À son âme (1585)

Pierre de Ronsard

How do you deal with death drawing near? Pierre de Ronsard drew inspiration from the classic antiquity and made a playful poem.

illustratie: lees in nederlands

Aan mijn ziel

Zielsverwante van Ronsardelette
Liefste, zachtste,
allerliefste gastvrouw van mijn lichaam

Jij daalt daar zwak
bleek mager alleen af
in het kille Koninkrijk van de doden

Vaak eenvoudig zonder verwijten
van moord, gif of rancune
veracht gunsten en schatten

Zo door de gemeenschap begeerd
heengegaan heb ik gezegd: volg je geluk
verstoor niet mijn rust, ik slaap

Vertaling: Joyce de Jong


Listen to this poem in French.
Voiced by: Céline Zaepffel

illustratie: ontdek dit gedicht in 1 minuut

This poem in 60 seonds

Pierre de Ronsard dictates his final poems on his deathbed. He is the most well-known poet of his generation; even the French court would attend his funeral. This poem is his last chance to immortalize himself. Once more, he repeats what made him famous; he draws inspiration from classic antiquity and adds a personal touch. The subject at hand, death drawing near, is obvious. De Ronsard addresses his soul directly, mockingly and lighthearted; he wishes it all the best, as long as it lets De Ronsard rest calmly in his grave.

Want to know more? On this website you can listen to the poem, discover its origins and its author and find out what the poem means to the people of Leiden.

Pierre de Ronsard

Pierre de Ronsard

Couture-sur-Loir 1524 - La Riche 1585

De Ronsard was a Renaissance poet from France. His contemporaries named him ‘prince des poètes,’ prince among poets. He was the leader of the poetry group La Pléiade, which consisted of seven young French poets who together wanted to revive and improve poetry from the Classical period. They preferred French over Latin verse. Love, nature, mythology and antiquity were important subjects in their work.

Life and death

In Pierre de Ronsard’s work, death is a recurring theme. De Ronsard was particularly interested in immortality, to the point that the grave became a symbol of immortality for him. He wanted to conquer death, gain posthumous honor. De Ronsard was incredibly productive until the very end. Literally, because on his deathbed he dictated several poems, including À son âme (Poem to my soul).


De Ronsard started his career as a secretary and a diplomat at the French court, but had to quit as he went deaf after an ear infection. A diplomatic career was no longer possible and his father thus sent him to a monastery. Here, he started writing poetry. He won multiple prizes and was quite popular at court. The entire court was present at his official, well-attended funeral in Paris.

illustratie: over dit gedicht

What's this poem about?

À son âme, the title of the poem translated literally “to his soul,” the soul of De Ronsard.

Pierre de Ronsard is lying on his deathbed and is wondering where his “amelette” (little soul), “treschere hostesse de mon corps” (dearest inhabitant of my body), would go to now that it is “pasle, maigrelette, seulette” (pale, frail, alone). It is a serious question, but De Ronsard approaches death in a lighthearted and playful manner. He wishes his soul the very best, as long as the speaker may sleep peacefully.

Play of sounds

The fact that impending death does not worry De Ronsard speaks from the sounds of the poem. Many words have the suffix -ette (Amelette Ronsardelette, Mignonnelette doucelette, foiblelette, maigrelette, seulette); making them diminutives (little soul, little Rosard, little darling little sweet, little weakness, a bit fragile, a bit alone). The use of diminutives causes the poem to sound satirical and ironic.

Not afraid of death

The poem, therefore, does not convey any fear of the hereafter. During his studies of the antiquity, De Ronsard became familiar with the work of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341 - 270 BC), who stated that death was nothing more than the separation of body and soul. This thought is echoed in this poem, in which De Ronsard provocatively bids farewell to his soul. The last words can be read as someone who has come to terms with the inevitable end.

illustratie: ontstaan van dit gedicht

Origin story

À son âme (Poem to my soul) was published in 1586 as the last poem in De Ronsard’s final poetry collection, which was suitably called Derniers vers (Last Poems). Six sonnets and two epitaphs from this collection were dictated by De Ronsard on his deathbed. The poetry collection was published two months after his passing.

De Ronsard was a well-read man and had extensive knowledge of many Ancient Greek and Roman poetry. À son âme seems to be based on the poem Animula vagula blandula, which is said to be written by the Roman Emperor Hadrian on his deathbed in the summer of 138 AD. In the poem, he bid farewell to his soul:

My soul, my pleasant soul and witty,
The ghest and consort of my body,
Into what place now all alone
Naked and sad wilt thou be gone?
No mirth, no wit, as heretofore,
Nor Jests wilt thou afford me more.

Translation: Henry Vaughan (1652)

illustratie: ik heb een verhaal bij dit gedicht

Share your story

Does this poem hold a special place in your heart? For example, do you remember when you first read the poem? Or did you come across it someplace unexpected? Let us know at muurgedichten@taalmuseum.nl! We would love to add your story to our website.

illustratie: gedicht in leiden

Pierre de Ronsard in Leiden

Photo Anoesjka Minnaard

This wall poem can be found in Leiden since 1998. The colors used first where rather light and, with the wall facing south, the paint quickly started to fade. In May 2008, the poem was repainted in a different spot, around the corner so that the sun could not affect the paint as much. The original painting has not been removed, but increasingly fades.

illustratie: citaten


Pierre de Ronsard est le plus mal connu de nos poètes inconnus.

Pierre de Ronsard is the least known of our unknown poets.

Gilbert Gadoffre, De Ronsard’s biographer, wrote that he was one of the greatest unknown poet of all unknown poets. During his life, De Ronsard was a renowned and celebrated poet but in the two centuries that followed his name fell into oblivion. It is quite ironic, for De Ronsard was almost obsessed with immortalizing himself and being remembered eternally.

illustratie: wist je dat

Fun facts

  • This poem was put to music several times, by William Hawley, Raymond Moulaert and Maurice Ravel, among others. The latter released a musical version of the poem in 1924 as a contribution to the special edition of the Revue musicale in celebration of the four hundredth anniversary of De Ronsard’s birthday. The piano piece was under three minutes long and it was the simplest tune Ravel had ever written. It could be played with one hand and therefore also one of Ravel’s favorites: after all, you could play it and smoke at the same time.
illustratie: video

Listen to this poem, performed by Ravel online.

illustratie: lees dit gedicht in het engels

Poem to my soul

Poor dear wee soul, sweet
sleekit soul of poor wee Pierre,
sweetest inhabitant of my wee heap
of flesh and bone,
already you've begun to creep,
all frail and pale and wull from out my bed
down to the cold Kingdom of the Dead.

You are guileless, guiltless, rancourless,
distrusting favour and reward
thus envied by your petty peers.
I feel you seep
away from me, your carnal nest.
Goodbye, wee love, just keep
right on and don't disturb my rest.
I've gone to Sleep.

Translation: Anthony Weir

illustratie: lees dit gedicht in het frans

A son âme

Amelette Ronsardelette,
Mignonnelette doucelette,
Treschere hostesse de mon corps,

Tu descens là bas foiblelette,
Pasle, maigrelette, seulette,
Dans le froid Royaume des mors:

Toutesfois simple, sans remors
De meurtre, poison, ou rancune,
Méprisant faveurs et tresors

Tant enviez par la commune.
Passant, j'ay dit, suy ta fortune
Ne trouble mon repos, je dors.

illustratie: meer weten

Learn more

This entry was written by Het Taalmuseum in collaboration with Angélique van Drunen. The translation into English is by Demi van de Wetering. The following publications were consulted: