This is the first poem in Le Premier Livre des Amours by Ronsard. An English translation can be found here.
Qui voudra voir comme un dieu me surmonte,
Comme il m’assaut, comme il se fait vainqueur,
Comme il renflamme et renglace mon coeur,
Comme il se fait un honneur de ma honte,
Qui voudra voir une jeunesse prompte
A suivre en vain l’objet de son malheur,
Me vienne lire: il verra ma douleur
Dont ma déesse et mon dieu ne font compte.
Il connaîtra qu’amour est sans raison,
Un doux abus, une belle prison,
Un vain espoir qui de vent nous vient paître.
Et connaîtra que l’homme se décoit
Quand plein d’erreur un aveugle il reçoit
Pour sa conduite, un enfant pour son maître.
The 16th-century poet Ronsard is most known for his sonnets and odes. His sonnets are inspired by Petrarch and his odes by Pindar and Horace. The Petrarchan sonnet is made up of 2 quatrains and 2 tercets. The quatrains use enclosed rhyme (ABBA).
This poem is a Petrarchan sonnet. It is a description of furor poeticus, or poetic furor. The poet is powerless and senseless before the object of his love (cf. the title character of Orlando Furioso by Ariosto). In the two quatrains, Ronsard urges the person who wants to understand this phenomenon to read in order to see. The child-god Cupid enjoys assaulting and humiliating our poet; he enflames and cools his victim’s heart as he pleases. Thus, love is a form of suffering. Thus, the lover cannot influence the object of his love (here, Cassandra). Yet, he also cannot refrain from pursuing her because Cupid has complete control of his emotions.
Who is the “me” in “me vienne livre” of the second quatrain ? Who is speaking to the reader? Ronsard, or his poem? Although the first strophe suggests that the poet is the speaker, the second strophe invites the reader to read him (“Qui voudra voir une jeunesse prompte […]/ Me vienne lire”). Perhaps, the ambiguity of subject is deliberate. Ronsard identifies himself so fully with his poetry that reading his poem is equivalent to reading his heart. When, in the final line of the second quatrain, Ronsard refers to Cassandra as a heartless goddess, he suggests that she is not only an object of his love but also its agent.
The two tercets describe in greater detail what the reader will understand once he has read the poet/poem. The order of verbs is important: lire -> voir -> connaitre. Reading leads to seeing, which finally leads to an understanding of love. The reader will understand that love is a sweet abuse (“un doux abus”) and a beautiful prison (“une belle prison”). The contradiction in connotation between doux/belle and abus/prison evokes the conflicting feelings the poet has toward Cassandra. Love is at once pleasant and painful. The rhetorical slippage is most apparent in French (Amour/ à mort). Love and death are closely related to each other. Love may be sweet, but it is also futile. It is a vain hope that nourishes itself from wind. Ronsard’s love for Cassandra is unrequited.
The final tercet is a warning and a moral. Man deceives himself when he invites Cupid into his heart. A blind child cannot lead man from his errors: « Quand plein d’erreur un aveugle il reçoit / Pour sa conduite, un enfant pour son maître ». Thus, the final tercet somewhat contradicts the first quatrain. Ronsard is not entirely innocent. He invited Cupid into his heart.