Tag Archives: Tithonus

Helen – book 2 – sonnet 1

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

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

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Sonnet 14

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Trois ans sont ja passez que ton oeil me tient pris,
Et si ne suis marry de me voir en servage :
Seulement je me deuls des ailes de mon âge,
Qui me laissent le chef semé de cheveux gris.

Si tu me vois ou palle, ou de fiévre surpris,
Quelquefois solitaire, ou triste de visage,
Tu devrois d’un regard soulager mon dommage :
L’Aurore ne met point son Thiton à mespris.

Si tu es de mon mal seule cause premiere,
Il faut que de mon mal tu sentes les effets :
C’est une sympathie aux hommes coustumiere.

Je suis (j’en jure Amour) tout tel que tu me fais :
Tu es mon cœur mon sang ma vie et ma lumiere :
Seule je te choisi, seule aussi tu me plais.

 

 
 
 
                                                                                Three years have already passed since your glance took me prisoner
                                                                                And yet I am not sorry to see myself in servitude;
                                                                                I am only saddened by the swift wings of age
                                                                                Which leave my head sprinkled with grey hairs.
 
                                                                                If you see me pale or taken with fever,
                                                                                Sometimes solitary or sad of face,
                                                                                You ought to soothe my hurt with a look;
                                                                                Dawn never scorns [blames] her Tithonus.
 
                                                                                As you are first cause of my troubles,
                                                                                You should feel the effects of my pain;
                                                                                That is the kind of sympathy normal among mankind.
 
                                                                                I am (I call Love to witness) entirely what you make me;
                                                                                You are my heart, my blood, my life, my light,
                                                                                You alone I love, and you alone charm me.

 

 
 
Blanchemain’s text is identical but there is another version which offers “Tu ne dois imputer ta faute à mon dommage” for line 7 – something like ‘You should not blame my ills for your own misdeed’.
 
We’ve met Aurora (Dawn) and her aged lover Tithonus before – Ronsard choosing this pair not from any mythological evidence that Dawn never blamed (or scorned) her lover, but simply because Tithonus is grey-haired and old while his girl is young and beautiful.
 
 
 
 
 

Odes 2, 16 – to Cassandre

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Ma petite colombelle,
Ma mignonne toute belle,
Mon petit oeil, baisez-moy ;
D’un bouche toute pleine
De baisers chassez la peine
De mon amoureux esmoy.
 
Quand je vous diray : Mignonne,
Approchez-vous, qu’on me donne
Neuf baisers tout à la fois ;
Lors, ne m’en baillez que trois,
 
Tels que Diane guerriere
Les donne à Phebus son frere,
Et l’Aurore à son vieillard ;
Puis reculez vostre bouche,
Et bien loin, toute farouche,
Fuyez d’un pied fretillard.
 
Comme un taureau par la prée
Court après son amourée,
Ainsi , tout plein de courroux
Je courray fol après vous,
 
Et, prise d’une main forte,
Vous tiendray de telle sorte
Qu’un aigle l’oiseau tremblant.
Lors, faisant de la modeste,
De me redonner le reste
Des baisers ferez semblant.
 
Mais en vain serez pendant
Toute à mon col, attendante
(Tenant un peu l’oeil baissé)
Pardon de m’avoir laissé :
 
Car, en lieu de six, adonques
J’en demanderay plus qu’onques
Tout le ciel d’estoiles n’eut,
Plus que d’arene poussée
Aux bords, quand l’eau courroussée
Contre les rives s’esmeut.
 
 
 
                                                                                               My little turtledove,
                                                                                               My beautiful darling,
                                                                                               Apple of my eye, kiss me
                                                                                               With a mouth full
                                                                                               Of kisses, chase away the pain
                                                                                               Of my lover’s agitation.
 
                                                                                               When I say to you, “Darling”,
                                                                                               Come to me, give me
                                                                                               Nine kisses all at once ;
                                                                                               Or, grant me but three,
 
                                                                                               Such as those which warlike Diana
                                                                                               Gives to her brother Phoebus [Apollo],
                                                                                               And as Dawn gives to her ancient husband;
                                                                                               Then draw back your lips
                                                                                               And far away, like a shy wild creature,
                                                                                               Flee with nervous feet.
 
                                                                                               As a bull in the meadow
                                                                                               Runs after his beloved,
                                                                                               So will I, full of passion,
                                                                                               Run madly after you,
 
                                                                                               And caught by my strong hand,
                                                                                               I shall hold you in the same way
                                                                                               That an eagle holds a trembling bird.
                                                                                               Then, acting modestly,
                                                                                               You shall make it seem you’ll give me back
                                                                                               The remainder of the kisses.
 
                                                                                               But in vain will you hang
                                                                                               From my neck, waiting –
                                                                                               With your gaze slightly lowered –
                                                                                               For pardon for having left me :
 
                                                                                               For instead of six, as many
                                                                                               I shall ask indeed as
                                                                                               All the heavens hold of stars,
                                                                                               More than the [grains of] sand pushed
                                                                                               Onto the shore when the wrathful waters
                                                                                               Riot against the riverbanks.
 
 
Ronsard made quite a few changes in the first half of this ode. The version above is Blanchemain’s; another version I have – which may be Marty-Laveaux’s though I cannot check his edition to make sure – begins:
 
 
Ma petite colombelle,
Ma petite toute belle,
Mon petit oeil, baisez-moi
D’un baiser qui longtemps dure
Poussés hors la peine dure
De mon amoureux esmoy.
 
Quand je vous dirai: Mignonne,
Sus, venez que l’on me donne
Neuf baisers tout simplement
Lors, ne m’en baillez que trois,
 
 
 
                                                                                               My little turtledove,
                                                                                               My beautiful little one,
                                                                                               Apple of my eye, kiss me
                                                                                               With a kiss that lasts long,
                                                                                               Thrust aside the harsh pain
                                                                                               Of my lover’s agitation.
 
                                                                                               When I say to you, “Darling”,
                                                                                               Up, come, to give me
                                                                                               Nine kisses quite simply,
                                                                                               Or, grant me but three, …