Introduced and annotated by the prize-winning translator Richard Sieburth, this bilingual selection from Scève's Délie (which also includes the fifty emblems illustrating the original edition) will appeal not only to students of French literature and lovers of poetry but also to the broader audience of readers drawn to the visual and verbal universe of the Renaissance.
Honorable Mention, 2003 Weidenfeld Translation Prize
Honorable Mention, 2003 PEN Poetry Translation Award
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Voy ce papier de tous costez noircy
Du mortel dueil de mes iustes querelles
In a life singularly devoid of recorded biographical incident—even his dates of birth and death remain in doubt—a single story about Maurice Scève stands out. It is recounted by the Lyonese publisher Jean de Tournes in the preface to his handsome 1545 Italian-language edition of Il Petrarca, dedicated to his esteemed friend "M. Mauritio Scæva." De Tournes had just brought out the Délie, Scève's masterpiece, the previous year—it was the first full-fledged Petrarchan canzoniere ever to appear in French—so the (apocryphal?) tale he tells in this preface was no doubt motivated on the one hand by his desire to market his new author as France's true inheritor of the laurels of Petrarch and, on the other, by his patriotic zeal to establish the Provençal origins of the Italian poet's legendary muse.
According to de Tournes, who claimed to have had this story, "narrated at length," from Scève himself, it was in 1533, during the course of his studies at Avignon, that the latter was contacted by two Italian notables to aid in the discovery of the tomb of Laura—who, by Petrarch's own account, had died there on April 6, 1348, exactly twenty-one years (to the very day) after he had first met her on the banks of the Rhône. Local tradition maintained that she was none other than Laure de Nove, wife of Hughes de Sade, and Scève accordingly led his Italian cohorts to a Franciscan chapel originally founded by the House of Sade—the very same family whose name would later be illustrated by the Divine Marquis. There an unmarked tomb was discovered by the amateur archaeologists and duly opened. De Tournes describes what followed:
Initially nothing was found except earth and tiny bones, but near an intact jaw lay an iron box bound shut by a copper wire, which you [Scève] immediately opened, discovering within it a sheet that was folded and sealed with green wax and a bronze medal with a miniature figure of a lady on one side and nothing on the other; which lady seemed to be spreading her dress open over her breasts with her two hands, and surrounding her there were four letters only: M.L.M.I., which everyone tried his best to explain, and it so happened that Your Lordship approached more closely and, without guaranteeing that this was indeed so, proposed the following interpretation: Madonna Laura Morta Jace. That is, "Here Lies Dead Madonna Laura."
This scene reads like an allegory of the triumphs of humanist philology—Lorenzo da Valla unmasking the Donation of Constantine as a forgery, Horopollo deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs, or Petrarch himself uncovering ancient manuscripts that brought new life to the past. It is a scene, moreover, that uncannily prefigures the poetics of Scève's own Délie, in which each 10 x 10 dizain presents itself as a hermetically sealed box or tomb which must be opened in order to reveal its hidden contents—more or often than not involving (as here) the enigmatic presence of an eroticized icon of the Lady and her attendant (funerary) inscription. By penetrating into Laura's crypt and conquering its hermeneutic mysteries, Scève thus Orphically repossesses Petrarch's lost object as his own.
Like Mallarmé, Scève is a poet of meanings and morphemes endlessly pleated and unpleated. So it is only appropriate that the folded sheet ("membrana piegata") buried in Laura's reliquary be now unsealed:
Once the piece of paper was opened, inside there was discovered a sonnet that was difficult to read because the letters written along the crease were effaced by time. The paper then being handed to you to see whether you might be able to decipher it, Your Lordship read it completely, holding it up against the light of the sun, and made a copy of it which . . . I have reproduced below.
Difficult though it is to envisage how in the obscurity of a chapel a sheet of paper might be held up against the light of the sun, the same metaphor will be applied to Scève's own muse Délie, for she is the source of illumination, be it lunar or solar, that allows him to decipher the text of his own darkness, that enables him to read, as it were, across his own crease. The Italian poem of which Scève here transcribes a copy—medieval scribal culture modulating into Renaissance intertextuality—and which de Tournes subsequently reproduces at the end of his preface as a sonnet by Petrarch, is attributed by at least one modern editor to Scève himself.
