History of Literature







Pierre de Ronsard


"Poems"

Matisse’s Amours: Illustrations of Pierre de Ronsard’s Love Poems



 


Pierre de Ronsard

 



Pierre de Ronsard

born , Sept. 11, 1524, La Possonnière, near Couture, Fr.
died Dec. 27, 1585, Saint-Cosme, near Tours




Poet, chief among the French Renaissance group of poets known as La Pléiade.

Ronsard was a younger son of a noble family of the county of Vendôme. He entered the service of the royal family as a page in 1536 and accompanied Princess Madeleine to Edinburgh after her marriage to James V of Scotland. On his return to France two years later, a court appointment or a military or diplomatic career seemed to be open before him, and in 1540 he accompanied the diplomat Lazare de Baïf on a mission to an international conference at Haguenau in Alsace. An illness contracted on this expedition left him partially deaf, however, and his ambitions were deflected to scholarship and literature. For someone in his position, the church provided the only future, and he accordingly took minor orders, which entitled him to hold ecclesiastical benefices, though he was never an ordained priest. A period of enthusiastic study of the classics followed his convalescence; during this time he learned Greek from the brilliant tutor Jean Dorat, read all the Greek and Latin poetry then known, and gained some familiarity with Italian poetry. With a group of fellow students he formed a literary school that came to be called La Pléiade, in emulation of the seven ancient Greek poets of Alexandria: its aim was to produce French poetry that would stand comparison with the verse of classical antiquity.

The title of his first collection of poems, Odes (4 books, 1550), emphasizes that he was attempting a French counterpart to the odes of the ancient Roman poet Horace. In Les Amours (1552) he also proved his skill as an exponent of the Italian canzoniere, animating the compliments to his beloved, entreaties, and lamentations traditional to this poetic form by the vehemence of his manner and the wealth of his imagery. Always responsive to new literary influences, he found fresh inspiration in the recently discovered verse of the Greek poet Anacreon (6th century bc). The more playful touch encouraged by this model is to be felt in the Bocage (“Grove”) of poetry of 1554 and in the Meslanges (“Miscellany”) of that year, which contain some of his most exquisite nature poems, and in the Continuation des amours and Nouvelles Continuations, addressed to a country girl, Marie. In 1555 he began to write a series of long poems, such as the “Hymne du Ciel” (“Hymn of the Sky”), celebrating natural phenomena, abstract ideas like death or justice, or gods and heroes of antiquity; these poems, published as Hymnes (following the 3rd-century-bc Greek poet Callimachus, who had inspired them), contain passages of stirring eloquence and vivid description, though few of them can hold the modern reader’s interest from beginning to end. Reminiscences of his boyhood inspired other poems, such as his “Complainte contre fortune,” published in the second book of the Meslanges (1559), which contains a haunting description of his solitary wanderings as a child in the woods and the discovery of his poetic vocation. This poem is also notable for a celebrated denunciation of the colonization of the New World, whose people he imagined to be noble savages living in an unspoiled state of nature comparable to his idealized memories of childhood.



 

The outbreak of the religious wars found him committed to an extreme royalist and Catholic position, and he drew upon himself the hostility of the Protestants. To this period belong the Discours des misères de ce temps (1562; “Discourse on the Miseries of These Times”) and other Discours attacking his opponents, whom he dismissed as traitors and hypocrites with ever-increasing bitterness. Yet he also wrote much court poetry during this period, encouraged by the young king Charles IX, a sincere admirer, and, on the king’s marriage to Elizabeth of Austria in 1571, he was commissioned to compose verses and plan the scheme of decorations for the state entry through the city of Paris. If he was by now in some sense the poet laureate of France, he made slow progress with La Franciade, which he intended to be the national epic; this somewhat halfhearted imitation of Virgil’s great Latin epic, the Aeneid, was abandoned after the death of Charles IX, the four completed books being published in 1572. After the accession of Henry III, who did not favour Ronsard so much, he lived in semi-retirement, though his creativity was undiminished. The collected edition of his works published in 1578 included some remarkable new works, among them the so-called “Elegy Against the Woodcutters of Gâtine” (“Contre les bucherons de la forêt de Gastine”), lamenting the destruction of the woods near his old home; a sequel to Les Amours de Marie; and the Sonnets pour Hélène. In the latter, which is now perhaps the most famous of his collections, the veteran poet demonstrates his power to revivify the stylized patterns of courtly love poetry. Even in his last illness, Ronsard still wrote verse that is sophisticated in form and rich with classical allusions. His posthumous collection, Les Derniers Vers (“The Final Verses”), poignantly expresses the anguish of the incurable invalid in nights spent alone in pain, longing for sleep, watching for the dawn, and praying for death.

