To Pierre de Ronsard (Prince of Poets).
From Letters to Dead Authors
Andrew Lang

Master and Prince of Poets,--As we know what choice thou madest of a sepulchre
(a choice how ill fulfilled by the jealousy of Fate), so we know well the
manner of thy chosen immortality. In the Plains Elysian, among the heroes and
the ladies of old song, there was thy Love with thee to enjoy her paradise in
an eternal spring.

  La' du plaisant Avril la saison imortelle
   Sans eschange le suit,
  La terre sans labeur, de sa grasse mamelle,
   Tout chose y produit;
  D'enbas la troupe sainte autrefois amoureuse,
   Nous honorant sur tous,
  Viendra nous saluer, s'estimant bien-heureuse
   De s'accointer de nous.

There thou dwellest, with the learned lovers of old days, with Belleau, and Du
, and Bai'f, and the flower of the maidens of Anjou. Surely no runmm'
reaches thee, in that happy place of reconciled affections, no rumour of the
rudeness of Time, the despite of men, and the change which stole from thy
locks, so early grey, the crown of laurels and of thine own roses. How
different from thy choice of a sepulchre have been the fortunes of thy tomb!

  I will that none should break
  The marble for my sake,
  Wishful to make more fair
    My sepulchre.

 So didst thou sing, or so thy sweet numbers run in my rude English. Wearied
of Courts and of priories, thou didst desire a grave beside thine own Loire,
not remote from

  The caves, the founts that fall
  From the high mountain wall,
   That fall and flash and fleet,
    Wilh silver fret.

  Only a laurel tree
  Shall guard the grave of me;
   Only Apollo's bough
    Shall shade me now!

 Far other has been thy sepulchre: not in the free air, among the field
flowers, but in thy priory of Saint Cosme, with marble for a monument, and no
green grass to cover thee. Restless wert thou in thy life; thy dust was not to
be restful in thy death. The Huguenots, _ces_nouveaux_Chre'tiens_qui_la_France_
ont_pille'e_, destroyed thy tomb, and the warning of the later monument,


has not scared away malicious men. The storm that passed over France a hundred
years ago, more terrible than the religious wars that thou didst weep for, has
swept the column from the tomb. The marble was broken by violent hands, and
the shattered sepulchre of the Prince of Poets gained a dusty hospitality from
the museum of a country town. Better had been the laurel of thy desire, the
creeping vine, and the ivy tree.

Scarce more fortunate, for long, than thy monument was thy memory. Thou hast
not encountered, Master, in the Paradise of Poets, Messieurs Malherbe, De
, and Boileau--Boileau who spoke of thee as _Ce_poe'te_orgueilleux_ _tre'buche'_de_si_haut!_

These gallant gentlemen, I make no doubt, are happy after their own fashion,
backbiting each other and thee in the Paradise of Critics. In their time they
wrought thee much evil, grumbling that thou wrotest in Greek and Latin (of
which tongues certain of them had but little skill), and blaming thy many
lyric melodies and the free flow of thy lines. What said M. de Balzac to M.
? 'M. de Malherbe, M. de Grasse, and yourself must be very little
poets, if Ronsard be a great one.' Time has brought in his revenges, and
Messieurs Chapelain and De Grasse are as well forgotten as thou art welI
remembered. Men could not ahvays be deaf to thy sweet old songs, nor blind to
the beauty of thy roses and thy loves. When they took the wax out of their
ears that M. Boileau had given them lest they should hear the singing of thy
Sirens, then they were deaf no longer, then they heard the old deaf poet
singing and made answer to his lays. Hast thou not heard these sounds? have
they not reached thee, the voices and the lyres of Theophile Gautier and
Alfred de Musset? Methinks thou hast marked them, and been glad that the old
notes were ringing again and the old French lyric measures tripping to thine
ancient harmonies, echoing and replying to the Muses of Horace and Catullus.
Returning to Nature, poets returned to thee. Thy monument has perished, but
not thy music, and the Prince of Poets has returned to his own again in a
glorious Restoration.

Through the dust and smoke of ages, and through the centuries of wars we
strain our eyes and try to gain a glimpse of thee, Master, in thy good days,
when the Muses walked with thee. We seem to mark thee wandering silent through
some little village, or dreaming in the woods, or loitering among thy lonely
places, or in gardens where the roses blossom among wilder flowers, or on
river banks where the whispering poplars and sighing reeds make answer to the
murmur of the waters. Such a picture hast thou drawn of thyself in the summer

  Je m'en vais pourmener tantost parmy la plaine,
  Tantost en un village, et tantost en un bois,
  Et tantost par les lieux solitaires et cois.
  J'aime fort les jardins qui sentent le sauvage,
  J'aime le flot de l'eau qui gazou'ille au rivage.

Still, methinks, there was a book in the hand of the grave and learned poet;
still thou wouldst carry thy Horace, thy Catullus, thy Theocritus, through the
gem-like weather of the _Renouveau_, when the woods were enamelled with
flowers, and the young Spring was lodged, like a wandering prince, in his
great palaces hung with green:
Orgueilleux de ses fleurs, enfle' de sa jeunesse,
Loge' comme un grand Prince en ses vertes maisons!

