“Love wants everything without condition. Love has no law.”
by Peirre de Ronsard
Sonnet to Helen
By Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
When you sit aging under evening’s star
By hearth and candle, spinning yarns and wool,
You’ll sing my verse in awe and say “Ronsard
Wrought song of me when I was beautiful”
Hearing such words, your serving-maid that night,
Though half-asleep from drudging, all the same
Will wake at my name’s sound and stand upright
Hailing the deathless praises of your name.
I’ll be a boneless phantom resting sound
Amid the myrtly shades1 far underground.
You, by the hearth, a crone bent low in sorrow
For your proud scorn that willed my love away.
Live now, I beg of you. Wait not the morrow.
Gather the roses of your life today.
Sonnet à Hélène
by Pierre de Ronsard
Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir à la chandelle,
Assise aupres du feu, devidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous esmerveillant:
« Ronsard me celebroit du temps que j’estois belle ! »
Lors vous n’aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Desja sous le labeur à demy sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s’aille resveillant,
Benissant1 vostre nom de louange immortelle.
Je seroy sous la terre, et fantaume sans os ;
Par les ombres Myrtheux je prendray mon repos.
Vous serez au fouyer une vieille accroupie,
Regrettant mon amour, et vostre fier desdain.
Vivez, si m’en croyez2, n’attendez à demain :
Cueillez dés aujourd’huy les roses de la vie.
Is it that lyric poetry fell out of popular taste in the 20th century because people stopped enjoying reading it or was it because poets tired of writing it? The reality is when constrained by rhyme and meter it is nearly impossible to build upon what great minds have already thought up and put to paper beautifully centuries before. Take Yeats classic poem When You Are Old. It’s an obvious homage to Ronsard’s Sonnet to Helen. Ronsard having to be a bit more clever in his use of sexual innuendo’s to adhere to the social norms of his day, while Yeats’ poem is more nostalgic in nature. I have included Yeats poem in an earlier Fourteen Lines blog post, you can compare the two.
But it also interesting to see the connections between Ronsard and Herrick’s classic To The Virgins, To Make Much of Time. Is it coincidence? Or is it a function of lyric poetry of that time period, which focused mostly on subjects of love, has limited metaphors to choose from and so it’s inevitable there would be connections and overlap? I think the truth probably lies squarely on both. I think poets like to play and in doing so create connections and homage to writers they admire. I think that was true in the 16th Century and I think it is true today, regardless of the style with which writer’s write. Literature is a continuum of ideas where no one person is the beginning or the end. It is a sine-cosine wave that reverberates throughout time. Each of us have different length strings that resonate with the vibrations of the songs that stir our imaginations.
What two poems do you find connections, obvious or obscure? Have you written an ode to poet? If not, what poet would you most like to write an homage?
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
by Robert Herrick (1591 – 1674)
Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.