Tag Archives: Ronsard

Helen 2:2

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

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

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Amours 2:49

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Chacun qui voit ma couleur triste et noire,
Me dit, Ronsard, vous estes amoureux :
Mais ce bel œil qui me fait langoreux,
Le sçait, le voit, et si ne le veut croire.
 
Dequoy me sert que mon mal soit notoire
Quand à mon dam son œil trop rigoureux,
Par ne sçay quel desastre malheureux
Voit bien ma playe, et si la prend à gloire ?
 
J’ay beau pleurer protester et jurer,
J’ay beau promettre et cent fois asseurer
Qu’autre jamais n’aura sus moy puissance,
 
Qu’elle s’esbat de me voir en langueur :
Et plus de moy je luy donne asseurance,
Moins me veut croire, et m’appelle un moqueur.
 
 
 
 
                                                                            Everyone who sees my sad, dark colour
                                                                            Tells me, “Ronsard, you are in love !”
                                                                            But that fair eye which makes me pine
                                                                            Knows it, sees it, yet won’t believe it.
 
                                                                            What use to me that my misfortune is well-known
                                                                            When to my hurt her eyes, so harsh,
                                                                            See clearly the wound I got through
                                                                            Whatever unhappy disaster, yet glory in it?
 
                                                                            In vain I’ve wept, protested, sworn,
                                                                            In vain I’ve promised and assured her a hundred times
                                                                            That no other will ever have power over me,
 
                                                                            But she rejoices to see me pining;
                                                                            And the more I give her assurances about myself
                                                                            The less she believes me, and calls me a mocker.
 
 
 
There’s not much to coment on in the text; though I am intrigued that here Ronsard is ‘dark’ with illness not pale as usual! (Nothing to do with the rhyme of course…)  Blanchemain offers a number of variants, which I’ll put in context below:
 
 
Chacun qui voit ma couleur triste et noire,
Me dit, Ronsard, vous estes amoureux :
Mais ce bel œil qui me fait langoreux,
Le sçait, le voit, et si ne le veut croire.
 
Hé ! que me sert que mon mal soit notoire
A un chacun, quand son trait rigoureux,
Par ne sçay quel desastre malheureux
Me fait la playe, et si la prend à gloire ?
 
J’ay beau pleurer protester et jurer,
J’ay beau promettre et cent fois asseurer
Qu’autre jamais n’aura sus moy puissance,
 
Elle s’esbat de me voir en langueur :
Et plus de moy je luy donne asseurance,
Moins me veut croire, et m’appelle un moqueur.
 
 
                                                                            Everyone who sees my sad, dark colour
                                                                            Tells me, “Ronsard, you are in love !”
                                                                            But that fair eye which makes me pine
                                                                            Knows it, sees it, yet won’t believe it.
 
                                                                            What use to me that my misfortune is well-known
                                                                            To each and every one, when her harsh blow,
                                                                            Through whatever unhappy disaster,
                                                                            Gave me this wound, yet glories in it?
 
                                                                            In vain I’ve wept, protested, sworn,
                                                                            In vain I’ve promised and assured her a hundred times
                                                                            That no other will ever have power over me;
 
                                                                            She rejoices to see me pining;
                                                                            And the more I give her assurances about myself
                                                                            The less she believes me, and calls me a mocker.
 
 
In line 5 Ronsard has as usual swapped out an exclamation, and found a neat way or replacing it. I rather like the earlier version of the rest of the stanza! And he tidies up the grammar in lines 9-12, another late-Ronsard feature.
 
His commentators tell us this derives from a Petrarchan original; but as so often it takes ideas from the original without really ‘translating’ it. In fact Ronsard’s poem corresponds to the first half of Petrarch’s: apologies for the slightly loose translation, I’m not sure I have really understood all of Petrarch’s Italian!
 
 
Lasso, ch’i’ ardo, et altri non me ‘l crede;
sí crede ogni uom, se non sola colei
che sovr’ogni altra, et ch’i’ sola, vorrei:
ella non par che ‘l creda, et sí sel vede.
 
Infinita bellezza et poca fede,
non vedete voi ‘l cor nelli occhi mei?
Se non fusse mia stella, i’ pur devrei
al fonte di pietà trovar mercede.
 
Quest’arder mio, di che vi cal sí poco,
e i vostri honori, in mie rime diffusi,
ne porian infiammar fors’anchor mille:
 
ch’i’ veggio nel penser, dolce mio foco,
fredda una lingua et duo belli occhi chiusi
rimaner, dopo noi, pien’ di faville.
 
 
 
                                                                            Alas, how I burn, yet others won’t believe me;
                                                                            And if every man believed, yet still she alone does not
                                                                            Who is above all others, and whom alone I wish to.
                                                                            She seems not to believe it, and yet she sees…
 
                                                                            Infinite beauty and little faith,
                                                                            Don’t you see my heart in my eyes?
                                                                            If it were not my destiny, surely I ought
                                                                            At the fountain of pity to find my reward [mercy?].
 
                                                                            This burning passion of mine, about which you care so little,
                                                                            And your praises spread throughout my verse
                                                                            Might yet, perhaps, inflame a thousand others;
 
                                                                            What I see in my thoughts, o sweet flame,
                                                                            Is one cold tongue and two fair closed eyes
                                                                            Remaining after us, full of sparks.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Amours 1: “Vow”

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The second of the two dedicatory sonnets included at the front of book 1. In the last line, Ronsard clearly imagines this poem appearing opposite the picture engraved at the front of the book, showing Cassandre (see top of my Amours 1 page.)

 

Divines Sœurs, qui sur les rives molles
De Castalie, et sur le mont Natal,
Et sur le bord du chevalin crystal
M’avez d’enfance instruit en vos escoles :
 
Si tout ravy des saults de vos caroles,
D’un pied nombreux j’ay guidé vostre bal :
Plus dur qu’en fer, qu’en cuivre et qu’en metal,
Dans vostre Temple engravez ces paroles :
 
RONSARD, AFIN QUE LE SIECLE AVENIR
DE TEMPS EN TEMPS SE PUISSE SOUVENIR
QUE SA JEUNESSE A L’AMOUR FIST HOMAGE :
 
DE LA MAIN DEXTRE APAND A VOSTRE AUTEL
L’HUMBLE PRESENT DE SON LIVRE IMMORTEL,
SON CŒUR DE L’AUTRE AUX PIEDS DE CESTE IMAGE. 
 
 
.                                                                            Divine sisters, who on the soft streams
.                                                                            Of Castalia, and on your native mount
.                                                                            And on the banks of the equine waters
                                                                           Have taught me since childhood in your school ;
 
.                                                                            If, swept away by leaping in your round-dances
                                                                           I have led your dances with many a step ;
.                                                                            [Then], stronger than in iron, in bronze or in metal
.                                                                            Engrave these words within your temple :
 
                                                                           Ronsard, so that future ages
                                                                           May from time to time recall
                                                                           That his youth paid homage to Love,
 
.                                                                            With his right hand places on your altar
.                                                                            The humble gift of his immortal book,
.                                                                            With the other his heart at the feet of this image.
 
 
 
An appeal to the Muses (and their Castalian spring), as so often in the poems in the book. We’ve already noted elsewhere that the spring is also associated with Pegasus, whose (equine) hoof stamping the ground caused it to flow. There’s also a reminiscence of Horace and his odes specifying dedications in temples. Note that, even at the start of his career, Ronsard is already sure his book will be ‘immortal’ – even while it is ‘humble’!
 
