Ces atomes de feu qui sur la neige brillent, 

The Alps are always impressive in winter, with high snowy peaks surrounding steep valleys, wound through with narrow tracks (and of course ski-slopes today). Here is an early seventeenth century poetic celebration of that majestic beauty from French aristocratic poet Saint-Amant.

Winter in the Alps, captured in a sonnet…

Marc-Antoine Girard de SAINT-AMANT   (1594-1661)

L’hyver des Alpes

Ces atomes de feu qui sur la neige brillent,

Ces estincelles d’or, d’azur et de cristal

Dont l’hyver, au soleil, d’un lustre oriental

Pare ses cheveux blancs que les vents esparpillent ;

Ce beau cotton du ciel dequoy les monts s’habillent,

Ce pavé transparant fait du second metal,

Et cet air net et sain, propre à l’esprit vital,

Sont si doux à mes yeux que d’aise ils en petillent.

Cette saison me plaist, j’en ayme la froideur ;

Sa robbe d’innocence et de pure candeur

Couvre en quelque façon les crimes de la terre.

Aussi l’Olympien la void d’un front humain ;

Sa collere l’espargne, et jamais le tonnerre

Pour desoler ses jours ne partit de sa main.

From <http://poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/marc_antoine_girard_de_saint_amant/l_hyver_des_alpes.html>

The sonnet begins with the striking image of fire throwing out sparks over the white of the snow, then we realize the poet is talking about the bright rays of the sun, made even more spectacular by the whiteness of the snow on the mountainsides, whose angles and reflectiveness breaks up the sunlight, making it shimmer and shine. You can image the poet standing there, on a clear cold bright day, experiencing how good it is to be alive.

He looks up and sees the mountain tops covered in clouds, like cotton, translucent and silvery (silver is the second metal, after gold) and takes a deep breath of clean, fresh air, before feeling his eyes sparkle at the beauty of the scene.

The poet expresses his love for this season of cold, white innocence, blotting out the crimes and evils of the world – even the gods are in sympathy, sharing this human reaction – the poet is confident that the king of the gods will never hurl thunderbolts here to disturb this place of peace and beauty.

Let’s go…

The Poetry Dude


Parbleu ! j’en tiens, c’est tout de bon. 

Yet another poet in love, or at least so Saint-Amant would have us believe from the title of this poem. But, as he explains in the poem, there are some downsides to being in love…


Parbleu ! j’en tiens, c’est tout de bon.
Ma libre humeur en a dans l’aile,
Puisque je préfère au jambon
Le visage d’une donzelle.
Je suis pris dans le doux lien
De l’archerot idalien.
Ce dieutelet, fils de Cyprine,
Avecques son arc mi-courbé,
A féru ma rude poitrine
Et m’a fait venir à jubé.

Mon esprit a changé d’habit :
Il n’est plus vêtu de revêche,
Il se raffine et se fourbit
Aux yeux de ma belle chevêche.
Plus aigu, plus clair et plus net
Qu’une dague de cabinet,
Il estocade la tristesse,
Et, la chassant d’autour de soi,
Se vante que la politesse
Ne marche plus qu’avecques moi.

Je me fais friser tous les jours,
On me relève la moustache ;
Je n’entrecoupe mes discours
Que de rots d’ambre et de pistache ;
J’ai fait banqueroute au pétun ;
L’excès du vin m’est importun :
Dix pintes par jour me suffisent ;
Encore, ô falotte beauté
Dont les regards me déconfisent,
Est-ce pour boire à ta santé !

From <http://www.paradis-des-albatros.fr/?poeme=saint_amant/l-enamoure&gt;

The first stanza comically sets the scene, describing the poet lamenting his discovery that he now prefers to look at the face of a girl rather than tuck into a nice piece of ham. For he has been struck by Cupid’s arrow and brought down by it.

The second stanza goes on to lament the changes in him brought about by this sad state of affairs. He needs to dress smartly, not shabbily, he needs to be alert, chase away sadness and be politer than anyone else.

In the third stanza the poet has his hair and moustache trimmed and curled every day; he only belches after eating amber (?) and peanuts, not, as usual, from drinking – in fact while in love he must limit himself to only 10 pints of wine a day – what a sacrifice. And those ten pints are only to drink good health to the beauty of his lover.

The poet does indeed leave the reader wondering whether all these changes are worth it to be in love.

I guess this could be an anti-love poem

The Poetry Dude

Sus, sus, enfans ! qu’on empoigne la coupe !

This is a good-humoured drinking poem from Saint-Amant, wine, women and song without the wine and the women. The spirit of this poem is very similar to Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubai’Yat of Omar Khayyam, which has been featured on this blog in various instalments. Both praise the virtues of wine as a source of pleasure and an exhortation to not take life too seriously but have fun.

So let’s have fun with this poem. The orgy of the title is strictly Bacchanalian in its strictest sense.

Marc-Antoine Girard de Saint-Amant 


Sus, sus, enfans ! qu’on empoigne la coupe !
Je suis crevé de manger de la soupe.
Du vin ! du vin ! cependant qu’il est frais.
Verse, garçon, verse jusqu’aux bords,
Car je veux chiffler à longs traits
A la santé des vivants et des morts.

Pour du vin blanc, je n’en tasteray guère ;
Je crains toujours le syrop de l’esguière,
Dont la couleur me pourroit attraper.
Baille moi donc de ce vin vermeil :
C’est luy seul qui me fait tauper,
Bref, c’est mon feu, mon sang et mon soleil.

