Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Aside from the poet himself, the only character in Ronsard's Sonnets for Helen is the subject of the sonnets, Helen de Surgeres. As described by the poet, she is an "extreme beauty."
When in long draughts I drink in the lovely twinkling
Of your two fair eyes; my own are dazzled.
Throughout, she causes him great heartache, and he often talks about how indifferent she is to his melancholy and illnesses—caused it seems, by his obvious love for her. At times, he professes that her indifference—what he occasionally refers to her coldness—frightens him:
Or beg mercy for the ills I receive
Your cruelly grips my voice tightly
That I dare not speak, your eyes makes so afraid.
Other times, though, he responds joyfully to the slightest positive attention that she gives him.
Yesterday I was feeding you your divine eyes
On which a god might feed—if a god fed on
Something earthly—and Love which has hooked me
Meanwhile arranged his arrows on my heart.
It is worth noting that at this point in his life Ronsard was in his fifties and, being that it was the sixteenth century, coming toward the end of his life. Helene was a lot younger. He has, he states, "fallen in love with your youth." So, from this perspective there is a tragic element to the poems in that the relationship doesn't really have a chance to work. In some of his darker moments, the poet even speaks of his impending death. By the end, however, he seems to find some kind of peace, wishing all the best to any lovers Helene will have in the future.
Whoever drinks from your water, let him become enamoured
And in drinking it in, may he draw a flame
As hot, as I feel my own flame hot in my heart.