Blanchemain’s version is nearer in time to the beginning of the career, of course:
 
 
Divines Sœurs, qui sur les rives molles
Du fleuve Eurote et sur le mont natal
Et sur le bord du chevalin crystal
M’avez nourri maître de vos escoles :
 
Si mille fois en vos douces carolles,
Le guide-danse, ay conduit vostre bal :
Plus dur qu’en fer, qu’en cuivre et qu’en metal,
En vostre Temple engravez ces paroles :
 
Ronsard, afin que le siecle à venir
De père en fils se puisse souvenir
D’une beauté qui sagement affole,
 
De la main dextre append à nostre autel
L’humble discours de son livre immortel,
Son cœur de l’autre aux pieds de ceste idole.
 
 
 
.                                                                            Divine sisters, who on the soft streams
.                                                                            Of river the river Eurotas, and on your native mount
.                                                                            And on the banks of the equine waters
.                                                                            Have brought me up as a master in your lessons ;
 
.                                                                            If a thousand times in your sweet round-dances
.                                                                            I have steered your balls as leader of the dance ;
.                                                                            [Then], stronger than in iron, in bronze or in metal
.                                                                            Engrave these words in your temple :
 
.                                                                            Ronsard, so that the age to come
.                                                                            May recall from father to son
.                                                                            A beauty who wisely made men mad,
 
.                                                                            With his right hand places on our altar
.                                                                            The humble words of his immortal book,
.                                                                            With the other his heart at the feet of this idol.
 
 
 
Here the Muses are located by the river Eurotas – whose spring is in (the real, southern Greek) Arcadia. Note too that Ronsard is not just participating in, but leading, the Muses’ dances!  Devotees of Ronsard’s variants may also enjoy this version which Blanchemain footnotes, again showing the (lesser) variants from the late Marty-Laveaux version:
 
 
Divin troupeau, qui sur les rives molles
De Castalie, et sur le mont Natal,
Et sur le bord du chevalin crystal
Assis, tenez vos plus saintes escoles
 
Si quelquefois, aux sauts de vos carolles,
M’avez receu par un astre fatal :
Plus dur qu’en fer, qu’en cuivre et qu’en metal,
Dans vostre Temple engravez ces paroles :
 
RONSARD, AFIN QUE LE SIECLE AVENIR
MAUGRE LE TEMPS, SE PUISSE SOUVENIR
QUE SA JEUNESSE A L’AMOUR FIST HOMAGE :
 
DE LA MAIN DEXTRE APAND A VOSTRE AUTEL
L’HUMBLE PRESENT DE SON LIVRE IMMORTEL,
SON CŒUR DE L’AUTRE AUX PIEDS DE CESTE IMAGE. 
 
 
.                                                                            Divine company, who on the soft streams
.                                                                            Of Castalia, and on your native mount
.                                                                            And seated on the banks of the equine waters
.                                                                            Hold your most holy lessons
 
.                                                                            If sometimes in the leaps of your round-dances
.                                                                            You have accepted me by some fateful star,
.                                                                            [Then], stronger than in iron, in bronze or in metal
.                                                                            Engrave these words within your temple :
 
                                                                           Ronsard, so that future ages
                                                                           Despite time’s [passing], may recall
                                                                           That his youth paid homage to Love,
 
.                                                                            With his right hand places on your altar
.                                                                            The humble gift of his immortal book,
.                                                                            With the other his heart at the feet of this image.
 
 
 
 **EDIT**  complete Cassndre poems (Amours 1) now available as a pdf here.
 

Ode 5:3

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

 

Sonnet 57

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Divin Bellay, dont les nombreuses lois
Par un ardeur du peuple separée,
Ont revestu l’enfant de Cytherée
D’arcs, de flambeaux, de traits, et de carquois :
 
Si le doux feu dont jeune tu ardois,
Enflambe encor ta poitrine sacrée,
Si ton oreille encore se recrée,
D’ouir les plaints des amoureuses vois :
 
Oy ton Ronsard qui sanglote et lamente,
Pâle de peur, pendu sur la tourmente,
Croizant en vain ses mains devers les Cieux,
 
En fraile nef, sans mast, voile ne rame,
Et loin du havre où pour astre Madame
Me conduisoit du Fare de ses yeux.
 
 
 
                                                                           Divine Bellay, whom numerous statutes
                                                                           For your ardour distinct from the norm
                                                                           Have invested as the son of Venus
                                                                           With bows, torches, arrows and quiver;
 
                                                                           If the soft fire with which you burned when young
                                                                           Still flames within your holy breast,
                                                                           If your ear still enjoys
                                                                           Hearing the woes of lovers’ tongues;
 
                                                                           Then hear your Ronsard, who sobs and weeps,
                                                                           Pale with fear, suspended in torment,
                                                                           Holding his hands up in vain to Heaven,
 
                                                                           In a frail ship without mast, sail or oar,
                                                                           Far from the harbour where, like a star, my Lady
                                                                           Leads me with the beacon of her eyes.
 
 
 
Here is Ronsard writing a sonnet to his friend Joachim du Bellay, in response to one du Bellay had written him in his “Olive” (the first book of French love sonnets and inspiration for Ronsard’s own “Amours”). But, as will appear, it is not a direct response, for it is a carefully-constructed love poem about Cassandre while addressed to du Bellay.  Bellay’s, by contrast, is in praise of Ronsard himself. Should we read too much into that? I don’t think so: there’s no intended slight on du Bellay simply because Ronsard doesn’t tell him he too is marvellous! After all, both call the other ‘divine’.
 
Let’s have a look at du Bellay’s sonnet to Ronsard:
 
 
Divin Ronsard, qui de l’arc à sept cordes
Tiras premier au but de la Memoire
Les traits ailez de la françoise gloire,
Que sur ton luth hautement tu accordes.
 
Fameux harpeur et prince de nos odes,
Laisse ton Loir, hautain de ta victoire,
Et vien sonner au rivage de Loire
De tes chansons les plus nouvelles modes.
 
Enfonce l’arc du vieil Thebain archer,
Où nul que toi ne sceut onc encocher
Des doctes sœurs les sagettes divines.
 
Porte pour moy parmy le ciel des Gaules
Le sainct honneur des nymphes angevines,
Trop pesant faix pour mes foibles espaules.
 
 
 
                                                                           Divine Ronsard, who with the seven-stringed bow
                                                                           First shot at the target of Memory
                                                                           The winged arrows of French glory
                                                                           Which you tune precisely  on your lute;
 
                                                                           Famous harper and prince of our [French] odes,
                                                                           Leave your Loir, proud in your victory,
                                                                           And come to sing on the banks of the Loire
                                                                           The newest strains of your songs.
 
                                                                           Bend the bow of the old Theban archer,
                                                                           On which none but you have ever been able to notch
                                                                           The divine arrows of the learned Sisters.
 
                                                                           Bear for me among the Gallic heavens
                                                                           The holy honour of the nymphs of Anjou,
                                                                           Too weighty a deed for my feeble shoulders.
 
