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Although Lyonnais poet Maurice Scève composed many other works, among them a biblical epic, an eclogue and some of the first French sonnets, he is mostly remembered and admired for his love poetic collection Délie (Lyon, 1544), for which he gained a reputation as the “Mallarmé” of the Renaissance.
Délie is composed of 449 decasyllabic dizains, or ten-line poems, after an eight-line introductory poem entitled “A Sa Délie.” “Délie” (an anagram of “L'Idée,”) long thought to be an imaginary ideal, may have alluded to the Lyonnaise poet Pernette du Guillet, whose death seems to have partly inspired Scève’s Saulsaye, églogue de la vie solitaire (1547). Regularly interspersed within the sequence are 50 emblèmes, made up of an image and a motto, usually echoed in the last line of the following poem thus called “dizain d’accompagnement.” The woodcuts’ sources range from Greek fables, Christian mythology or medieval bestiaries to scenes form everyday life activities or images from the natural world. The problematic relation between image and text, within the woodcut’s constitutive elements (motto and image) and between the vignette and the subsequent poems, has been the focus of many critical inquiries. It reflects a dominant issue raised by the collection as a whole: its so-called poetic “obscurity,” or, more to the point, the constant hermeneutic quest this complex system of cross-references and allusions calls forth.
The conception and the language of the collection spring from the Petrarchan tradition, but are distilled through the incorporation of a rich array of other influences synthesized by an original creative mind. Unlike in Dante and Petrarch, for example, the sublimation and purification of the love between the poet and the lady is not brought about by the lady’s death and adoption of the role of intermediary to salvation. Rather, Délie chronicles a love whose psychology is more human and realistic; though the faith of the lovers gradually evolves throughout the poem, it is never absolutely free of doubt, just as their relationship is never entirely separated from physical desire. Though Scève’s epigrams, which have been regarded with new critical interest in the last century, were considered difficult even by his contemporaries, he was widely praised during his time for having composed poetry that helped to establish French as a literary language. Scève’s Délie, the first French work modeled off Petrarch’s Canzoniere, inspired a number of later works in the same vein, including Ronsard’s Les Amours de Cassandre and Du Bellay’s Olive.
© Emily Dalton & Cécile Alduy

Students’ Interpretative Highlights:

On Délie: “The collection’s innovation lies also in its exploration of the role of memory and retrospection in the evolution of the love relationship; the speaker of Délie must rely on memory to actively reconstruct past suffering in order to transform it into a transcendent recollected experience.” Emily Dalton, Renaissance Body Seminar 2006.

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