Thou sawest, in these woods by Loire side, the fair shapes of old religion,
Fauns, Nymphs, and Satyrs, and heard'st in the nightingale's music the plaint
of Philomel. The ancient poets came back in the train of thyself and of the
Spring, and learning was scarce less dear to thee than love; and thy ladies
seemed fairer for the names they borrowed from the beauties of forgotten days,
Helen and Cassandra. How sweetly didst thou sing to them thine old morality,
and how gravely didst thou teach the lesson of the Roses! Well didst thou know
it, well didst thou love the Rose, since thy nurse, carrying thee, an infant,
to the holy font, let fall on thee the sacred water brimmed with floating
blossoms of the Rose!

  Mignonne, allons voir si la Rose,
  Qui ce matin avoit desclose
  Sa robe de pourpre au soleil,
  A point perdu ceste vespree
  Les plis de sa robe pourpree,
  Et son teint au votre pareil.

And again,

  La belle Rose du Printemps,
  Aubert, admoneste les hommes
  Passer joyeusement le temps,
  Et pendant que jeunes nous sommes,
  Esbattre la fleur de nos ans.

In the same mood, looking far down the future, thou sangest of thy lady's age,
the most sad, the most beautiful of thy sad and beautiful lays; for if thy
bees gathered much honey 't was somewhat bitter to taste, as that of the
Sardinian yews. How clearly we see the great hall, the grey lady spinning and
humming among her drowsy maids, and how they waken at the word, and she sees
her spring in their eyes, and they forecast their winter in her face, when she
murmurs ''Twas Ronsard sang of me.'

Winter, and summer, and spring, how swiftly they pass, and how early time
brought thee his sorrows, and grief cast her dust upon th> head.

  Adieu ma Lyre, adieu fillettes,
  Jadis mes douces amourettes,
  Adieu, je sens venir ma fin,
  Nul passetemps de ma jeunesse
  Ne m'accompagne en la vieillesse,
  Que le feu, le lict et le vin.

Wine, and a soft bed, and a bright fire: to this trinity of poor pleasures we
come soon, if, indeed, wine be left to us. Poetry herself deserts us; is it
not said that Bacchus never forgives a renegade? and most of us turn recreants
to Bacchus. Even the bright fire, I fear, was not always there to warm thine
old blood, Master, or, if fire there were, the wood was not bought with thy
book-seller's money. When autumn was drawing in during thine early old age, in
1584, didst thou not write that thou hadst never received a sou at the hands
of all the publishers who vended thy books? And as thou wert about putting
forth the folio edition of 1584, thou didst pray Buon, the bookseller, to give
thee sixty crowns to buy wood withal, and make thee a bright fire in winter
weather, and comfort thine old age with thy friend Gallandius. And if Buon
will not pay, then to try the other book-sellers, 'that wish to take
everything and give nothing.'

Was it knowledge of this passage, Master, or ignorance of everything else,
that made certain of the common steadfast dunces of our days speak of thee as
if thou hadst been a starveling, neglected poetaster, jealous forsooth, of
Maitre Francoys Rabelais? See how ignorantly M. Fleury writes, who teaches
French literature withal to them of Muscovy, and hath indited a Life of
Rabelais. 'Rabelais e'tait reve'tu d'un emploi honorable; Ronsard e'tait
traite' en subalterne,' quoth this wondrous professor. What! Pierre de
, a gentleman of a noble house, holding the revenue of many abbeys, the
friend of Mary Stuart, of the Duc d'Orle'ans, of Charles IX., _he_ is
_traite'_en_subalterne_, and is jealous of a frocked or unfrocked _manant_
like Maitre Francoys! And then this amazing Fleury falls foul of thine epitaph
on Mai'tre Francoys and cries, 'Ronsard a voulu faire des vers me'chants; il
n'a fait que de me'chants vers.' More truly saith M. Sainte-Beuve, 'If the
good Rabelais had returned to Meudon on the day when this epitaph was made
over the wine, he would, methinks, have laughed heartily.' But what shall be
said of a Professor like the egregious M. Fleury, who holds that Ronsard was
despised at Court? Was there a party at tennis when the king would not fain
have had thee on his side, declaring that he ever won when Ronsard was his
partner? Did he not give thee benefices, and many priories, and call thee his
father in Apollo, and even, so they say, bid thee sit down beside him on his
throne? Away, ye scandalous folk, who tell us that there was strife between
the Prince of Poets and the King of Mirth. Naught have ye by way of proof of
your slander but the talk of Jean Bernier, a scurrilous, starveling
apothecary, who put forth his fables in 1697, a century and a half after
Mai'tre Francoys died. Bayle quoted this fellow in a note, and ye all steal
the tattle one from another in your dull manner, and know not whence it comes,
nor even that Bayle would none of it and mocked its author. With so little
knowledge is history written, and thus doth each chattering brook of a 'Life'
swell with its tribute 'that great Mississippi of falsehood,' Biography.

Previous Letter (to Charles Dickens) | Letters to Dead Authors | Next Letter (to Herodotus)

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.