 
Wonderful as this poem is, it’s immediately obvious that it’s in a far more ‘learned’ style, replete with classical allusions: we know Ronsard can do this too if he wants to, so it is worth noticing that he didn’t. That is, perhaps, what sets Ronsard apart in his earliest poetry – the cultivation of a more natural style, a new way of writing French poetry which retains the art but broadens the range of subjects, of themes and of language.
 
Just how complex du Bellay’s classical references are, is worth a brief digression. In fact, trying to pinpoint them requires a digression! In lines 9-11 we have the ‘Theban archer’ and the ‘divine arrows of the learned Sisters’. Neither seem (to me) to translate simply into an obvious classical figure…
 
So, Theban archer?  Well, Ulysses famously had a bow that could not be bent by anyone else (end of the Odyssey); but he’s not Theban. Philoctetes (in Sophocles’ play) has to be lured back to the Trojan War because only he can use the essential bow; but he’s not Theban either. Diana/Artemis joins with her brother Apollo in killing Niobe’s children – Niobe was Theban, but not the gods. I think the likeliest candidate is Hercules – who is also not Theban.  Philoctetes is keeper of the bow of Hercules, which only he can draw; and Hercules married Megara, the daughter of the Theban king, before killing their children in a divinely-induce rage and thus having to undertake the twelve Labours. The children (and, some say, Megara) were venerated at, and  said to be buried in, a ‘heroon’ (hero’s tomb) at Thebes in classical times.
 
The how about the ‘divine arrows of the learned sisters’?  Well, Apollo and Artemis certainly have divine arrows – see Niobe’s fate above – but they are not ‘learned sisters’. Equally, the Muses are learned but not in the arts of war. Other groups of siblings might include the Graiai and Moirai (Fates) but they don’t use arrows. And of course the arrows in du Bellay’ metaphor are the arrows of art & poetry. So, my own hunch – no more than that – is that du Bellay is conflating the Muses and Apollo, for Apollo was ‘mousagetes’, the leader of the Muses:  Apollo brings the bow, the ‘arrows’ are the attainments of the Muses.
 
His vocabulary is also deliberately demanding of the reader:  in line 2 the target “Memoire” is clearly Remembrance or being remembered, the target of gaining a Memorial, rather than simple Memory. And in what way does du Bellay want Ronsard to sing his ‘newest modes’ on the Loire – is that new poetic forms (ode, elegy, hymn); or the stylistic innovations mentioned above; or simply ‘come and write your new poems here on the Loire’? 
 
Well, enough about du Bellay’s complexity. Let’s return to Ronsard’s artful simplicity, and look at the minor variants in Blanchemain’s earlier version:
 
 
Divin Bellay, dont les nombreuses lois
Par une ardeur du peuple separée,
Ont revestu l’enfant de Cytherée
D’arc, de flambeau, de traits, et de carquois :
 
Si le doux feu dont jeune tu ardois,
Enflambe encor ta poitrine sacrée,
Si ton oreille encore se recrée,
D’ouir les plaints des amoureuses vois :
 
Oy ton Ronsard qui sanglote et lamente,
Pâle, agité des flots de la tourmente,
Croizant en vain ses mains devers les Cieux,
 
En fraile nef, et sans voile et sans rame,
Et loin du bord où pour astre sa dame
Le conduisoit du Fare de ses yeux.
 
 
 
 
                                                                           Divine Bellay, whom numerous statutes
                                                                           For your ardour distinct from the norm
                                                                           Have invested as the son of Venus
                                                                           With bow, torch, arrows and quiver;
 
                                                                           If the soft fire with which you burned when young
                                                                           Still flames within your holy breast,
                                                                           If your ear still enjoys
                                                                           Hearing the woes of lovers’ tongues;
 
                                                                           Then hear your Ronsard, who sobs and weeps,
                                                                           Pale and tossed by waves of torment,
                                                                           Holding his hands up in vain to Heaven,
 
                                                                           In a frail ship, without either sail or oar,
                                                                           Far from the shore where, like a star, his lady
                                                                           Leads him with the beacon of her eyes.
 
 
Notably (to me at least) the early version of the ending is consistently third-person – Ronsard is ‘he’. In the later version at the top of the page, he is third-person in the first tercet but switches awkwardly to first-person in the second tercet.  That could have been easily remedied:  “Croizant en vain les mains devers les Cieux” would have done the trick. It is interesting to see that Ronsard puts the poetic effect of the repeated ‘s’ and ‘z’ sounds – and the visual effect of the other ‘s’s in the line – ahead of a strictly consistent pictorial or grammatical approach.
 
 
 
 
 

To Robert Garnier (2)

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Il me souvient, Garnier, que je prestay la main
Quant ta Muse accoucha, je le veux faire encore :
Le parrain bien souvent par l’enfant se decore,
Par l’enfant bien souvent s’honore le parrain.
 
Ton ouvrage, Garnier, Tragique et Souverain,
Qui fils, parrain ensemble, et toute France honore,
Fera voller ton nom du Scythe jusque au More,
Plus dur contre les ans que marbre ny qu’airain.
 
Réjoüy-toy, mon Loir, ta gloire est infinie,
Huyne et Sarte tes sœurs te feront compagnie,
Faisant Garnier, Belleau et Ronsard estimer :
 
Trois fleuves qu’Appollon en trois esprits assemble.
Quand trois fleuves, Garnier, se desgorgent ensemble,
Bien qu’ils ne soient pas grands, font une grande mer.
 
 
 
 
                                                                             I am reminded, Garnier, that I lent a hand
                                                                             When your Muse was giving birth, I would like to do it again;
                                                                             The godfather often gains glory through the child,
                                                                             Through the child the godfather is often honoured.
 
                                                                             Your oeuvre, Garnier, tragic and regal,
                                                                             Which child, godfather, and all of France together honour,
                                                                             Will make your name known from Scythia to the Moor,
                                                                             Stronger against the years than marble or bronze.
 
                                                                             Rejoice, my Loir, your fame is infinite,
                                                                             Your sisters the Huyne and Sarte will bear you company,
                                                                             Making Garnier, Belleau and Ronsard renowned;
 
                                                                             Three rivers which Apollo gathered in three spirits.
                                                                             When three rivers flow together, Garnier,
                                                                             Even if they are not great, they make a great sea.

 

 
 
I find the beginning strangely attractive – ‘il me souvient’ not ‘je me souviens’.  I’ve tried to capture something of its oddness by saying not ‘I remember’ but ‘I am reminded’. In line 7 his name/renown is to ‘fly’ as far as Scythia in the east and the Moorish peoples in the south.
 
 
 
 

Elegy XVI (Ronsard’s autobiography) – epic 200th post :-)

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This is my 200th post (though not yet the 200th poem), so I wanted to do something special. In the end it has snowballed a bit and this post is going to be monstrously long…!!  Hope you enjoy it anyway.

In his Elegies, Ronsard included a poem – addressed to his old friend Remy Belleau – which provides his family background and details of his early life – sometimes uncorroborated details we only learn here but often events we can triangulate against other records. So, here is his Elegy XVI (or in Blanchemain’s numbering Elegy XX), with translations, annotations and added biographical detail…   🙂

It is worth noting before we start, though, that this poem was published in the Bocage in 1554 addressed to his friend Pierre de Pascal [Paschal] “du bas païs de Languedoc” (‘from the low country of Languedoc’), not to Remy Belleau!  In that version Durbam/Durban [Michel-Pierre de Mauléon, protonotary of Durban], not Baïf, is the 3rd in their group in the final line…

1 – the poem

As usual, in Marty-Laveaux’s edition (Ronsard’s latest thoughts) first:

Je veux, mon cher Belleau, que tu n’ignores point
D’où, ne qui est celuy, que les Muses ont joint
D’un nœud si ferme à toy, afin que des années,
A nos neveux futurs, les courses retournées
Ne celent que Belleau et Ronsard n’estoient qu’un,
Et que tous deux avoient un mesme cœur commun.
 