Attracted by the news of the discovery of Laura's tomb (so the narrative continues), King François I, en route to Marseilles to confer with Pope Clement about the upcoming marriage of his son Henri to Catherine de' Medeci, stopped off at the chapel in Avignon, "had the slab of stone lifted, took the box, and read the sonnet." In honor of Petrarch's muse, the monarch then dashed off an epitaph which de Tournes also quotes at the end of his preface:
O gentille Ame estant tant estimée
Qui te pourra louer qu'en se taisant?
Car la parolle est tousjours réprimée
Quand le subject surmonte le disant.
O gentle Soul, being so esteemed,
Who could praise you save in silence?
For speech is always restrained
When the subject surpasses the speaker.
Generally thought to be a composition of François I himself (in a chapter of his Memoirs recounting his visit to Laura's tomb in 1802, Chateaubriand quotes these lines as illustrative of the French poet-king's patronage of Italian artists), scholars such as Saulnier have instead suggested that these decasyllables may in fact have been ghostwritten by Scève himself. If this is indeed the case, then Stendhal, who was inordinately fond of the phrase "le sujet surpasse le disant" and who cited it in his autobiography whenever too overcome with emotion or memory to continue writing, was unwittingly (mis)quoting the single line of Scève's to have survived in literary posterity until his work was finally exhumed from oblivion in the early 20th century. Quand le subject surmonte le disant—an apt motto for the poetics of the Délie, whose 450 poems obsessively attempt to seize that "Object of Highest Virtue" which forever lies just beyond the ambit of articulate speech.
When Scève published his Délie in 1544, he was already a figure of considerable note in his native Lyons. By birthright he descended from one of the city's most prosperous and illustrious families: his father, a prominent municipal magistrate, was named ambassador to the court upon the accession of François I to the throne in 1515; his sisters, well-married into the noblesse de robe, entertained local literati in their salons and wrote verse for their amusement; his cousins, Guillaume and Jean, were also minor published poets and benefactors of the arts. As for Scève himself, the record is far more scanty. He may have taken minor orders in his youth (which might explain why he never to chose to marry) and he may have pursued advanced studies in Italy (he is referred to as a "doctor" (of law?) in a 1540 document), but he never seems to have pursued any profession, preferring instead the vocation of a man of letters whose independent wealth allowed him to pursue his humanist learning while protecting him from the political vagaries of court patronage (experienced only all too cruelly by his poetic mentor, Clément Marot or, for that matter, his English contemporary Sir Thomas Wyatt).
Scève's first published work, characteristically unsigned, was a translation of a Spanish novel by Juan de Flores, Grimalte y Gradissa, a continuation of Boccaccio's popular romance Fiammetta (1481). Published as a commercial venture in 1535 by François Juste (who had brought out Rabelais's Gargantua the previous year), La déplourable fin de Flamete is above all notable for its translator's confession in the preface that, like the characters in this tragic tale, he too had known the "torment of love" and had spent "the best years of [his] life" attempting to traverse its "perilous ford"-an allusion, Scève's biographers infer, to some ill-starred romance of his youth, also hinted at in various poems of the Délie. During this same year of 1535, Clément Marot, in exile at the court of Ferrara, composed his "Blason du Beau Tétin," inviting his fellow French poets to emulate his example with further celebrations of portions of the female anatomy. Scève's contribution to this poetic joust, a delicate encomium of The Eyebrow—most of the other contestants had aimed somewhat lower—was adjudged the winner by Renée, duchess of Ferrara, thus gaining him his first measure of courtly fame.
In 1536, while the court of François I was summering in Lyons in preparation for the Italian campaign against Charles V, the young Dauphin unexpectedly died among suspicious circumstances (poisoning by agents of the Austrian Emperor was suspected). Under the leadership of Lyons' most prominent humanist, Etienne Dolet, the city's poets immediately marshalled their collective talents to issue a volume of memorial tributes, Recueil de vers latins et vulgaires, de plusieurs Poëtes françoys, composés sur le trespas de feu Monsieur le Dauphin. Scève's contributions to this tombeau accounted for nearly one third of the volume: five Latin epigrams, two French huitains, and a lengthy eclogue, Arion, in which the late Dauphin was allegorically metamorphosed into a dolphin. Scève's prominence in this bilingual collection is indicative of his rising reputation among the poets of Lyons and, in particular, among the group known as the Sodalitium Lugdunense, a coterie of intellectuals who, under the guidance of Dolet, were committed to making neo-Latin the official language of French verse, the better to rival and surpass their erudite humanist contemporaries abroad. The French monarchy, however, was moving in the opposite direction, issuing the edict of Villers-Cotterets in 1539, which decreed that all legal documents be henceforth recorded in French. Dolet's sodality (Bourbon, Ducher, Visagier, etc.), inspired in part by the example of Petrarch's move from Latin into the vulgar tongue, similarly began placing more emphasis on literary production in the vernacular. Scève's Délie is in a sense the culmination of this Lyonese evolution toward a more local, more native literary language—as much a Deffence et Illustration de la langue francoyse as Du Bellay's more celebrated manifesto, published five years in its wake.