Ronsard perfected the 12-syllable, or alexandrine, line of French verse, hitherto despised as too long and pedestrian, and established it as the classic medium for scathing satire, elegiac tenderness, and tragic passion. During his lifetime he was recognized in France as the prince of poets and a figure of national significance. This prominence, scarcely paralleled until Victor Hugo in the 19th century, faded into relative neglect in the 17th and 18th centuries; but his reputation was reinstated by the critic C.-A. Sainte-Beuve, and it has remained secure.

To the modern reader Ronsard is perhaps most appealing when celebrating his native countryside, reflecting on the brevity of youth and beauty, or voicing the various states of unrequited love, though he is also effective when identifying himself imaginatively with some classical mythological character and when expressing sentiments of fiery patriotism or deep humanity. He was a master of lyric themes and forms, and his poetry remains attractive to composers; some of his odes, such as “Mignonne, allons voir si la rose . . . ,” were set to music repeatedly and have become as familiar to the general public in France as folk songs.

Annette Elizabeth Armstrong

 

 

 

 


Matisse’s Amours:
Illustrations of Pierre de Ronsard’s Love Poems

 

 

 

 

 


"Poems"

 

 

 


I wish to drag my pain the length of France,
Faster than an arrow from the bowstring,
I desire with wax my ears to stop,
To no longer hear my siren’s voice.
I wish my two eyes to turn into a fountain,
My heart into a fire, my head into a rock,
My feet into a trunk, never to approach
Her so proudly human beauty.
I wish my thoughts to turn into birds,
My gentle sighs into new Zephyrs,
To broadcast the world over my complaint.
I wish the hue of my pale color
On the banks of the Loire to bear a flower,
Painted with my name and my misfortune.


(Translation by Michael Mills)



More closely than the clinging vine
About the wedded tree,
Clasp thou thine arms, ah, mistress mine!
About the heart of me.
Or seem to sleep, and stoop your face
Soft on my sleeping eyes,
Breathe in your life, your heart, your grace,
Through me, in kissing wise.
Bow down, bow down your face, I pray,
To me that swoon to death,
Breathe back the life you kissed away,
Breathe back your kissing breath.
So by your eyes I swear and say,
My mighty oath and sure,
From your kind arms no maiden may
My loving heart allure.
I’ll bear your yoke, that’s light enough,
And to the Elysian plain,
When we are dead of love, my love,
One boat shall bear us twain.

(Translation by Andrew Lang)

 

 

 



 

 

 


ROSES


I send you here a wreath of blossoms blown,
And woven flowers at sunset gathered,
Another dawn had seen them ruined, and shed
Loose leaves upon the grass at random strown.
By this, their sure example, be it known,
That all your beauties, now in perfect flower,
Shall fade as these, and wither in an hour,
Flowerlike, and brief of days, as the flower sown.

Ah, time is flying, lady--time is flying;
Nay, 'tis not time that flies but we that go,
Who in short space shall be in churchyard lying,
And of our loving parley none shall know,
Nor any man consider what we were;
Be therefore kind, my love, whiles thou art fair.


THE ROSE

See, Mignonne, hath not the Rose,
That this morning did unclose
Her purple mantle to the light,
Lost, before the day be dead,
The glory of her raiment red,
Her colour, bright as yours is bright?

Ah, Mignonne, in how few hours,
The petals of her purple flowers
All have faded, fallen, died;
Sad Nature, mother ruinous,
That seest thy fair child perish thus
'Twixt matin song and even tide.

