“Quand vous serez bien vieille”

Posted on October 28, 2015 by Jack Thomas, on the Poems Disentangled website:

“Both poems are admirable, each starts from the same situation as the other. Both are confident that the beautiful woman they love, when she is an old lady nodding by the fire, will read what her admirer, the poet said about her.

The structure is different. Ronsard uses the traditional French iambic hexameter, called an Alexandrine or 6 iambic feet. As I told you, the last line of a Spenserian stanza is an Alexandrine. Here is Pope wittily explaining what exactly an Alexandrine is, both defining and illustrating it:

A needless Alexandrine ends the song,

That that like a wounded snake drags its slow length along.

On the other hand Yeats writes a looser poem with basic iambics but plenty of trochees and anapaests to vary the rhythm. His rhyme scheme is: a b b a c d d c e f f e.

We have already had his The Lake Isle of Innisfree, an early work.

Ronsard is the more classical poet with a stricter verse form. His rhymes are a b b a a b b a c c d e e d.”

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

Assise auprès du feu, dévidant et filant,

Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous émerveillant :

Ronsard me célébrait du temps que j’étais belle./

Lors, vous n’aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,

Déjà sous le labeur à demi sommeillant,

Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s’aille réveillant,

Bénissant votre nom de louange immortelle./

Je serai sous la terre et fantôme sans os :

Par les ombres myrteux je prendrai mon repos :

Vous serez au foyer une vieille accroupie,/

Regrettant mon amour et votre fier dédain.

Vivez, si m’en croyez, n’attendez à demain :

Cueillez dès aujourd’hui les roses de la vie.

Pierre de Ronsard, Sonnets pour Hélène (1578)

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