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Emblems of Desire: Selections from the Delie of Maurice Sceve

by Maurice Sceve

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[Emblems of Desire: Selections from the Délie of Maurice Scève] edited by Richard Sieburth
[Petrarchan Love and the Continental Renaissance] by Gordon Braden
The ideal of Petrarchan love is something that has little relevance outside of the mid-renaissance and yet we can admire and even love the poetry that resulted from it. The poems are written in the first person by the poet/speaker to his lover (Laura) and as the courtship slowly unfolds we realise there was no courtship. Laura it would seem was hardly aware of the poets existence. It was a one sided affair; she may or may not have been aware of the worship that was bestowed on her by the lovelorn poet, but this in no way hinders his love for her. Even after her death his love remains as strong as ever. He suffers, but seemingly he would have it no other way and in some strange way it ennobles him.

Gordon Braden’s examination of Petrarchan love starts with the man himself: putting Petrarch into the context of his times making some observations about his life style and considering what he was aiming to achieve. He then looks at the ‘Canzoniere’ and gives an interpretation of the legacy left by the collection of poems. In a second part to the book titled Petrarchism he looks at how Petrarch influenced his contemporaries writers of the later Renaissance. A smaller third section called Plus Ultra considers how Petrarch’s legacy influenced female authors in 17th Century Spain (particularly Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz) when it had ceased to be so relevant for the rest of Europe.

Published by Yale University Press, I found Braden’s book to be very readable and his ideas were well supported by examples from Petrarch’s life and from the Canzoniere themselves. Braden says that apart from his love for Laura the only thing that Petrarch seems to have cared about was literary fame, not only in his lifetime but posthumously as well. He chose not to work, but to devote his talents to being a man of letters. The name Laura that he gave to his love was no coincidence he craved for the laurels that such a love might give him and Braden goes on to question whether Laura actually existed or was merely a construct made up by the poet in order achieve the fame that he so desperately sought. The love that Petrarch celebrated was both wishful and mental and excluded any external action: it was a love unreturned or even unsanctioned by his lady, but that love was its own justification. These notions would not have been out of place in the fourteenth century when it was still fashionable for men of wealth and influence to indulge in ‘courtly love’, but as the Renaissance progressed those notions were falling by the wayside.

Braden does not examine the quality and construction of the poems themselves (particularly the sonnets) that have had a lasting effect on literature; his concern are with the ideas expressed within them.

I read Braden’s book in conjunction with Maurice Scève’s Emblems of Desire which are selections from the Délie of Maurice Scéve edited and translated by Richard Sieburth. Scève wrote 449 poems celebrating his love for Dèlie in the mid sixteenth century. Dèlie it transpires is Scéve’s Laura, but now such a tale of unrequited love has even less relevance some three hundred years after Petrarch’s Canzoniere and while the reader has a sense of time and place and even mortality in Petrarch’s sequence there is precious little of that from Scéve in his Emblems. There are 90 of the poems translated by Sieburth and they are interspersed with many of the 50 emblems which look like intricate woodcuts in which were printed alongside the poems. The emblems are quite complex with geometrical patterns and grotesques surrounding a scene which is titled with an additional motto: evidently meant to supplement the nature of the poems which were printed on the same verso.

Scève chose the French dizaine as the form for his poetry. This is a ten line stanza with a set rhyming scheme and Sieburth postulates that this may have been chosen because the poems were meant to be sung. Sieburth has to be said does a good job with his introduction, but there is not too much information at hand for him to use. So! what of the poems themselves; and immediately it has to be said that as charming as some of them are I am pleased I read only 90 of the 449 that were composed. The translations are set out on the same page as the original French and so the reader can appreciate the original rhyming scheme and even perhaps argue with Sieburth’s choice of words. Scève seems even further removed from his Delie than Petrarch was from Laura; there is no sense of drama or of a story unfolding, rather more of an intellectual exercise in the celebration of some sort of divine love; here is an example:

On the frail skiff of arrogant pleasure
I sailed the Seas of my coveted bliss,
Years on end, & assured of pleasure,
Nearing the Haven of my desired peace.
Then fortune conspiring against me,
Awoke this wrongful storm whose heavy gales
Have robbed me of hope, & her good will
And all prospects of ever reaching Port,
Left adrift beneath these gloomy skies
In a whirlpool with no ground, no shore.


Perhaps the best that can be said for Scève’s Delie is that they made me turn back and re-read some of Petrarch’s Canzoniere ( )
1 vote baswood | Mar 8, 2015 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0977857654, Paperback)

“Richard Sieburth has performed a miracle of literary invention. He has made these poems sing.”—Paul Auster

A forgotten masterpiece of French poetry, Emblems of Desire is a selection of 449 love poems first published in Lyons in 1544. Full of passionate ironies and charged obscurity, Maurice Scève is considered a sixteenth-century Stéphane Mallarmé. His oblique self-portraiture laid the groundwork for many contemporary poets. Poet Michael Palmer calls Richard Sieburth “one of our finest living scholars and translators.”

Maurice Scève (c.1500–c.1564) was at the center of Lyonnese côterie that elaborated the theory of spiritual love.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:01:12 -0400)

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