Hear me, my darling, speaking sooth,
Gather the fleet flower of your youth,
Take ye your pleasure at the best;
Be merry ere your beauty flit,
For length of days will tarnish it
Like roses that were loveliest.





TO THE MOON

Hide this one night thy crescent, kindly Moon;
So shall Endymion faithful prove, and rest
Loving and unawakened on thy breast;
So shall no foul enchanter importune
Thy quiet course; for now the night is boon,
And through the friendly night unseen I fare,
Who dread the face of foemen unaware,
And watch of hostile spies in the bright noon.
Thou knowest, Moon, the bitter power of Love;
'Tis told how shepherd Pan found ways to move,
For little price, thy heart; and of your grace,
Sweet stars, be kind to this not alien fire,
Because on earth ye did not scorn desire,
Bethink ye, now ye hold your heavenly place.


TO HIS YOUNG MISTRESS

Fair flower of fifteen springs, that still
Art scarcely blossomed from the bud,
Yet hast such store of evil will,
A heart so full of hardihood,
Seeking to hide in friendly wise
The mischief of your mocking eyes.

If you have pity, child, give o'er;
Give back the heart you stole from me,
Pirate, setting so little store
On this your captive from Love's sea,
Holding his misery for gain,
And making pleasure of his pain.

Another, not so fair of face,
But far more pitiful than you,
Would take my heart, if of his grace,
My heart would give her of Love's due;
And she shall have it, since I find
That you are cruel and unkind.

Nay, I would rather that it died,
Within your white hands prisoning,
Would rather that it still abide
In your ungentle comforting.
Than change its faith, and seek to her
That is more kind, but not so fair.






DEADLY KISSES

All take these lips away; no more,
No more such kisses give to me.
My spirit faints for joy; I see
Through mists of death the dreamy shore,
And meadows by the water-side,
Where all about the Hollow Land
Fare the sweet singers that have died,
With their lost ladies, hand in hand;
Ah, Love, how fireless are their eyes,
How pale their lips that kiss and smile!
So mine must be in little while
If thou wilt kiss me in such wise.


OF HIS LADY'S OLD AGE

When you are very old, at evening
You'll sit and spin beside the fire, and say,
Humming my songs, 'Ah well, ah well-a-day!
When I was young, of me did Ronsard sing.'
None of your maidens that doth hear the thing,
Albeit with her weary task foredone,
But wakens at my name, and calls you one
Blest, to be held in long remembering.

I shall be low beneath the earth, and laid
On sleep, a phantom in the myrtle shade,
While you beside the fire, a grandame grey,
My love, your pride, remember and regret;
Ah, love me, love! we may be happy yet,
And gather roses, while 'tis called to-day.







ON HIS LADY'S WAKING

My lady woke upon a morning fair,
What time Apollo's chariot takes the skies,
And, fain to fill with arrows from her eyes
His empty quiver, Love was standing there:
I saw two apples that her breast doth bear
None such the close of the Hesperides
Yields; nor hath Venus any such as these,
Nor she that had of nursling Mars the care.

Even such a bosom, and so fair it was,
Pure as the perfect work of Phidias,
That sad Andromeda's discomfiture
Left bare, when Perseus passed her on a day,
And pale as Death for fear of Death she lay,
With breast as marble cold, as marble pure.


HIS LADY'S DEATH

Twain that were foes, while Mary lived, are fled;
One laurel-crowned abides in heaven, and one
Beneath the earth has fared, a fallen sun,
A light of love among the loveless dead.
The first is Chastity, that vanquished
The archer Love, that held joint empery
With the sweet beauty that made war on me,
When laughter of lips with laughing eyes was wed.

Their strife the Fates have closed, with stern control,
The earth holds her fair body, and her soul
An angel with glad angels triumpheth;
Love has no more that he can do; desire
Is buried, and my heart a faded fire,
And for Death's sake, I am in love with Death.






