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The Pierre de Ronsard roses appeared in late April. At the time, I had no idea what a Pierre de Ronsard rose was. I was drawn to the grand pink blossoms hanging from trellises, terraces, and gates as a beacon of joy in a sombre world.
Humanity was holding its breath.
Except for the madness in the hospitals.
Coronavirus had turned the entire planet upside down.
Mother Nature, though, in all her wisdom, was following her seasonal schedule and with each vibrant bloom came a glimmer of hope and renewal.
Living in confinement in my 17-metre squared Parisian apartment, I felt it necessary for my mental health to take full advantage of the daily one hour and one-kilometre allowance for physical exercise. The spring flowers in Paris surprised at every turn. The blossoms provided some assurance of normalcy. They were on schedule. Time was moving forward, after all.
Magnolias, daffodils, hyacinths, irises, and wisteria were the early Paris flowers. Amidst the silence, these colourful jewels brightened terraces, parks, and cascaded over walls.
They brought joy with their perfume and colourful petals in the strangely quiet streets of Paris.
The chestnut trees soon followed with their white and pink blossoms. Laden with white blooms, the trees on either side of the Canal Saint-Martin secretly help hands as they arched over the waterway.
Splashes of colour announced the arrival of roses in Paris. They were a surprise at April’s close that will not be forgotten. I have never been a fan of roses. They remind me of disappointment. Expectations not met.
Spending time in Paris and other parts of France in the month of May has gradually shifted how I feel about this thorny bloom. They have won me over with their dazzling colours, varieties and unmistakable perfume.
I, it seems, have also blossomed and can proudly declare my not-so-secret love of roses.
The enticing rose was revealing itself all over Paris. But what was this exquisite pink cup-shaped bloom catching my attention? Its pale pink hue is matched in beauty by the delicious light scent.
And so it was, that April in confinement led to my discovery of Pierre de Ronsard roses.
The plentiful, huge blooms could not go unnoticed. The Pierre de Ronsard roses bow their round heads, peering at you from above. Delicate petals fit within each other, some left crumpled in the middle.
But what I didn’t know was the Pierre de Ronsard roses were, in fact, named after a famous and beloved French poet. When the Meilland family and their internationally known rose business created this rose in 1987, they named it after the famous Renaissance poet, Pierre de Ronsard.
Ah.. everything is connected in France. A story. A name. An event. There is no name without meaning. Of course, these stunning Pierre de Ronsard roses are named after a poet. It’s no surprise that the name of the roses refers to Pierre de Ronsard’s poem that begins, “Mignonne, allons voir si la rose…”
It is Pierre de Ronsard’s (1524-1585) most famous romantic poem. Written in 1545 to Cassandra, his Ode à Cassandre has been memorized by countless French schoolchildren for decades. I felt a commitment to read this poem and make an effort to memorize it ( still a work in progress!).
Ode à Cassandre
Mignonne, allons voir si la rose
Qui ce matin avait déclose
Sa robe de pourpre au Soleil,
A point perdu cette vesprée
Les plis de sa robe pourprée,
Et son teint au vôtre pareil.
Las! voyez comme en peu d’éspace,
Mignonne, elle a dessus la place,
Las! Las! Ses beautés laissé choir!
Ô vraiment marâtre Nature,
Puisqu’une telle fleur ne dure,
Que du matin jusques au soir!
Donc, si vous me croyez mignonne,
Tandis que votre âge fleuronne
En sa plus verte nouveauté,
Cueillez, cueillez votre jeunesse:
Comme à cette fleure la vieillesse
Fera ternir votre beauté.
Pierre de Ronsard’s Ode à Cassandre is easily found on the internet. I found it here, along with the English translation that follows.
Ode to Cassandra
Sweetheart, come let us see if the rose,
Which this morning unfolded
Its crimson dress to the sun
Has lost, at evening,
The folds of its crimson dress
And its colour, so like your own.
Alas! See how in such a short time,
Sweetheart, she has let
Her beauty fall from above!
Nature is truly cruel
When such a flower only lasts
From dawn to dusk!
So if you would believe me, Sweetheart,
While your young age is in flower
In its greenest freshness,
Gather, gather your youth.
Since age will tarnish your beauty
As it has faded this flower.
I’m not so sure that 475 years later I agree with his thoughts on age and beauty. But Pierre de Ronsard, I concur that time is a thief and gathering each day and making the most of it is the way to live.
Pierre de Ronsard roses and his Ode à Cassandre were not far from my thoughts one evening as I strolled along the Quai de Valmy by Canal Saint-Martin. I shouldn’t use the word “stroll” as I was on my one hour of individual physical exercise.
On this route that I had walked many times during confinement, something caught my eye. It was the way things went in confinement. Something unnoticed you had walked by numerous times suddenly jumped out at you.
And there scrawled in black marker were Pierre de Ronsard’s words,
“Sa robe de pourpre au soleil n’a point perdu cette vesprée…”
“Her crimson dress to the sun this evening hasn’t lost…”
This is my Paris. My small discoveries make my heart sing. It’s why I moved here for a year.
Find a stunning rose.
Discover they are Pierre de Ronsard roses.
Find out that is not just any old name.
Read Pierre de Ronsard’s Ode à Cassandre.
Work hard at making sense of it in English and learning the French vocabulary.
And suddenly it is in my realm and right in front of me scribbled on a wall.
La vie est belle.
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