O qu’il est doux ! J’en ay l’âme ravie,
Et ne croy pas qu’il se trouve en la vie
Un tel plaisir que de boire d’autant:
Fay-moy raison, mon cher amy Faret
Ou tu seras tout à l’instant
Privé du nom qui rime à cabaret.

From <https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Orgye&gt;

In the first stanza, the poet craves more wine because he is tired of eating soup. So he summons the waiter to bring wine, as long as it is cool, to drink the health of everybody, whether they are living or dead.

In the second stanza we find out that the poet doesn’t favour white wine, but needs red wine to feel satisfied, to bring him fire, blood and sun.

In the third stanza, the poet bris over with pleasure at the experience of drinking wine, and asks for agreement from one Faret, who , from the context, looks like he is the innkeeper of the establishment where Saint-Amant is drinking.

Roll out the barrel, indeed.

The Poetry Dude

Quelle estrange chaleur nous vient icy brusler ?

Here is a sonnet from Saint-Amant describing the unbearable summer heat in the city of Rome. Which is why many of its residents escape to vacation homes away from the city, like the Pope who has his summer residence at Castelgandolfo. It is true that the city magnifies the heat, reflecting it rather than absorbing it. Saint-Amant captures well the oppressive feeling of not being able to escape the sun beating down. And, of course, there was no AC in the 17th century.

A sonnet – summer in Rome

Marc-Antoine Girard de SAINT-AMANT   (1594-1661)

L’esté de Rome
Quelle estrange chaleur nous vient icy brusler ?
Sommes-nous transportez sous la zone torride,
Ou quelque autre imprudent a-t-il lasché la bride
Aux lumineux chevaux qu’on voit estinceler ?

La terre, en ce climat, contrainte à pantheler,
Sous l’ardeur des rayons s’entre-fend et se ride ;
Et tout le champ romain n’est plus qu’un sable aride
D’où nulle fresche humeur ne se peut exhaler.

Les furieux regards de l’aspre canicule
Forcent mesme le Tybre à perir comme Hercule,
Dessous l’ombrage sec des joncs et des roseaux.

Sa qualité de dieu ne l’en sçauroit deffendre,
Et le vase natal d’où s’écoulent ses eaux,
Sera l’urne funeste où l’on mettra sa cendre.

From <http://poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/marc_antoine_girard_de_saint_amant/l_este_de_rome.html&gt;

Straight away the poem describes the almost infernal and relentless burning of the sun overhead. It is as if the horses pulling Apollo’s chariot across the sky have been let loose and are galloping at full force, ramping up the heat. In the second four lines, Saint-Amant describes the effects in the city – the people are panting, the earth is cracking open, and it is as if the city was becoming a desert of dry sand where there is no place to breathe fresh, cool air.

Even the river Tiber is likely to dry up, perishing like Hercules, finding no shade underneath the dry rushes and rose trees. It will dry up back to its source and the place where its waters are born will become the funeral urn of the river.

So here we have another French poet, following in the footsteps of du Bellay, bemoaning the conditions of his stay in Rome. (But it does sometimes get hot in Paris in summer also).

The Poetry Dude

Phylis, je ne suis plus des rimeurs de ce siècle

Here is a funny sonnet from Saint-Amant, written with his tongue firmly in his cheek. He is subverting the formal rules of the sonnet, which has a consistent rhyme scheme, and presents with a sonnet which doesn;’t rhyme, making fun of himself while he does so.

Marc-Antoine Girard de SAINT-AMANT   (1594-1661)

Sonnet sur des mots qui n’ont point de rime

Phylis, je ne suis plus des rimeurs de ce siècle
Qui font pour un sonnet dix jours de cul de plomb
Et qui sont obligés d’en venir aux noms propres
Quand il leur faut rimer ou sur coiffe ou sur poil.

Je n’affecte jamais rime riche ni pauvre
De peur d’être contraint de suer comme un porc,
Et hais plus que la mort ceux dont l’âme est si faible
Que d’exercer un art qui fait qu’on meurt de froid.

Si je fais jamais vers, qu’on m’arrache les ongles,
Qu’on me traîne au gibet, que j’épouse une vieille,
Qu’au plus fort de l’été je languisse de soif,

Que tous les mardi-gras me soient autant de jeûnes,
Que je ne goûte vin non plus que fait le Turc,
Et qu’au fond de la mer on fasse mon sépulcre.


From <http://poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/marc_antoine_girard_de_saint_amant/sonnet_sur_des_mots_qui_n_ont_point_de_rime.html&gt;


The sonnet is addressed to Phylis, which is more the convention of time rather than a dedication to a particular person. The first four lines set out the poet’s intent – to show he is not one of those poets who spend ten days trying to think of a rhyme, and falling back on people’s names when they can’t think of anything else. And at the same time Saint-Amant links form and content, by having no rhymes in these first four lines.

In the second stanza he ridicules even more those poets who will work night and day to produce a formally correct rhyming sonnet, saying that he does not want to sweat like a pig or suffer the cold of night just to come up with a sonnet with the right form.

And then in the next stanza, Saint-Amant again pushes the bounds of absurdity, saying he would rather have his nails pulled out, or be dragged to the scaffold, or be forced to marry an old woman or die of thirst in the summer rather than write rhyming verse. And so on in the final three lines – he would rather be forced to fast at Mardi Gras, to drink no more wine, just like a Turk, and be buried at sea rather than be made to work at producing good rhymes.

The whole sonnet therefore has no rhymes – so is it a sonnet? Well it has fourteen lines, and the poet says it is, so why not take him at his word? This is all for fun, and of course, Saint-Amant shows in many other poems, that he can write a perfectly good orthodox sonnet when he wants to.

The Poetry Dude