LADY'S TOMB

As in the gardens, all through May, the rose,
Lovely, and young, and fair apparelled,
Makes sunrise jealous of her rosy red,
When dawn upon the dew of dawning glows;
Graces and Loves within her breast repose,
The woods are faint with the sweet odour shed,
Till rains and heavy suns have smitten dead
The languid flower, and the loose leaves unclose, -

So this, the perfect beauty of our days,
When earth and heaven were vocal of her praise,
The fates have slain, and her sweet soul reposes;
And tears I bring, and sighs, and on her tomb
Pour milk, and scatter buds of many a bloom,
That dead, as living, she may be with roses.



If to love, Madam, is to dream and long
and brood by day and night on means of pleasing you,
to be forgetful of all else, to wish to do nothing else
but adore and serve the beauty that wounds me,
If to love is to pursue a happiness which flies me,
to lose myself in loneliness, to suffer much pain,
to fear greatly and to hold my tongue,
to weep, to beg for pity, and to see myself sent away,
If to love is to live in you more than in myself,
to hide great weariness under a mask of joy,
to feel in the depths of my soul the odds against which I fight,
to be hot and cold as the fever of love takes me,
To be ashamed, when I speak to you, to confess my pain –
if that is to love, then I love you furiously,
I love you, knowing full well my pain is deadly.
The heart says so often enough; the tongue is silent.



Lately as dreaming on a stair I stood
you passed me by, and, by looking on my face,
blinded my eyes with the immediate grace
of unanticpated neighboourhood.
As lightning splits the clouds, my heart and blood
split with your beatuty, and began to race,
now ice, now fever, shattered in their place
by that unparelleled beatitutde.
And if you hand in passing had not beckoned--
your whiter hand than is the swan's white daughter,
Helen, your eyes had wounded me to death.
But your hand saved me in the mortal second,
and your triumphant eyes the moment after
revived their captive with an alms of breath.



Shall I your beauties with the moon compare?
she's faithless, you a single purpose own.
Or to the general sun, who everywhere
goes common with his light? You walk alone
And you are such that envy must despair
of finding in my praise aught to condone,
who have no likeness since there's naught as fair,
yourself your god, your star, Fate's overtone.
Those mad or rash, who make some other woman your rival,
hurt themselves when they would hurt you,
so far your excellence their dearth outpaces.
Either your body shields some noble demon,
or mortal you image immortal virtue;
Or Pallas you or first among the Graces.



You are the scent wherewith your posy's scented,
bloom of its bloom, the wherefore and the whence
of all its sweet, that with your love acquianted
suffers, like me passion's pale decadence.
And if these flowers are by love demented,
adoring what so far exceeds their sense
judge if I am divinely discontented
who know by heart your perfect excellence!
But, as the flower's beauty is diurnal,
may not as is the way with woman's kindness,
a single day bring all your love to naught?
Fate do your worst. My love will be eternal,
unless you overwhelm my eyes with blindness,
and pluck my heart out and uproot all thought.



When you are old, at evening candle-lit,
beside the fire bending to your wool,
read out my verse and murmur "Ronsard writ
this praise for me when I was beautiful."
And not a maid but at the sound of it,
though nodding at the stitch on broidered stool,
will start awake, and bless love's benefit,
whose long fidelities bring Time to school.
I shall be thin and ghost beneath the earth,
by myrtle-shade in quiet after pain,
but you, a crone will crouch beside the hearth,
mourning my love and all your proud disdain.
And what comes to-morrow who can say?
Live, pluck the roses of the world to-day.




 

 

 


I Want to Be Inside You
 

A hundred times I wish I could transform myself
And become an invisible spirit that hides inside your heart
And seeks to comprehend your scorn
Which seems to me so cruel.

I would become master of your emotion.
I would discover the pulse of your nerves
As they flow through your flesh and change
Your disdain. And then I would know you.

In spite of yourself, against your will
I would be a part of your desires and your terms.
And I would chase the coolness from your veins.

So perfectly, love could set fire to you,
Then, when I saw them burst into full flame,
I would step out and be a man again.

 

 

 

 
 
 
 
 

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