Around 1536, in his mid-thirties, nel mezzo del cammin, Scève fell violently in love. This mind- and heart-shattering moment of Petrarchan innamoramento, which he describes in the very first dizain of the Délie as a catastrophic death-blow to the very integrity of his own identity, will be returned to again and again over the course its 449 poems—an originary trauma that is endlessly revisited and from which he can never fully recover. Although opinions differ, it is more or less generally agreed that Scève's obscure object of desire was Pernette du Guillet, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed budding young poet of Lyons some twenty years his junior and whose marriage in 1538 effectively guaranteed that his passion would thereafter remain unrequited. In D 161, he vents his jealousy in a rage as chiselled as the lyrics of Catullus, Tibullus, or Propertius:
Alone with myself, she with her husband:
I in my anguish, she in her cozy bed.
Wrapped in grief, I wallow in Nettles,
And she lies there naked in his arms.
Ha! (unworthy him), he holds, he fondles her:
And she gives in: &, frailer of the two,
Violates love by this unjust bond,
Sealed by human, not divine, decree.
O holy law, just to all, except to me,
For I am punished for her misdeeds.
But Pernette, to judge from the collection of her Rymes that was published posthumously in 1545 (and for which Scève provided three epitaphs), was not content merely to act the passive partner in this neo-Platonizing agon of love. As feminist readings have argued, her poems addressed to Scève are less echoes of her mentor's dizains than coolly ironic undercuttings of the metaphorical ground of their intellectual and erotic exchange. Rather than agreeing to play the reflected light of the Moon to his masculine Sun, for example, she prefers instead to picture herself as the journée (daytime) accompanying his jour (daylight), the emphasis falling less on gendered antithesis than on elusive complimentarity.
To restrict the figure of Scève's Délie to the biographical instance of Pernette du Guillet, however, is to considerably limit the resonance of this "Object of Highest Virtue"—a composite divinity inspired by any number of loves and, perhaps even more importantly, culled from the vast mnemonic storehouse of his reading, which included the Greek Anthology, the Latin lyric, the medieval poets of courtly love, Dante, Petrarch, and more contemporary French and Italian versifiers such as the Rhétoriqueurs Marot and Lemaire de Belges and the neo-Petrarchans Cariteo, Serafino, and Bembo. As Jacqueline Risset observes, the Délie conflates the act of literary citation with the fantasy of erotic fusion, in the process generating a text that is continually open to available tradition, continutally in colloquy with what lies beyond its borders. When Scève's canzoniere began circulating in manuscript in the mid 1530s, the work thus became the maieutic center of all the concentric circles of literary Lyons, not only exerting its gravitational pull on the poetry of Pernette du Guillet, Louise Labé, and Pontus de Tyard, but also gathering the promotional talents of Dolet and Marot into its orbit. Little wonder, then, if Jean de Tournes trumpeted the 1544 appearance of the Délie, interspersed with fifty allegorical woodcuts—it was the first book of the Renaissance fully to integrate poems and emblems—as the crowning achievement of the city's cosmopolitan humanist culture.
