forever fall there
With manna from heaven.
 
May the laurel flourish there, along with ivy
And lovers’ myrtle,
Rich with a thousand buds, and on all sides may
The perfumed rose-bush embrace it,
 
And thyme, basil, the simple daisy,
Our lily of France,
And that red flower on which is written the plaint
Of the unhappy Greek.
 
May the nymphs of Gastine and the holy water-nymphs
Who live in the Loir
Having just poured out and expressed their tears for you
Not cease from grieving.
 
Alas! Clotho has cut the thread of your life
With her pitying hand,
Seeing it accompanied by old age and gout,
Those inhuman tortures,
 
And seeing our poor France, wounded in her body
By the bloody struggles
Of her children, who have so many times ravaged her,
Sighing for death;
 
And Switzerland at war, giving itself over to strife,
England enclosed by the seas,
And those who drink from the Po, Tagus and Danube
Drowning beneath their waters;
 
Just like the vulture, which with its executioner’s claws
Endlessly rakes
The liver of Prometheus, in new pastures
Renewing blow on blow,
 
Inhuman murders take place between brothers,
A horrific sight,
And now children rush upon their fathers
In blind madness;
 
The hearts of city-dwellers are filled with Furies,
The country-folk, swept aside,
Die in their rows; we see nothing but killings
Throughout the deserted countryside.
 
And yet you go on singing of the honour of our France
In times so accursed:
Do you expect anyone to reward your labours
As they did in the past?
 
Wretched poverty accompanies our songs;
The Muse, her eyes lowered,
Leaves us, seeing that we disdain
Her former amusements.
 
So, you are fortunate, and your death fortunate,
O Swan of the French,
Lament only for us, whose troubled lives
Die a thousand times every day.
 
You now wander in the fields of Elysium,
In the shade of the orchards
Where at all times, secure from cold northerly winds,
The tawny orange-trees are laden;
 
Where the meadows are always carpeted in green,
The vines with grapes,
And the little birds go chattering to the murmur
Of crystalline streams.
 
There the cedar sweats its perfumed gum,
And the tree of Lebanon
Weeps both amber and myrrh, received at its father’s bed,
All year long.
 
Running up in a great crowd, around you press
The ancient heroes
Who drink nectar and feed on ambrosia
On the banks of Elysium,
 
Above all great Eumolpe and godlike Orpheus
And Linus and Amphion
And Musaeus, and he whose burning pen
Set fire to Troy;
 
The Theban praise-singer, the poet of Mantua,
The Latin lyricist
And, with Seneca the great glory of Cordoba,
The Florentine love-poet,
 
All of them clapping their hands, leaping with joy,
Saying to one another,
“There he is, the man who surpassed Italy and Greece
In many a poem”.
 
One of them gives you his lyre, another his trumpet,
Another tries to give you
His myrtle, his ivy, or his prophetic laurel
To crown you with them.
 
So, live on happily, godlike soul,
While fate keeps us back
For the misfortunes of France, close
To her final end.
 

 

(In verse 15, I have amended one word slightly, to form a proper sentence – though Garnier may have been deliberately leaving the sentence hanging.)
 
As one would expect, Garnier’s tribute ranges over the areas Ronsard himself wrote about – the King and the civil wars, classical myth, nature, love poetry, Ronsard’s home on the Loir … So there are plenty of relatively obscure references perhaps worth amplifying:
 – the dedication is to Ronsard’s “successor”, Philippe Desportes – a lesser poet, but one whose fame eclipsed Ronsard’s in the latter portion of his life;
 – verse 5, the “Stygian river”, the Styx, is the river between the living world and Hades, across which Charon the ferryman or boatman (verse 25) takes all dead souls;
 – verses 18 & 20, Parnassus (the ‘double mount’, at right – photo credit Rens van der Sluijs) is the traditional home of the Muses. Ovid called it ‘biceps’, that is ‘two-headed’, and between its twin peaks was Delphi, the ‘omphalos’ (navel, centre) of the world;
 – verse 33, ‘Achilles’ (the great soldier) means of course the King
 – verse 37, Clio is usually the Muse of history, but sometimes also the Muse of lyre-playing: both seem appropriate here;
 – verse 40, the ‘unhappy Greek’ is not Narcissus but Hyacinthus, whose flower bears the Greek letters AIAI (‘alas’, ‘woe’);
 – verse 41, the Gastine & Loir are familiar as part of Ronsard’s beloved estates;
 – verse 42, Clotho is one of the Fates who determine the length of a man’s life – though note that Clotho is normally the Fate who spins the thread of life, Atropos the one who cuts it …
 – verse 45, the story of Prometheus eternally having his liver torn out by the eagle (or vulture) by day only for it to re-grow overnight, is well-known;
 – verse 53, I confess I have no idea what the end of line 3 (“received at its father’s bed”) is referring to … Ideas welcome. Amber and myrrh (like frankincense too) are resinous – and therefore associated with the resin-rich cedars of Lebanon, though myrrh in particular comes form small thorn-trees not huge cedars;
 –  verse 55-56 list many of the greatest poets of the past, legendary and historical.
     – Eumolpe (or Eumolpos – which means ‘beautiful song’) was founder of the Eleusininan mysteries in ancient Athens;
     – ‘godlike Orpheus’ is still well-known to us if only for carelessly losing Eurydice after charming Cerberus, the hell-dog, and Hades himself with his song;
     – Linus, sometimes viewed as Orpheus’s brother, was the inventor of lyric song and/or the harp;
     – Amphion, one of the founders of Thebes, was taught music by the god Hermes himself – and has a modern poetic form named after him;
     – Musaeus, lawgiver of Athens, was also was held to have been one of the great poets by Athenians – Socrates in the Apology links his name with three others in this list: “What would not a man give if he might converse with Orpheus and Musaeus and Hesiod and Homer?”;
     – Homer indeed is the next on the list, he “whose burning pen Set fire to Troy”;
     – the “Theban praise-singer” is Hesiod, associated with Mt. Helicon in Boeotia.
Bringing us from legendary to historical poets, “the poet of Mantua” is Virgil and the “Latin lyricist” is Horace. Seneca, although we think of him as Roman, was indeed born in Spain, in Cordoba; and last in the list and the only ‘modern’, the love-poet from Florence is of course Petrarch.

 

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.
 
 
 
 
 

Sonnet 109

Standard
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

Standard
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

Standard
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

Standard
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

Standard
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’.