Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, à la chandelle,

Anticipating the Beatles “When I’m 64” by almost 500 years, in this sonnet Ronsard not only asks his lover if she will still love him when she is old, but will she talk about the poems Ronsard wrote for her when she was young and beautiful? It’s a nice touch and another way a poet can talk about living on for posterity, this time through the direct testimony of his lover in her old age, looking back on the time when they were young.

“When you are old” – in Ronsard’s time that might have meant 54 rather than 64 (and today we might even say 84), but we get the meaning.

Quand vous serez bien vieille
Pierre de Ronsard

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, à la chandelle,
Assise auprès du feu, dévidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous émerveillant :
Ronsard me célébrait du temps que j’étais belle.

Lors, vous n’aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Déjà sous le labeur à demi sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s’aille réveillant,
Bénissant votre nom de louange immortelle.

Je serai sous la terre et fantôme sans os :
Par les ombres myrteux je prendrai mon repos :
Vous serez au foyer une vieille accroupie,

Regrettant mon amour et votre fier dédain.
Vivez, si m’en croyez, n’attendez à demain :
Cueillez dès aujourd’hui les roses de la vie.

Pierre de Ronsard, Sonnets pour Hélène, 1578

From <http://www.poetica.fr/poeme-90/pierre-ronsard-quand-vous-serez-bien-vieille/&gt;

The first four lines, picture the poet’s lover as an old woman, sitting in candlelight by the fire, doing some kind of needlework and looking back at the time when the poet Ronsard wrote poems about her beauty. But then in the second four lines, Ronsard says that perhaps there will be no servant, slumbering over their work, to listen and marvel at the immortal praises of the famous poet.

For the poet will be dead and buried, and the lover just a bent old woman, living full of regret for the past love and her resistance to the poet’s advances.

So in the final two lines, Ronsard brings us back to his present time, exhorting his lover to enjoy life and his love while she can, avoiding the bitter regrets of old age. Youth and beauty are fleeting, so grab life before it is too late. Shakespeare also wrote a number of sonnets like this, of course.

The Poetry Dude

Je n’ay plus que les os, un Schelette je semble

This sonnet from Pierre de Ronsard is supposed to be one of the last poems he wrote, while lying on his deathbed in his final days. Certainly the subject matter of the poem bears this out. It is both sad to read him witnessing his own decomposition, fully aware of the accelerating approach of death, but at the same time it is quite uplifting that he still had the sharpness of mind and the force of will to continue composing fine poetry. It as if he was holding on to the essence of himself, just as everything corporeal and material was wasting away.

And there is also some dark humour here, the notion of himself as already a skeleton seems to be more ironic or self-mocking than self-pitying. The title and the first line translate loosely as “Now all I have is my bones, I am just like a skeleton”. Well, those bones still knew how to write.


Je n’ay plus que les os, un Schelette je semble

Je n’ay plus que les os, un Schelette je semble,
Decharné, denervé, demusclé, depoulpé,
Que le trait de la mort sans pardon a frappé,
Je n’ose voir mes bras que de peur je ne tremble.

Apollon et son filZ deux grans maistres ensemble,
Ne me sçauroient guerir, leur mestier m’a trompé,
Adieu plaisant soleil, mon oeil est estoupé,
Mon corps s’en va descendre où tout se disassemble.

Quel amy me voyant en ce point despouillé
Ne remporte au logis un oeil triste et mouillé,
Me consolant au lict et me baisant la face,

En essuiant mes yeux par la mort endormis ?
Adieu chers compaignons, adieu mes chers amis,
Je m’en vay le premier vous preparer la place.

Recueil : Derniers vers

I love the second line also for its cumulative impact of disintegration and dematerialization of the poet’s body -“unfleshed, un-nerved, un-muscled, un-pulped”, all the signs of a prosperous and healthy life are evaporating because death is near. He daren’t even look at his arm because he will see it is trembling. There follows a classical reference to Apollo, the sun-god of classical mythology who was also the God of medicine, who couldn’t save him, even helped by his son  (I’m not sure which of Apollo’s many sons would be referred to here.)