 
 
Or quant à mon ancestre, il a tiré sa race
D’où le glacé Danube est voisin de la Thrace :
Plus bas que la Hongrie, en une froide part,
Est un Seigneur nommé le Marquis de Ronsart,
Riche d’or et de gens, de villes et de terre.
Un de ses fils puisnez ardant de voir la guerre,
Un camp d’autres puisnez assembla hazardeux,
Et quittant son pays, faict Capitaine d’eux
Traversa la Hongroie et la basse Allemaigne.
Traversa la Bourgongne et la grasse Champaigne,
Et hardy vint servir Philippes de Valois,
Qui pour lors avoit guerre encontre les Anglois.
 
Il s’employa si bien au service de France,
Que le Roy luy donna des biens à suffisance
Sur les rives du Loir : puis du tout oubliant
Freres, pere et pays, François se mariant
Engendra les ayeux dont est sorty le pere
Par qui premier je vy ceste belle lumiere.
 
 
Mon pere fut tousjours en son vivant icy
Maistre-d’hostel du Roy, et le suivit aussi
Tant qu’il fut prisonnier pour son pere en Espaigne :
Faut-il pas qu’un servant son Seigneur accompaigne
Fidele à sa fortune, et qu’en adversité
Luy soit autant loyal qu’en la felicité ?

Du costé maternel j’ay tiré mon lignage
De ceux de la Trimouille, et de ceux du Bouchage,
Et de ceux des Roüaux, et de ceux des Chaudriers
Qui furent en leurs temps si vertueux guerriers,
Que leur noble vertu que Mars rend eternelle
Reprint sur les Anglois les murs de la Rochelle,
Où l’un fut si vaillant qu’encores aujourd’huy
Une rue à son los porte le nom de luy.
 
Mais s’il te plaist avoir autant de cognoissance
(Comme de mes ayeux) du jour de ma naissance,
Mon Belleau, sans mentir je diray verité
Et de l’an et du jour de ma nativité.
 
 
L’an que le Roy François fut pris devant Pavie,
Le jour d’un Samedy, Dieu me presta la vie
L’onzieme de Septembre, et presque je me vy
Tout aussi tost que né, de la Parque ravy.
 
 
Je ne fus le premier des enfants de mon pere,
Cinq davant ma naissance en enfanta ma mere :
Deux sont morts au berceau, aux trois vivans en rien
Semblable je ne suis ny de mœurs ny de bien.
 
Si tost que j’eu neuf ans, au college on me meine :
Je mis tant seulement un demy an de peine
D’apprendre les leçons du regent de Vailly,
Puis sans rien profiter du college sailly.
Je vins en Avignon, où la puissante armée
Du Roy François estoit fierement animée
Contre Charles d’Autriche, et là je fus donné
Page au Duc d’Orleans : apres je fus mené
Suivant le Roi d’Escosse en l’Escossoise terre,
Où trente mois je fus, et six en Angleterre.
 
 
A mon retour ce Duc pour page me reprint :
Long temps à l’Escurie en repos ne me tint
Qu’il me renvoyast en Flandres et Zelande,
Et depuis en Escosse, où la tempeste grande
Avecques Lassigni, cuida faire toucher
Poussée aux bords Anglois la nef contre un rocher.
 
Plus de trois jours entiers dura ceste tempeste,
D’eau, de gresle et d’esclairs nous menassant la teste :
A la fin arrivez sans nul danger au port,
La nef en cent morceaux se rompt contre le bord,
Nous laissant sur la rade, et point n’y eut de perte
Sinon elle qui fut des flots salez couverte,
Et le bagage espars que le vent secoüoit,
Et qui servoit flottant aux ondes de jouet.
 
 
D’Escosse retourné, je fus mis hors de page,
Et à peine seize ans avoient borné mon âge,
Que l’an cinq cens quarante avec Baïf je vins
En la haute Allemaigne, où la langue j’apprins.
 
Mais làs ! à mon retour une aspre maladie
Par ne sçay quel destin me vint boucher l’ouie,
Et dure m’accabla d’assommement si lourd,
Qu’encores aujourd’huy j’en reste demy-sourd.
L’an d’apres en Avril, Amour me fist surprendre,
Suivant la Cour à Blois, des beaux yeux de Cassandre
Soit le nom faux ou vray, jamais le temps veinqueur
N’effacera ce nom du marbre de mon cœur.
 
 
 
 
Convoiteux de sçavoir, disciple je vins estre
De d’Aurat à Paris, qui cinq ans fut mon maistre
En Grec et en Latin : chez luy premierement
Nostre ferme amitié print son commencement,
Laquelle dans mon ame à tout jamais, et celle
De nostre amy Baïf sera perpetuelle.
 
I’d like, my dear Belleau, for you not to be in any way uninformed
About where he’s from, and who he is, this man whom the Muses have bound
With so firm a knot to you, such that the years’
Course turning will not hide from our future descendants
That Belleau and Ronsard were but one person,
The two joined by one shared heart.
 
So, as for my first ancestor, he came from roots
Where the freezing Danube runs beside Thrace;
Lower down than Hungary, in a cold region,
There was a Lord named Marquis of Ronsart,
Rich in gold and retainers, in towns and lands.
One of his younger sons, eager to see war,
Assembled a band of other daring younger sons
And, leaving his country, as their Captain
Crossed Hungary and lower Germany,
Crossed Burgundy and rich Champagne,
And boldly came to serve Philip of Valois
Who for some time had been at war with the English.
 
He acted so well in the service of France
That the King gave him plentiful holdings
On the banks of the Loir; then forgetting all about
Brothers, father and homeland, as a Frenchman he married
And bore the ancestors from whom descended the father
Through whom I first saw this fair light.
 
My father was always while living here
In charge of the King’s household, and he followed him
Even when he was a prisoner in Spain for his father;
Shouldn’t a servant accompany his Lord,
Loyal to his fate, and in bad times
Be as loyal to him as in good?
 
On my mother’s side, I take my lineage
From the people of Trimouille, of Bouchage,
Of Rouaux, and of Chaudriers;
They were in their time such brave warriors
That their noble bravery (may Mars make it everlasting)
Re-took from the English the walls of La Rochelle,
Where one of them was so valiant that even today
In his honour a street bears his name.
 
But if it would please you to have as much information
About the date of my birth, as about my ancestors,
Dear Belleau, then without falsifying anything I shall tell you the true
Date, both the year and the day, of my birth.
 
The year in which King Francis was taken before Pavia,
On a Saturday, God granted me life –
The 11th September it was – and I very nearly found myself
As soon as born, torn away by Fate.
 
I was not the first of my father’s children,
My mother had produced five children before my birth:
Two died in the cradle, and to the three living am I
In no way similar in either way of life or wealth.
 