After the publication of the Délie, the ever-shadowy Scève seems to go into retreat, given over to protracted mourning: Marot expires in exile in Turin in 1544; Pernette dies of the plague in 1555; his cousin Guillaume passes away in 1546, the same year that his close friend Dolet is burned at the stake in Paris for heresy; in 1547, the poet-king François I dies, followed two years later by his sister, Marguerite de Navarre, Scève's sometime protector and patron, for whose two collections of poetry, the Marguerites and the Suyte des Marguerites (published by de Tournes in 1547), he provided liminary sonnets. The fruit of his rural retreat, Saulsaye (Willow Grove), was brought out in 1547, with the melancholy subtitle, "Eclogue of the Solitary Life," and in 1549, in a similarly meditative mood, he published translations of Psalms XXVI and LXXXIII. In 1548, he returned briefly to public life, organizing the ceremonial Entry of the new king Henri II and his wife Catherine de' Medeci into Lyons, a spectacular municipal festival for which Scève designed and directed the elaborate allegorical pageantry, just as he had earlier superintended the 1540 Entry of Hippolyte d'Este as archbishop of Lyons in collaboration with the Florentine painter Benedetto dal Bene.
The remainder of Scève's life is given over to the composition of the Microcosme, a Biblical epic exactly 3003 verses in length, composed of three books of one thousand alexandrines each, followed by a three-line conclusion which celebrates its completion in 1559, the year of the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, which established peace between France and Spain. A visionary poem whose blend of encyclopedic learning and Old Testament prophecy looks forward to the baroque epics of Du Bartas (La Sepmaine, 1578), d'Aubigné (Les Tragiques, 1616) and Milton, Scève's account of the Creation up through the murder of Abel by Cain (Book I) and of the dream in which Adam is vouchsafed a panoramic vision of the future of humanity (Book II), followed by Adam and Eve's first postlapsarian enjoyments of the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge (Book III), remains optimistically humanistic in its heroic emphasis on mankind's general progress towards tolerance and enlightenment under the tutelage of a benevolent, if distant, Lucretian God. The book is signed only by the motto "Non si non la"—which punningly captures man's ever restless Faustian drive to be "not here not there," but rather always on the move, always elsewhere, "not [here] unless there." Finally published by de Tournes in 1562, Scève's epic fell on deaf ears: Lyons, riven by riots enflamed by the Wars of Religion, was soon to be decimated by a devastating plague (which may have carried off Louise Labé). As darkness settled over the city, the death of Scève, one of its great luminaries, went unobserved and unrecorded.
Although du Bellay generously extolled his "divine mind" in several early poems (Ronsard proved somewhat less kind), Scève's work was totally eclipsed by that of Labé and the Pléiade until the early 20th century. A mere generation after Scève's death, the critic Pasquier was already observing that poet's "senseless obscurity" was the reason why "his book died with him," while in the 19th century Sainte-Beuve pronounced him "well-nigh unreadable" and Brunetière scoffingly compared the impenetrability of his verse to that of Mallarmé. A critical edition of the Délie was finally published by Parturier in 1916, but it was not until the 1920s that Scève's poetry emerged from over three centuries of oblivion, thanks to the singlehanded efforts of Valery Larbaud. Translator of Whitman, Butler, and Joyce, and early champion of Williams and Faulkner, Larbaud's reclamation of Scève coincides with that same modernist revision of the relation of tradition to the individual talent which marks Eliot's turn to the Metaphysicals or Pound's translations of Cavalcanti and the troubadours. In Larbaud's case, ardent Hispanophile that he was, his rediscovery of Scève was primarily lensed through his reading of Quevedo and Gongóra, in whose broader baroque circuit he subsequently located Marino, Théophile de Viau and Saint-Amant—and, on the English side, Wyatt and Herrick, translations of whom (by Auguste Morel, his collaborator on the French version of Ulysses) he published in the cosmpolitan literary journal Commerce which he coedited with Paul Valéry and Léon-Paul Fargue. Indeed, it was in the 1925 issues of Commerce, while looking up Bernard Groethuysen's inaugural translations of Hölderlin's late hymns and fragments into French, that I first chanced upon Larbaud's incisive "Notes sur Maurice Scève" which, by sheer editorial continguity, situated his poetry in a modernist vortex which included not only Hölderlin but Ungaretti, Hofmannsthal, Pasternak, Mandelstam, and Ponge.