In the last six lines, Ronsard comments on friends coming to visit him, and unable to stop themselves from crying at his pitiful state as they return to their homes. But it sounds like the poet is more pitying them rather than himself – for the final line is to tell his friends they will die too, Ronsard is just going first to prepare for their arrival. In a sense he will play the role of the skull in their portrait, a memento mori which they can read and reflect on after his passing.

It is indeed a fine poem from a dying man.

The Poetry Dude

Nature withheld Cassandra in the skies

Poetry is often said to be untranslateable simply because the depth of context, nuance, linguistic effects, rhyme, alliteration and reference can never be satisfactorily matched in another language. The great exception I have previously highlighted on this blog with several posts is Ftizgerald’s translation of the “Rubai’Yat of Omar Khayyam”, which was a very free translation, capturing the intent of the original while greatly adapting the vocabulary and emphasis.

Today’s poem matches up two of the masters of verse from different cultures. It is Keats translating Ronsard. But there is a big clue in the title – the original Ronsard poem was a sonnet, yet counting the lines of Keats’ version I only get to twelve. What happened to the rest? This just illustrates the perils and challenges of translating poetry.

Translated From A Sonnet Of Ronsard

Nature withheld Cassandra in the skies
For more adornment a full thousand years;
She took their cream of Beauty’s fairest dyes,
And shap’d and tinted her above all Peers:
Meanwhile Love kept her dearly with his wings,
And underneath their shadow fill’d her eyes
With such a richness that the cloudy Kings
Of high Olympus utter’d slavish sighs.
When from the Heavens I saw her first descend
My heart took fire, and only burning pains
They were my pleasures — they my Life’s sad end;
Love pour’d her beauty into my warm veins…

John Keats

From <http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/translated-from-a-sonnet-of-ronsard/&gt;

It is a mythological subject – the great beauty Cassandra being formed to perfection by the Gods over a thousand years or more, in particular the goddess of love imbuing her with seductive charms which caused the Gods themselves to swoon. Then finally Cassandra is allowed to come to earth to set the poet’s heart on fire, such that he expires with the exquisite pain of love.

The hyperbole is striking throughout the poem, and when pushed so hard, I always wonder whether the poet was serious or just writing tongue-in-cheek. But however you want to take it, I find the poem entertaining, and the connection with Keats’s great predecessor Ronsard is fascinating. Even giants can stand on the shoulders of giants.

Since writing the above, I pulled my battered copy of Ronsard’s poems off the shelf to look for the original. I think this one is the closest, but you will see that Keats’ translation is very free.

Nature ornant la dame qui devait
De sa douceur forcer les plus rebelles,
Lui fit présent des beautés les plus belles,
Que dès mille ans en épargne elle avait.

Tout ce qu’Amour avarement couvait
De beau, de chaste et d’honneur sous ses ailes,
Emmiella les grâces immortelles
De son bel œil, qui les Dieux émouvait.

Du ciel à peine elle était descendue
Quand je la vu, quand mon âme éperdue
En devint folle, et d’un si poignant trait

Le fier Destin l’engrava dans mon âme,
Que, vif ne mort, jamais d’une autre dame
Empreint au cœur je n’aurai le portrait.


Pierre de Ronsard.
From <http://www.poesie-francaise.fr/pierre-de-ronsard/poeme-nature-ornant-la-dame.php&gt;

So, its two for the price of one today

The Poetry Dude

Voyci le boys, que ma sainte Angelette

Ronsard does a great job of combining nature poetry and love poetry, and this sonnet is a fine example of that. The scene has the poet watching, probably from a hiding-place, his love frolic in the woods. It is an idyllic scene and, quite naturally, the consequence is love.


Voyci le boys, que ma sainte Angelette
Sus le printemps anime de son chant.
Voyci les fleurs que son pied va marchant,
Lors que pensive elle s’esbat seullette.