As soon as I was nine, they sent me to college,
But I spent only half a year troubling
To learn the lessons of the master, de Vailly.
Then I left having gained nothing from college.
I came to Avignon, where the powerful army
Of King Francis was proudly in action
Against Charles of Austria; and there I was granted
The role of page to the Duke of Orleans; afterwards I was sent
In the King of Scotland’s entourage to Scotland
Where I spent 30 months, and six in England.
 
On my return the Duke took me back as page,
But I did not stay quietly in the Royal Mews for long
Before he sent me to Flanders and Zeeland
And then to Scotland, where a great storm
Tried to drive the ship, along with Lassigni,
Onto the rocks, after blowing it to the coast of England.
 
More than three whole days the storm lasted,
Menacing our lives with water, hail and lightning;
In the end, as we arrived with no danger at port,
The ship broke into a hundred pieces on the coast
Leaving us in the harbour with no losses
Except the ship herself, sunk in the salty waves,
And our widely-scattered baggage blown about by the wind
Which used it as a plaything as it floated on the waves.
 
Returned from Scotland I lost my job as page
And had barely reached the age of sixteen
When in 1540 I went with Baïf
To Upper Germany, where I learned the language.
 
But alas, on my return a terrible illness
For some end unknown came and stopped up my hearing,
And hit me hard with a blow so heavy
That still today I remain half-deaf as a result.
The year after, in April, love took me unawares
As I followed the Court to Blois, through the fair eyes of Cassandre.
Whether that name is her true one or not, never will conquering time
Wipe that name from the marble [memorial] in my heart.
 
Eager to learn, I came to be the disciple
Of d’Aurat in Paris, and he was for five years my teacher
In Greek and Latin; it was at his home that first
Our firm friendship began
And it shall for all time in my soul, along with that
For our friend Baïf, be everlasting.
 
 

Inevitably, there are varants in Blanchemain’s edition (Ronsard’s first version):  for simplicity here is the whole poem with changes marked in red:

ELEGIE XX
A REMY BELLEAU
Excellent Poëte françois
 
Je veux, mon cher Belleau, que tu n’ignores point
D’où, ne qui est celuy, que les Muses ont joint
D’un nœud si ferme à toy, afin que des années,
A nos neveux futurs, les courses retournées
Ne celent que Belleau et Ronsard n’estoient qu’un,
Et que tous deux avoient un mesme cœur commun.
 
 
 
Or quant à mon ancestre, il a tiré sa race
D’où le glacé Danube est voisin de la Thrace :
Plus bas que la Hongrie, en une froide part,
Est un Seigneur nommé le Marquis de Ronsart,
Riche d’or et de gens, de villes et de terre.
Un de ses fils puisnez ardant de voir la guerre,
Un camp d’autres puisnez assembla hazardeux,
Et quittant son pays, faict Capitaine d’eux
Traversa la Hongrie et la basse Allemaigne.
Traversa la Bourgongne et toute la Champaigne,
Et soudard vint servir Philippes de Valois,
Qui pour lors avoit guerre encontre les Anglois.
 
Il s’employa si bien au service de France,
Que le Roy luy donna des biens à suffisance
Sur les rives du Loir : puis du tout oubliant
Freres, pere et pays, François se mariant
Engendra les ayeux dont est sorty le pere
Par qui premier je vy ceste belle lumiere.
 
 
Mon pere de Henry gouverna la maison,
Fils du grand Roy François, quand il fut en prison
Servant de seur hostage à son pere en Espagne:
Faut-il pas qu’un servant son Seigneur accompaigne
Fidele à sa fortune, et qu’en adversité
Luy soit autant loyal qu’en la felicité ?
 
 
Du costé maternel j’ay tiré mon lignage
De ceux de la Trimouille, et de ceux du Bouchage,
Et de ceux des Roüaux, et de ceux des Chaudriers
Qui furent en leurs temps si vertueux guerriers,
Que leur noble prouesse, au fait des armes belle
Reprint sur les Anglois les murs de la Rochelle,
Où l’un fut si vaillant qu’encores aujourd’huy
Une rue à son los porte le nom de luy.
 
Mais s’il te plaist avoir autant de cognoissance
(Comme de mes ayeux) du jour de ma naissance,
Mon Belleau, sans mentir je diray verité
Et de l’an et du jour de ma nativité.
 
 
L’an que le Roy François fut pris devant Pavie,
Le jour d’un Samedy, Dieu me presta la vie
L’onziesme de Septembre, et presque je me vy
Tout aussi tost que né, de la Parque ravy.
 
 
Je ne fus le premier des enfants de mon père,
Cinq avant moy longtemps en enfanta ma mere :
Deux sont morts au berceau, aux trois vivans en rien
Semblable je ne suis ny de mœurs ny de bien.
 
Si tost que j’eu neuf ans, au college on me meine :
Je mis tant seulement un demy an de peine
D’apprendre les leçons du regent de Vailly,
Puis sans rien profiter du college sailly,
Je vins en Avignon, où la puissante armée
Du Roy François estoit fierement animée
Contre Charles d’Austriche, et là je fus donné
Page au Duc d’Orleans : apres je fus mené
Suivant le Roy d’Escosse en l’Escossoise terre,
Où trente mois je fus, et six en Angleterre.
 
 
A mon retour ce Duc pour Pape me reprint :
Et guere à l’Escurie en repos ne me tint
Qu’il me renvoyast en Flandres et Zelande,
Et encore en Escosse, où la tempeste grande
Avecques Lassigni, cuida faire toucher
Poussée aux bords Anglois ma nef contre un rocher.
 
 
 
Plus de trois jours entiers dura ceste tempeste,
D’eau, de gresle et d’esclairs nous menassant la teste :
A la fin arrivez sans nul danger au port,
La nef en cent morceaux se rompt contre le bord,
Nous laissant sur la rade, et point n’y eut de perte
Sinon elle qui fut des flots salez couverte,
Et le bagage espars que le vent secoüoit,
Et qui servoit flottant aux ondes de jouet.
 
 
D’Escosse retourné, je fus mis hors de page,
Et à peine seize ans avoient borné mon âge,
Que l’an cinq cens quarante avec Baïf je vins
En la haute Allemaigne, où la langue j’apprins.
 
Mais làs ! à mon retour une aspre maladie
Par ne sçay quel destin me vint boucher l’ouie,
Et dure m’accabla d’assommement si lourd,
Qu’encores aujourd’huy j’en reste demy-sourd.
L’an d’apres en Avril, Amour me fist surprendre,
Suivant la Cour à Blois, des beaux yeux de Cassandre
Soit le nom faux ou vray, jamais le temps veinqueur
N’ostera ce beau nom du marbre de mon cœur.
 
 
 
 
 
Incontinent apres disciple je vins estre
A Paris, de Daurat qui cinq ans fut mon maistre
En Grec et en Latin : chez luy premierement
Nostre ferme amitié print son commencement,
Laquelle dans mon ame à tout jamais, et celle
De nostre amy Baïf sera perpetuelle.
 
ELEGY 20
TO REMY BELLEAU
Excellent poet of France
 
I’d like, my dear Belleau, for you not to be in any way uninformed
About where he’s from, and who he is, this man whom the Muses have bound
With so firm a knot to you, such that the years’
Course turning will not hide from our future descendants
That Belleau and Ronsard were but one person,
The two joined by one shared heart.
 
