03 June 2009

« Cueillez dès aujourd'hui...

...les roses de la vie. » — "Don't wait until tomorrow to gather the roses of this life."

Pierre de Ronsard wrote that. He was a Renaissance poet who was born at Vendôme in the Vallée du Loir, not far north of Saint-Aignan, in 1524. Ronsard was and is a great figure of the Touraine region. Four hundred years ago, he and fellow poets and writers had a lot to do with shaping the French language as we know it today.

A rose in Touraine

Of course, French has evolved a lot over the past 500 years. Spellings have been modernized and the pronunciation, as far as we can tell, has changed a lot. And now English is having an inordinate influence on French — mostly through the adoption of words and expressions — but not so much on the fundamentals of pronunciation and syntax.

Nice roses all around Saint-Aignan this spring

Back in the Renaissance, the language that had a big influence on French was Italian. The Renaissance was imported from Italy, with new forms of art and literature. French writers were tempted to sprinkle Italian words and expressions around very liberally. Ronsard, along with the poet Joachim du Bellay, who came from down the Loire River in the Anjou region, worked to stop that from happening and set out to codify French and make it into a literary language.

Une rose rose à la Renaudière

Ronsard was a poet who understood the importance of language. He was also a poet of love and glory. Here is my translation of part of Ronsard's poem, which he published in 1578. I learned itwhen I was still a teenager, in college, nearly 400 years after the fact. He is writing it to Hélène, a woman whose beauty he admired:

When you have gotten old...

When you have gotten old and, at night, by candlelight,
You're sitting by the fire, spinning wool into thread,
You'll hear yourself saying, enchanted — quoting my verses —
"Ronsard sang my praises in the days when I was a great beauty"...

Live now — listen to me — don't wait until tomorrow,
Gather, and start today, the roses of this life.

Here is the same excerpt from Ronsard's poem, in Renaissance French:

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

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....

Vivez, si m'en croyez, n'attendez à demain :
Cueillez dés aujourd'huy les roses de la vie.


  1. Beautiful!

    Ronsard seems to have celebrated beauty and roses, and vice versa, in many, if not all of his poems.

    Those nice photographs illustrate so well your excellent translation.

  2. Ahhhh.... I'll be teaching that in French 5 early next semester :) It will follow up nicely after our explorations of the Val de Loire châteaux this year.I really have to see if I can change that cassette of Ronsard poems (being sung) into mp3 form this summer. I'll send the song of this poem to you if I manage to get it transferred.
    p.s. GORGEOUS roses :)

  3. Good heavens - so like a poem by Yeats quoted on TV here last week (he must have had Ronsard in mind):

    When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
    And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
    And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
    Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
    How many loved your moments of glad grace,
    And loved your beauty with love false or true,
    But one man loved the pilgrim Soul in you,
    And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
    And bending down beside the glowing bars,
    Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
    And paced upon the mountains overhead
    And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

    Or of course, Shakespeare's
    "Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty, youth's a stuff will not endure" !

  4. Rose hip is a much nicer word than gratte-cul but have you ever heard of this proverb?

    "Il n'est si belle rose qui ne devienne gratte-cul"? (meant for : even a beautiful woman will become ugly when she gets old).

    Of course, old women are not ugly but you get he point.

  5. Autol., Yeats' poem is a free translation of Ronsard's, according to this web page.

    Shakespeare was a contemporary of Ronsard's, though a little younger.

    Nadège, far be it from me to generalize about the beauty, or lack thereof, when speaking of or to older women! LOL.

  6. Ken, what a romantic you are! I love today's blog. Beautiful photos of roses and beautiful poetic words, and a lesson in French language to boot. Thanks for presenting us with this rosey gift.

  7. So wise of you, Ken, not to take up Nadege. The comparative translations were interesting, but I must admit to being a little mystified by the "trap" in the second stanza. Rondard is saying that the maid will wake at the sound of his name, right? And will think the old lady must have been hot stuff if Ronsard bothered to write about her?

    Just call me hopelessly illiterate.


    And Ginny's right. You're such a romantic.

  8. Susie - I feel the same way you do. This anonymous author was caught in his [her?] own trap. His explanation is farfetched and doesn't make sense. How can a name glorify anything or anyone? He is that kind of person who contorts anything to fit their own ideas.

  9. I don't know. Synecdoche, the figure of rhetoric that consists of taking the part for the whole, etc., could make it possible to interpret the word nom as meaning the poet, so his nom praises her nom in rhetorical terms. It makes sense that the immortal blessing or praise would be Ronsard's. Servants are not immortal; poets are, they think.

    But that's the beauty of poetry: many interpretations are possible.


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