Io voici la prée verdelette,
Qui prend vigueur de sa main la touchant,
Quand pas à pas pillarde va cherchant
Le bel émail de l’herbe nouvelette.

Ici chanter, là pleurer je la vy,
Ici soubrire, & là je fus ravy
De ses beaulx yeulx par lesquelz je desvie :

Ici s’asseoir, là je la vi dancer :
Sus le mestier d’un si vague penser
Amour ourdit les trames de ma vie.

From <http://www.florilege.free.fr/florilege/ronsard/_ac_159.htm&gt;

The poem sets out to describe a place, a wood in the spring with wild flowers and new-grown grass. But this wood is different and special because the poet’s Angel is there, singing, dancing, gathering flowers, culling the dew from the young grass. The poet sees her singing, crying (presumably from joy) and smiling. He is charmed by the look in her eyes, and he follows her every movement, whether she is sitting on the grass or dancing around. The final two lines lay out the result of all this. The poet’s idle thoughts turn to love, which will weave the fabric of his life.

The Poetry Dude

ENCORES que la mer de bien loin nous separe,

Today we have another poem from the sixteenth century, this time from that outstanding French court and nature poet, Pierre de Ronsard. It is a sonnet in tribute to Mary Queen of Scots, who had spent much of her youth at the French court and became the wife of the heir to the French throne. She returned to Scotland, where she had been Queen almost from birth, after the premature death of her husband at a young age. History might have been very different had he survived – perhaps an Act of Union between Scotland and France rather than between Scotland and England?

Anyway, Mary was extremely popular in France, and this poem from Ronsard is an expression of that popularity and support, at a time when Mary, back in Scotland, was facing a rebellion and uprising of her nobles which finally led to her fleeing to England where her cousin Elizabeth 1 had her executed as a potential threat to her own position. A sad and tragic story, indeed.

61. Sonnets
vii (A la Royne d’Ecosse.)
Pierre de Ronsard (1524–†1585)

ENCORES que la mer de bien loin nous separe,

Si est-ce que l’esclair de vostre beau soleil,

De vostre œil qui n’a point au monde de pareil,

Jamais loin de mon cœur par le temps ne s’egare.
Royne, qui enfermez une royne si rare,
Adoucissez vostre ire et changez de conseil;

Le soleil se levant et allant au sommeil

Ne voit point en la terre un acte si barbare.
Peuple, vous forlignez, aux armes nonchalant,

De vos ayeux Renauld, Lancelot et Roland,
Qui prenoient d’un grand cœur pour les dames querelle;
Les gardoient, les sauvoient, où vous n’avez, François,

Ny osé regarder ny toucher le harnois

Pour oster de servage une royne si belle.

From <http://www.bartleby.com/244/61.html&gt;

In this sonnet, Ronsard acknowledges that Mary is gone from France across the sea, but her beauty and radiance continue to fill his heart. The second four lines implore Mary to change her course and get new counsel otherwise her difficulties will increase. The barbarous act, referred to in line 8 could be any number of things, either the murder of her second husband or her imprisonment at the hands of the Scottish nobles.

The final six lines are an appeal to the French people and king to rise up and go to Mary’s aid, following in the tradition of Roland and Lancelot, and free her from her peril. I think therefore the poem must have been written around the time of Mary’s last imprisonment in Scotland. However, the poet openly criticizes the French for not daring to take arms in her defense on this occasion.

This is a fascinating evocation of the complicated and intertwined politics of France and Scotland at this time and a reminder of the great popularity of Mary Queen of Scots in France, enduring long after she left that country.

The Poetry Dude

Je veux aymer ardentement, 

Here is a poetic musing by Ronsard on the subject of love (not many poems about that, of course). The title “Little Ode to his mistress” might indicate that he doesn’t regard it as one of his major works, perhaps it is a poem dashed off in an idle moment, but nonetheless it is definitely of its time and a good example of Ronsard’s more light-hearted style. The subject of the poem is that if you are in love, you want to be loved in return. That seems fair enough, unless the other person doesn’t love you. Except here Ronsard points the finger at those who don’t return love more out of principle rather than taste or feeling.