So, as for my first ancestor, he came from roots
Where the freezing Danube runs beside Thrace;
Lower down than Hungary, in a cold region,
There was a Lord named Marquis of Ronsart,
Rich in gold and retainers, in towns and lands.
One of his younger sons, eager to see war,
Assembled a band of other daring younger sons
And, leaving his country, as their Captain
Crossed Hungary and lower Germany,
Crossed Burgundy and all of Champagne,
And came as a mercenary to serve Philip of Valois
Who for some time had been at war with the English.
 
He acted so well in the service of France
That the King gave him plentiful holdings
On the banks of the Loir; then forgetting all about
Brothers, father and homeland, as a Frenchman he married
And bore the ancestors from whom descended the father
Through whom I first saw this fair light.
 
My father managed the household of Henry,
Son of the great King Francis, serving his lord
When he was in prison as a hostage for his father in Spain;
Shouldn’t a servant accompany his Lord,
Loyal to his fate, and in bad times
Be as loyal to him as in good?
 
On my mother’s side, I take my lineage
From the people of Trimouille, of Bouchage,
Of Rouaux, and of Chaudriers;
They were in their time such brave warriors
That their noble prowess, fair in deeds of arms,
Re-took from the English the walls of La Rochelle,
Where one of them was so valiant that even today
In his honour a street bears his name.
 
But if it would please you to have as much information
About the date of my birth, as about my ancestors,
Dear Belleau, then without falsifying anything I shall tell you the true
Date, both the year and the day, of my birth.
 
The year in which King Francis was taken before Pavia,
On a Saturday, God granted me life –
The 11th September it was – and I very nearly found myself
As soon as born, torn away by Fate.
 
I was not the first of my father’s children,
My mother had produced five long before me;
Two died in the cradle, and to the three living am I
In no way similar in either way of life or wealth.
 
As soon as I was nine, they sent me to college,
But I spent only half a year troubling
To learn the lessons of the master, de Vailly.
Then I left having gained nothing from college.
I came to Avignon, where the powerful army
Of King Francis was proudly in action
Against Charles of Austria; and there I was granted
The role of page to the Duke of Orleans; afterwards I was sent
In the King of Scotland’s entourage to Scotland
Where I spent 30 months, and six in England.
 
On my return the Duke took me back [on the Pope’s behalf??]
   [surely a misprint for ‘page’?!]
But barely had I stopped quietly in the Royal Mews
Before he sent me to Flanders and Zeeland
And again to Scotland, where a great storm
Tried to drive my ship, along with Lassigni,
Onto the rocks, after blowing it to the coast of England.
 
More than three whole days the storm lasted,
Menacing our lives with water, hail and lightning;
In the end, as we arrived with no danger at port,
The ship broke into a hundred pieces on the coast
Leaving us in the harbour with no losses
Except the ship herself, sunk in the salty waves,
And our widely-scattered baggage blown about by the wind
Which used it as a plaything as it floated on the waves.
 
Returned from Scotland I lost my job as page
And had barely reached the age of sixteen
When in 1540 I went with Baïf
To Upper Germany, where I learned the language.
 
But alas, on my return a terrible illness
For some end unknown came and stopped up my hearing,
And hit me hard with a blow so heavy
That still today I remain half-deaf as a result.
The year after, in April, love took me unawares
As I followed the Court to Blois, through the fair eyes of Cassandre.
Whether that name is her true one or not, never will conquering time
Remove that fair name from the marble [memorial] in my heart.
 
Immediately afterwards, I came to be the disciple
Of Daurat in Paris, and he was for five years my teacher
In Greek and Latin; it was at his home that first
Our firm friendship began
And it shall for all time in my soul, along with that
For our friend Baïf, be everlasting.

(As noted in the text, I assume the printing of “Pape” instead of “page” is a typo. My approximation of what the Pope might be doing in there is really not a translation of what the French says in any case!)

2 – biographical notes

(i) Blanchemain

Blanchemain litters his text with footnotes: as he puts it “we have retained (‘conservé’) all the notes on this piece…” – though I am not sure which early edition he’s “conserved” them from. So here are the relevant lines from the translation of his edition (above), paired with his notes. My own additions or clarifications are in [brackets]:
So, as for my first ancestor, he came from roots
Where the freezing Danube runs beside Thrace;
Lower down than Hungary, in a cold region,
There was a Lord named Marquis of Ronsart,
Rich in gold and retainers, in towns and lands.
One of his younger sons, eager to see war,
Assembled a band of other daring younger sons
And, leaving his country, as their Captain
Crossed Hungary and lower Germany,
Crossed Burgundy and all of Champagne,
And came as a mercenary to serve Philip of Valois
Who for some time had been at war with the English.
He acted so well in the service of France
That the King gave him plentiful holdings
On the banks of the Loir;
This ancestor of our poet, who came from the lower Danube to offer his services to Philip of Valois, was called Marucini or Mârâcinâ like his father, who added to his name the title of Bano (Ban). Once settled in France he translated his paternal name and title literally, changing ‘bano’ into Marquis and Marucini (=Ronces – bramble; or Roncière – bramble-bush) into Ronsard. Source: Ubicini 1855, Romanian Popular Songs collected by Alecsandri [see further the notes below about Alecsandri’s contribution on this origins story].
My father managed the household of Henry,
Son of the great King Francis, serving his lord
When he was in prison as a hostage for his father in Spain;

Henry = Henry II, then Duke of Orleans. It was a great thing at that time to be in charge of the king’s household; for his responsibilities were given only to noble folk and there were no valets [grooms] who were not gentlemen.

King Francis I, who was captured before Pavia covered in dust and blood, returned to France [in exchange for] leaving his two sons, Francis the dauphin & Henry Duke of Orleans (later king) as hostages in Spain.

On my mother’s side, I take my lineage
From the people of Trimouille, of Bouchage,
Of Rouaux, and of Chaudriers;

Trimouille: the princess, mother of the Prince of Condé, bore this name.  Bouchage: of the house of Joyeuse, father of madame de Guise, mother of mlle. De Montpensier.  Rouaux: from which came that great warrior Joachim Roüaut [Rouault], marshal of France under Charles VII [actually, under Louis XI in 1461 rather than under Charles; Jeanne Chaudrier, Ronsard’s mother, was a descendant].  Chaudriers: an ancient house [going back to the Mayor of la Rochelle c1300;  Ronsard’s mother was also Dame du Bouchaige].

 … and I very nearly found myself
As soon as born, torn away by Fate.

The maid carrying him when they were taking him to baptism dropped him on a meadow, specified as the pré Bouju by Cohen(!).

Two died in the cradle, and to the three living am I
In no way similar in either way of life or wealth.

Descended from the eldest brother and still alive in 1623, his grandsons, were de la Poissonière & the knight Ronsard, and several girls descended from one or the other of the children.

 As soon as I was nine, they sent me to college,

He studied at the college in Navarre under a man called de Vailly, beneath whom also studied the Cardinal of Lorraine [a member of the influential Guise family].

 I came to Avignon, where the powerful army
Of King Francis was proudly in action
Against Charles of Austria; and there I was granted
The role of page to the Duke of Orleans; afterwards I was sent
In the King of Scotland’s entourage to Scotland
Where I spent 30 months, and six in England.