"Dichten = condensare" runs the Poundian dictum, and the primary quality of Scève's poetry that Larbaud singles out for praise is its radical compaction. To read the dizains of the Délie against Ronsard's sonnets, he observes, is to realize that the latter usually contain four lines too many ("on dirait du Scève délayé, soufflé, dont on a allegé la sauce"). One of the advantages of Scève's choice of the ten-line form of the dizain over the sonnet, he continues, is that it is just the right length to be sung; in addition, its various paragraph-like subdivisions (whose indentations typically cut the poem up into blocks of 4 + 6, 6 + 4, 4 + 4 + 2, or 8 + 2 lines, though other permutations are also explored) allow for a more flexible pattern of musical pauses than the scheme of octave and sestet. Seven of the poems of the Délie are known to have been set to music during Scève's lifetime and his canzoniere often borrows its metaphors of harmony (or, more crucially, discordance) from the art of song.
The following dizain (D 344), which may have inspired Labé's celebrated Sonnet XII ("Lut, compagnon de ma calamité"), provides a measure of Scève's mastery of melopoeia:
Leuth resonnant, & le doulx son des cordes,
Et le concent de mon affection,
Comment ensemble vnyment tu accordes
Ton harmonie auec ma passion!
It begins, with the apostrophe to the lute delicately attuning the vibrating sibilance of the s's to the more guttural pluckings of the hard c's, both of which resonate across the nasalized sequence of the /ã/ and /~/ sounds. A caesura after the fourth syllable of each line establishes a slight pause, allowing for internal rhyme ("resonnant"/ "concent"/ "Comment"/ "vniment") to play itself off against the alternating masculine and feminine endings of the lines. This initial statement of harmony, wherein the lute seems to act in unanimous concert with the poet's own passion, immediately gives way (by a transitional "lors" which echoes "cordes" and "accordes") to its opposite:
Lors que ie suis sans occupation
Si viuement l'esprit tu m'exercites,
Qu'ores a ioye, ore a dueil tu m'incites
Par tes accordz, non aux miens ressemblantz.
The rhyme scheme, which overlaps with and yet deviates from what had initially seemed to be a standard quatrain format, throws the poem slightly off-kilter by introducing a rhymed couplet ("exercites"/ "incites") whose symmetrical syntax ("ores a ioye, ore a dueil") underscores a typically Scèvian moment of manic-depressive cyclothymia (now joy, now grief) during which, alone and "without occupation," the poet realizes that the chords of the lute are in fact completely out of tune with his conflicting emotions—the French word "accordz" here playing on the etymological ambiguity of "chord" (chorda or strings, in Latin) and "heart" (cor), with further overtones of "body" (corpus). One more turn (via a crucial "car") and the poem screws down like a vise:
Car plus, que moy, mes maulx tu luy recites,
Correspondant a mes souspirs tremblantz.
The soft s's and hard c's of the opening lines here return, but voice a complete reversal of the initial situation: while the lute manages to speak melodiously of the poet's distress to his Lady, he himself is now reduced to the utter inarticulateness and ineffectuality of trembling sighs—those "silentes clameurs" which lie at the very core of Scève's music in the Délie.
Here is a graph of the same poem in contemporary English, its tetrameters responding to the swift prosodic pace of the original—"the sound sharp and light in the throat" (Pound)—while echoing the overall disposition of its rhymes (ABABBCCDCD):
Resounding lute, & sweet pluck of strings,
And the concert of my affection,
How you meld into a single song
Your harmony and my passion!
Yet when I am without occupation,
You put my mind through so many paces
That from joy to sorrow it now races
In your chords, so unresembling mine.
For you speak to her with such graces
Of the pain I only tremble forth in sighs.
This is Scève at his most mellifluously accessible, yet the same poetic principles also govern his more reputedly difficult or obscure poems: by fashioning their twists and turns into an intricate pattern of ligatures and disjunctions, he makes his dizains pivot on the thinnest of dimes, creating the effect of what Gerard Manley Hopkins called a "curtal" sonnet.
Marot published what is usually taken as the first French sonnet in 1538 and Scève himself wrote nine poems in the recently imported form. As François Rigolot points out, however, the sonnet in France during this period remains largely a "poème d'escorte," that is, ornamental or dedicatory in function, lending itself primarily to encomiastic performance. Labé imparts a new passionate torque to its structure (beautifully captured in Rilke's translations), but it is not until Du Bellay's 1549 sequence, Olive, that the sonnet becomes a sustained vehicle for lyrical inspiration. Although Scève is therefore fully aware of the resources of the Italian sonnet, he pointedly chooses to cast the poems of his Délie in the more traditional French mould of the dizain, a one-hundred syllable form that reaches back to the Middle Ages, is perfected in the ballad stanzas of Villon and then regularly practiced by his first modern editor, Marot, who (perhaps inspired by the reading of Martial) compacts it into the standard mode of French epigram in his Deux Livres d'Epigrammes (1538). In the prefatory huitain to the Délie, Scève accordingly designates the poems to follow as "ces durs Epigrammes, "making it clear that the hard tempered steel of their pointes will provide a specifically French riposte to the sonnets of Petrarch or the contemporary strambotti of his Italian epigones.