Pierre de RONSARD   (1524-1585)

Odelette à sa maistresse

Je veux aymer ardentement,
Aussi veus-je qu’egallement
On m’ayme d’une amour ardente :
Toute amitié froidement lente
Qui peut dissimuler son bien
Ou taire son mal, ne vaut rien,
Car faire en amours bonne mine
De n’aymer point c’est le vray sine*.

Les amans si frois en esté
Admirateurs de chasteté
Et qui morfondus petrarquisent,
Sont toujours sots, car ils meprisent
Amour, qui de sa nature est
Ardent et pront, et à qui plest
De faire qu’une amitié dure
Quand elle tient de sa nature.

From <http://www.poesie.webnet.fr/lesgrandsclassiques/poemes/pierre_de_ronsard/odelette_a_sa_maistresse.html&gt;

So of course, love is passionate, it sets the lover on fire, and it demands reciprocity. Those who are cold in love are foolish, chastity is no fun. So let rip with love and set aside reluctance or resistance.

I hope Ronsard’s mistress got the message. How could she resist, if delivered in such a poem.

There are many parallels between this piece and yesterday’s post of the poem by Adrian Henri. Take a look…

The Poetry Dude

Mignongne, levés-vous, vous estes paresseuse, 

Today’s poem is a light-hearted, happy piece from Ronsard, somewhat in the spirit of his near-contemporary, Clement Marot. It is intended to bring a smile to the reader/listener and it does so. It is a sonnet addressed by the poet to his lover, scolding her for staying in bed late on a beautiful morning (presumably after an energetic night between the sheets, perhaps…). Anybody who is a “morning person”, living with an “evening person” will recognise these sentiments, but here they are only meant to tease, not provoke.

The spelling is retained in the sixteenth century format, but I don’t think that should pose any difficulty, particulary if the sonnet is read out loud.

Mignongne, levés-vous, vous estes paresseuse,
Jà la gaye alouette au ciel a fredonné,
Et jà le rossignol frisquement jargonné,
Dessus l’espine assis, sa complainte amoureuse.

Debout donq ! allon voir l’herbelette perleuse,
Et vostre beau rosier de boutons couronné,
Et voz œillets aimés auxquels avés donné
Hyer au soir de l’eau d’une main si songneuse.

Hyer en vous couchant vous me fistes promesse
D’estre plus tost que moi ce matin éveillée,
Mais le someil vous tient encor toute sillée :

Ian, je vous punirai du péché de paresse,
Je vois baiser cent fois vostre œil, vostre tétin,
Afin de vous aprendre à vous lever matin.

From <http://www.paradis-des-albatros.fr/?poeme=ronsard/mignonne-levez-vous-vous-etes-paresseuse&gt;

The opening word, mignonne, occurs fairly frequently in both Ronsard and Marot’s poems and indicates that the poem is addressed to a beautiful young lady, which could be either the poet’s lover or just a young acquaintance. The first line says get up, you are lazy, and you can imagine the poet standing over a bed with a sleepy girl in it. The first stanza goes on to begin to describe some of the pleasures of the morning which the girl is missing – the early morning birdsong of the skylark and the nightingale.

The second stanza repeats the call to get up and accompany the poet out into the garden to see the dew on the lawn and the budding roses and carnations. This indicates an expectation of continuing amorous pursuits.

The third stanza, again still written conversationally, reminds the girl that she had promised to wake up before the poet this morning, and yet she is still asleep.

And so the final stanza brings the solution – the poet will kiss her one hundred times, all over her body, to wake her up and teach her to get up in the morning. We can imagine what that would lead to…

It would be great to think that Ronsard actually wrote this sonnet while waiting for his girl to wake up, and then read it over her sleepy head. That would be a winning strategy, I’m sure…

The Poetry Dude