Saturday, October 11, 2014


A Favorite Tree

Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585), Odes IV.22 (tr. Malcolm Quainton and Elizabeth Vinestock):
Lovely hawthorn, blossoming, flourishing greenly along this lovely riverbank, you are clad from top to toe in the long tendrils of a wild vine.

Two armies of red ants are garrisoned beneath your roots; in the cracks down the length of your trunk the bees make their home.

The Nightingale, youthful little songster, when he is wooing his beloved, in order to ease the pain of love takes up residence every year in your leafy boughs.

On your topmost branch he makes his nest, smoothly finished with moss and fine silk, where his little ones will hatch, which will become the sweet prey of my hands.

So live, dear Hawthorn, live everlastingly, live without thunder, or the axe, or winds, or time ever being able to dash you to the ground.
The French, from Ronsard's Oeuvres (Paris: Gabriel Buon, 1584), p. 360:
Bel Aubepin fleurissant,
Le long de ce beau riuage,
Tu es vestu iusqu'au bas
Des longs bras
D'vne lambrunche sauuage.

Deux camps de rouges fourmis
    Se sont mis
En garnison sous ta souche:
Dans les pertuis de ton tronc
    Tout du long
Les auettes ont leur couche.

Le chantre Rossignolet
Courtisant sa bien-aimée,
Pour ses amours alleger
    Vient loger
Tous les ans en ta ramée.

Sur ta cime il fait son ny
    Tout vny
De mousse & de fine soye,
Où ses petits esclorront,
    Qui seront
De mes mains la douce proye.

Or vy gentil Aubepin,
    Vy sans fin,
Vy sans que iamais tonnerre,
Ou la coignée, ou les vents,
    Ou les temps
Te puissent ruer par terre.
Image of the ode from the 1584 edition:

I learned about this poem from Carol Maddison, Apollo and the Nine: A History of the Ode (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, 1960), pp. 270-271:
Another of the nature poems and one of Ronsard's greatest lyrics is "Bel aubepin verdissant."1 Here, in a kind of prayer-ode, Ronsard describes a familiar tree with loving exactitude, a tree that is manifestly mortal like all living things, yet all the more dear because of that. The hawthorne is covered to the end of its branches with a parasitic vine, its foot is half-eaten away by two camps of red ants, and its hollow stump has already found a new tenant, a swarm of wild bees. The nightingale comes there yearly to build his nest, but Ronsard, as pitiless as nature, steals its young. The scene is one of luxuriant life on the bank of a stream, of constant growth and constant decay, of the replacement of the old by the new, and of carelessness about the individual. Then Ronsard, the poet, the giver of eternal life, commands his "Bel Aubepin" to be immortal and so it endures, fixed and unchanged.

The last stanza recalls Horace's envoi to his first three books of odes. There the poet's monument, here the hawthorne tree, survives, through the immortal power of poetry, unharmed by storm or wind or the flight of time. But there is a closer parallel to the conclusion of this ode in Horace III, 13, the Bandusia ode, where the poet is explicit about his immortalizing function, "Fies nobilium tu quoque fontium / Me dicente," and in Ronsard's imitation of Horace in "A La Fontaine Bellerie," "Que tu vives par mes vers." Laumonier thinks that the particular source of inspiration for these lines was Flaminio's
Irrigui fontes, et fontibus addita vallis,
    Cinctaque piniferis silva cacuminibus...
Vivite felices, nec vobis aut gravis aestas,
    Aut nocent [sic: read noceat] saevo frigore tristis hiems,
Nec lympham quadrupes, nec silvam dura bipennis,
    Nec violet teneras hic lupus acer oves.2
Flowing fountains, and vale of the fountains,
    And forest girt with pine-bearing peaks,...
Live happily, and may the heavy heat of summer do you
    No harm, nor gloomy winter with its cruel frost,
May the four-footed beast not violate the clear water, nor the hard axe
    The forest, nor the sharp-toothed wolf the tender sheep.

1 Laum., Ed. Crit. VII, 242-4.
2 M.A. Flaminio, Carmina (Florentiae, 1552), p. 267, cited by Laum., Ronsard Poète, pp. 446-7.

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