Tuesday, December 10, 2019


Nothing Is Refused Me

Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585), Sonnets pour Hélène II.23 (tr. Malcolm Quainton and Elizabeth Vinestock):
During these long winter nights, when the slothful Moon drives her chariot round so slowly on her circular course, when the Cock so tardily announces the day, when the night seems like a year to the troubled soul,

I would have died of misery, had it not been for your shadowy shape, which comes to soothe my love by an illusion, and, nestling completely naked in my arms, sweetly deceives me with a specious joy.

The real you is fierce and pitilessly cruel; the false you can be enjoyed in the utmost intimacy. Beside your spectral image I fall asleep, beside it I find rest;

nothing is refused me. Thus kindly sleep deludes my lovesick pain by a false substitute. Deluding oneself in love is no bad thing.

Ces longues nuicts d'hyver, où la Lune ocieuse
Tourne si lentement son char tout à l'entour,
Où le Coq si tardif nous annonce le jour,
Où la nuict semble un an à l'ame soucieuse:

Je fusse mort d'ennuy sans ta forme douteuse,
Qui vient par une feinte alleger mon amour,
Et, faisant toute nue entre mes bras sejour,
Me pipe doucement d'une joye menteuse.

Vraye tu es farouche, et fiere en cruauté:
De toy fausse on jouyst en toute privauté.
Pres ton mort je m'endors, pres de luy je repose:

Rien ne m'est refusé. Le bon sommeil ainsi
Abuse par le faux mon amoureux souci.
S'abuser en amour n'est pas mauvaise chose.
The same, tr. D.B. Wyndham Lewis, Ronsard (London: Sheed & Ward, 1944), p. 31, n. 1:
These long winter nights, when the languid Moon
Turns her chariot so slowly round and around,
When the sluggish cock announces day,
When night seems a year to the tormented soul,
I should die of weariness without your doubtful form
Which comes, feignedly, to alleviate my pain.
And nestling in my arms, all naked,
Sweetly cheats me with imagined joy.
In the flesh you are perverse, proud in your cruelty;
I enjoy your dream-shape in all privacy —
Close to your dead I sleep, close I rest,
Nothing is refused me. Thus does sweet sleep
Cheat my lovelorn care with falsity;
To deceive oneself in love is no bad thing.
Wyndham Lewis (pp. 31-32) adds:
By "your dead" in the eleventh line Ronsard means young Captain Jacques de la Rivière of the Guards, killed in action a few years before. He had been betrothed to Hélène, who wore perpetual mourning for him, a little ostentatiously; and Ronsard's jealousy was ever acute.
I'm no expert, but this seems far-fetched, especially in view of the lines preceding and following. Cf. Gustave Cohen, ed., Ronsard, Œuvres complètes, I (Paris: Éditions de la Nouvelle revue française, 1938), p. 1065 (note on pres ton mort):
les Égyptiens eussent dit: près de ton double.
From Kenneth Haynes:
What a strange note Ronsard's editor added to pres ton mort: "the Egyptians would have said: beside your double". It's strange both because ancient Egyptians probably would not have said that and because, even if they had done so, neither Ronsard nor any European before the end of the 19th century would have thought that they did. The Egyptian word is ka, 𓂓, which in 1878 two French scholars had promoted to mean the "double" or the "génie" of a person, a dubious interpretation, to judge from Rune Nyord, in "The Concept of ka between Egyptian and Egyptological Frameworks" (Concepts in Middle Egyptian Funerary Culture (2019) 150–203).

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