Charles = Charles V, [Holy Roman] Emperor and King of Spain, who attacked Provence and who boasted he’d hold Paris like Madrid.

Orleans = Henry II, being Dauphin on the death of his brother, poisoned at Tournon by the Count of Montecuculo [Count Sebastiano de Montecuccoli, secretary to the Dauphin, was executed for his murder though it is likely the Dauphin died of tuberculosis].

Ronsard made the journey to Scotland in 1536, in the entourage of James V who had just married Madeleine, daughter of Francis I, in Paris. That king married secondly [Mary of Guise] the sister of M de Guise, Francis of Lorraine; from whence comes the blood-relationship between the Guise family & the king of England.

Before he sent me to Flanders and Zeeland
And again to Scotland, where a great storm
Tried to drive my ship, along with Lassigni,
Onto the rocks,

Flanders: the Duke of Orleans sent Ronsard, who was his page, to Flanders and Zeeland, with several letters of credit that he sent to his mistress, niece of the Emperor.

Lassigni: a French lord.

When in 1540 I went with Baïf
To Upper Germany,

This was Lazare Baïf, a gentleman of Anjou, related to those [gentlemen] de Laval [an important family, producing several marshals of France in mid-1400s] and de Guimené; the king’s ambassador in Germany as he had been in Venice; a very learned man, witness the books he wrote De re navali [About naval matters] and De re vestiaria [Concerning clothes]. He was father of Jean Antoine Baïf, excellent poet.

(ii) additional notes

“My father was always while living here
In charge of the King’s household “
“My father managed the household of Henry,
Son of the great King Francis, serving his lord
When he was in prison as a hostage for his father in Spain;”

Loys de Ronsard served Louis XII with distinction in the Italian wars between 1495 and 1515 – being present at the taking of Milan in 1499 and Genoa in 1507, the capture of Ludovico Sforza in 1500, and the battles of Agnadello (1509) and Marignano (1515). After the King’s death Loys became maître-d’hotel and then premier maître-d’hotel to King Francis I and remained in France, but following the disastrous battle of Pavia when the King was captured he spent the years 1526-30 in Spain with the hostages who had been swapped for the King’s freedom after Pavia: the dauphin Francis and his younger brother Henry, later Henry II. He brought back a fair bit of Renaissance sculpture from Italy to adorn his home (the Château de la Poissonière, near Vendôme, where his son Pierre was later born), among the earlier Frenchmen to appreciate the new art burgeoning in Italy.

 “The year in which King Francis was taken before Pavia,
On a Saturday, God granted me life –
The 11th September it was”

Ronsard’s birthdate is a cause of endless confusion, argument and uncertainty. It amuses me that the biography on Wikipedia.fr states three different dates in three different places… We know where he was born (the Château de la Poissonière, near Vendôme), but not quite when. Ronsard says here he was born on Saturday 11th September 1524.  However, the 11th September was in fact a Sunday in 1524.  (And, because 1524 was a leap year, it was a Friday the year before; and thus 11th September was never a Saturday in the 1520s!)  Other dates suggested therefore include Saturday 10th; as well as Friday 2nd or even late at night on Saturday 10th as it was just turning into Sunday(!). Perhaps  from a mis-reading of the poem, a tradition grew up that he was born on the date of the Battle of Pavia, 25th February 1525, as well. [Note: this is still ‘in the same year’ as his birth because new year was at the beginning of March at this time.] The 2nd September 1525, and even 6th September 1522 – both of which are Saturdays – have also been suggested. The fact is, we will never know: but a date in early September 1524 seems likeliest.

 “I was not the first of my father’s children,
My mother had produced five long before me;
Two died in the cradle”

We know that Ronsard had a sister and two brothers: Louise (b. 1514), Claude (b. 1515) and Charles (b. 1519) who entered the church. He was the last born – and (as he says here) a ‘long time’, five years, after the other children. However, Chalandon writing in 1875 mentions also a fifth surviving child, another Loys, who became abbé at Tyron; I haven’t been able to track down anything more about this claim, which seems an extraordinary one – would Ronsard have forgotten or attempted to erase the existence of one of his brothers?

 “As soon as I was nine, they sent me to college,
But I spent only half a year troubling
To learn the lessons of the master, de Vailly”

Ronsard went to the Collège de Navarre (part of the university of Paris) in the autumn of 1533, perhaps in preparation for a career in the Catholic church to which, as a younger son, his father may have destined him.  He left quickly, though it is not clear why: perhaps because the teaching was bad, more probably because he didn’t like the idea of a church career and wanted to see some excitement with the Court and the army. Simonin’s 1990 biography also suggests he left college (or perhaps was removed by his family?) because of agitation there by the Protestant reformer Gérard Roussel. This was of course a period of immense tensions in France, as in the rest of Europe, between the established church and protestant reformers. While he was there, though, Ronsard apparently made the acquaintance of Charles de Guise, later Cardinal of Lorraine, and as a Guise a member of a powerful and influential family. Another, Mary of Guise, later married James V of Scotland and precipitated Ronsard’s return to France.

It is interesting to note that one of the great theologians of the time, Mathurin Cordier, had been master at the college a few years earlier, though he had moved on to another college by this time.

 “there I was granted
The role of page to the Duke of Orleans; afterwards I was sent
In the King of Scotland’s entourage to Scotland
Where I spent 30 months, and six in England”

Ronsard was appointed a page at Court in 1536, initially to the Dauphin but when he died soon afterwards he joined (as he says) the suite of Charles, Duke of Orleans.  When the King’s daughter, Madeleine (sister of Charles) was married to King James V of Scotland in January 1537, Ronsard was given to Madeleine by Charles and went to Scotland in her service. She died in June the same year, and was thus known as the ‘Summer Queen’ by the Scots. The boy Ronsard was then attached to the Court of King James. There is little corroborating detail for Ronsard’s claim to have spent 3 years abroad; some doubt the whole story. But it seems probable that he stayed in Scotland until 1538, when the king re-married; and thus it seems likely (to me at least) that his 3 years in England and Scotland includes time later when he travelled in the suite of Lassigny (below). It’s not clear why he spent 6 months in England; but there are later links with the Renaissance court there and it is possible the precocious teenage Ronsard was extending his knowledge of humanist poetry and poetic forms at Henry VIII’s court?

 “But barely had I stopped quietly in the Royal Mews
Before he sent me to Flanders and Zeeland
And again to Scotland where a great storm
Tried to drive my ship, along with Lassigni,
Onto the rocks, after blowing it to the coast of England”

Returning to France, Ronsard joined the other pages in the Écurie or Stable (we might perhaps say the Royal Mews), where all the pages were housed. Scholars tend to say he then joined the suite of Claude d’Humières, Seigneur de Lassigny, who was an equerry in charge of the pages (at an annual remuneration of 400 livres) and with him travelled in Flanders. Cohen states that they left on 24th December 1538. Then in 1539-40 Ronsard was again in England and Scotland. Notably, though, Ronsard only links Lassigny with the shipwreck in England. So perhaps (with Blanchemain, and following Ronsard’s lead) we might conclude that the missions to Flanders and Zeeland were in the service of the Duke of Orleans instead?  (Nothing beyond Ronsard’s own account seems to exist to add detail about the place of the shipwreck, nor his missions in Flanders and Scotland.)

“And had barely reached the age of sixteen
When in 1540 I went with Baïf
To Upper Germany, where I learned the language”

Again a page to the Duke of Orleans in 1539, Ronsard joined the embassy sent to Germany in 1540. This was led by Lazare de Baïf, whose son Jean-Antoine also accompanied him. It is possible that Ronsard was sent by the Duke to keep an eye on things; the embassy was designed to try to detach some of the German princes from Charles V’s side and perhaps bring them into alliance with France, and no doubt the Duke would have liked to have his own sources of information as well as the ‘official’ sources. (The embassy is sometimes referred to as going to the Diet of Speyer; the Diet was though convened by Charles V, so this mission might have been rather delicate – if the Diet had been in session in 1540, which it wasn’t. Cohen however says the embassy stayed in Haguenau, in the Alsace – nearby, and perhaps a more obvious target for French alliances.)

Cohen doubts that Ronsard bothered to learn German; it wasn’t a very useful language at the time!

“on my return a terrible illness
For some end unknown came and stopped up my hearing,
And hit me hard with a blow so heavy
That still today I remain half-deaf as a result”

Struck by illness (Cohen postulates a possible venereal origin!), Ronsard retired to Poissonière for a lengthy recovery. Half-deaf he decided to abandon a politico-military career and turned again to study, perhaps with a view to some sort of church career. He in fact took the tonsure in 1543; this did not make him a priest but it did make him eligible for a number of church posts from which he could have drawn (and later did draw) income. In the event, though, he remained in the service of Charles of Orleans and attached to the Court.

“The year after, in April, love took me unawares
As I followed the Court to Blois, through the fair eyes of Cassandre”

“The year after” – after what?  If it was the year after visiting Germany as Ronsard’s text implies that would be 1541 – which is too early.  So it’s likely to be a year after his illness and convalescence – implying a 2-3 period for these (see above). While Ronsard is certain he met Cassandre at Blois in April 1546, court records apparently show that the court did not go to Blois in 1546! There was however a ball held there in 1545, so it seems likely the two met in that year – and Ronsard’s memory was at fault…

 “Immediately afterwards, I came to be the disciple
Of d’Aurat in Paris”

So when did Ronsard move to Paris? Immediately after what?  (Or perhaps the later change to the text means it wasn’t ‘immediately after’?) Ronsard’s parents both died in 1544, and Lazare de Baïf apparently stepped in to offer the young man the chance to study in Paris, with the younger Baïf under Jean Dorat (D’Aurat). Initially the pair lived at the Baïf residence, as did Dorat who had been engaged to tutor Jean-Antoine; but Lazare died in 1547, and it is likely that at this point Dorat installed himself at the Collège de Coqueret where he became principal around this time. The ‘five years’ spent under Dorat would therefore include those initial years when they studied privately with him.

“… it was at his home that first
Our firm friendship began”

Although after Lazare de Baïf’s death Ronsard and the younger Baïf moved out and apparently joined Dorat, it is not clear that they attended his Collège. That is hardly “chez luy”.  Indeed Ronsard entered into a contract to rent no.2, rue de la Poterie, at Easter 1548 jointly with a minor cleric – interesting evidence also of a continued involvement in ecclesiastical circles.  Baïf and Ronsard were joined under Dorat’s tutelage by Belleau, and then by du Bellay, at this time – the core of the Pléiade. At least one source refers to the Pléiade arising from ‘teaching/learning [enseignement] at Chef Saint-Jean’ – Dorat’s own home. Perhaps then the group met informally at Dorat’s house rather than formally at the Collège. And it was from this context that du Bellay launched the Pléiade’s “manifesto” Défense et illustration de la langue française in 1549 and Ronsard exploded the bombshell of his first major collection, the Odes I-IV, in 1550.

3 – a Romanian (or Bulgarian) ancestor?

“So, as for my first ancestor, he came from roots
Where the freezing Danube runs beside Thrace;
Lower down than Hungary, in a cold region,
There was a Lord named Marquis of Ronsart,”

Did Mârâcinâ Ban exist, and was he Ronsard’s ancestor? The probable answer is no: this was quite possibly a family tradition which Ronsard reports – though it has also been suggested it might be pure imagination on his part!

The romantic tradition of Ronsard’s Romanian origins was not just popular in France. A French teacher and activist working in Romania during the 1830s -40s, Jean Vaillant, adopted Ronsard’s story in his 1844 book La Roumanie, using him as a symbol of the links between France and Romania.  Then the Romanian poet Vasile Alecsandri, writing in Paris after the failure of the 1848 Wallachian revolution, produced Banul Mărăcină in 1855 (though it was not published till 1861). This developed the bare bones of Ronsard’s story with circumstantial detail: Alecsandri made Mărăcină a boyar, lord of Ronsart, governor of Craiova (70 miles west of Bucharest, now Romania’s 6th largest city); and specified a troop of 50 younger sons coming to liberate France. It interests me that Blanchemain used Alecsandri’s “research” (indirectly) as a source for his footnote providing the story.

But romantic legends are not facts.

Further scholarly activity in France established that Ronsard’s grandfather was Olivier Ronsart or Roussart, who was an enfeoffed sergeant (sergent fieffé) in Gastine forest. Though some have said this title is, in modern terms, a gamekeeper it is worth noting that Loys de Ronsard carried the same title; I think it would therefore be better to see him as ‘warden of the forest’ or equivalent, a minor noble rather than a mere gamekeeper. He was a vassal of the Du Bellay family, ancestors of Joachim du Bellay.

Minor gentility does not of course invalidate a romantic Romanian origin, several generations further back. And scholars have identified a tradition which might be relevant: “a certain Baudoin Rossart came to France with John of Bohemia to fight the English at Crécy in 1346. King Philip of Valois apparently gave him as a sign of his recognition a domain in the Vendômois, where the brave gallant established himself.”  (Alliot & Baillou 1926, in a quatercentenary volume on Ronsard)  The same scholars also turned up an 11th century cartulary mentioning a ‘moulin Ronzart’ (Ronzart mill), however; which might suggest that the family had French origins several centuries older than the ‘Romanian link’.

And perhaps Romania is the wrong place to look anyway? At the end of the 19th century a Hungarian suggested that the lower Danubian area in question is Bulgaria – and even pointed to a town called Tarnovo which could (just) be translated as ‘Ronces’ (brambles). Today, there is a Musée Ronsard in Tarnovo…

Where does this leave us? For some scholars Olivier Ronsart’s ‘humble’ title of sergent fieffé means the Romanian/Bulgarian story cannot be true; others find no reason to argue against a possible East European root for the family. For myself, I rather like the Baudoin Rossart story but am not convinced.

In the end, does it matter? Ronsard came from minor noble stock; whether those minor nobles were home-grown, or came from dashing romantic Balkan stock racing across Europe in a crusade to ‘liberate France’, is really only a question of how colourful the story of his ancestry is!

My source for much of the detail in this section is:  N Popa  La Légende des Origines Roumaines de Ronsard in Lumières de la Pléiade (9ème Stage International d’Etudes Huamnistes, Tours 1965. Special thanks to nikolchina for providing a link to http://www.patev.net/origironsard.htm which – for French readers – provides substantially more detail on the controversy over Ronsard’s Bulgarian roots, and takes a slightly less ambivalent attitude to the possibility. It also has some helpful maps!