The Délie is commonly described as the first canzoniere to appear in French, yet even though Petrarch is the sole poet to be named over the course of the entire sequence—D 388 indirectly refers to him as "ce Thuscan" and D 417 as "ce Thuscan Apollo"—Scève's swerve away from his great precursor figure is noteworthy. One of the novelties of the latter's Rime sparse lay in its mingling of diverse poetic forms: as its Latin title, Rerum vulgarium fragmenta, indicated, its 366 scattered rhymes—which numerically add up to the days of a solar or leap year—are dispersed into sonnets, ballads, and sestinas arranged not merely in chronological sequence but distributed according to theme and tone. Scève significantly refuses the seductive "vario stile" of Petrarch and instead commits himself to hammering the same poetic chord 449 times in succession, thereby generating what John Ashbery has termed a "fruitful monotony . . . ideal for repetitions with minimal variations." In the Délie each dizain, at once identical and different, thus tends to become a completely autonomous whole, bearing little sequential relationship to the poems that surround it: the paradigmatic patterns of meaning that emerge from the book lie closer to the spatialized correspondences and constellations of French symbolist verse than to the traditional temporal logic of narrative.
Petrarch's Rime, true to their Augustinian inspiration, by contrast tell a confessional story of sin and redemption which chronicles in almost diary-like fashion a poet's conversion from a man seduced by earthly pleasures to one straining toward eternal salvation as he moves from the giddy ecstasies of innamoramento to anxieties about his beloved's ill health and premonitions of her death and finally, after a period of mourning, fully realizes the errors of his ways while awaiting a reunion with his anima in heaven through the intercession of the Virgin Mary. Supplied with a proleptic prologue (1), a central peripeteia (264-267), and a retrospective epilogue (366), the Rime buttress their historical design by supplying the date of the poet's first meeting with Laura (April 6, 1327) and that of her death (April 6, 1348), followed by the tenth anniversary of her demise-a chronological sweep of thirty-one years in all. This entire narrative framework is jettisoned in the Délie as Scève intensifies what Thomas Greene has called Petrarch's "iterative present" into the unrelieved agony of an endlessly repeated Now. Once he encounters Délie in the very first dizain, the die is irrevocably cast: there is no death of the Lady (because in a sense she has been lost from the outset), no moment of conversion, no penitential revisioning of his "jeunes erreurs," and above all, no movement toward final salvation, given that Scève's resolutely secular view of human love entirely eschews Petrarch's (or, for that matter, Dante's) medieval theology. In the humanist cosmos of the Délie (whose psychology is ultimately closer to the "natural philosophy" of a Cavalcanti), there is no single transcendent Christian divinity, only the plural play of the desire and distress embodied by the ancient gods.
Scève criticism has long debated whether the Délie is to be read as a fundamentally "open" work, that is, as a serial composition whose sequence of poems, like some repeating decimal, is potentially extensible ad infinitum, or whether it observes traditional principles of closure. Much has been made of the overall architectonics of the volume: after an intial huitain, followed by the device "Souffrir non souffrir" and by a first group of five dizains, the book is punctuated by forty-nine emblems which fall after every ninth poem; a fiftieth emblem at the end is followed by three poems and the entire canzoniere closes with a reprise of its initial device as a coda. This structure (omitting the prefatory huitain and device) can be mathematically expressed as follows:
5 + (49 x 9) + 3, or 5 + (72 x 32) + 3 = 449
Brunetière was the first to sense there might be something "cabbalistic" to this numerology and early critics accordingly attempted to work out the arithmosophic implications of this equation: 49 is the square of seven, the number of the occult virtues; 9 is the square of three, the number of the godhead; 5 is the number of man incarnate, etc. Modern scholarship, observing that the first edition of the Délie is in fact misnumbered after D 91 (with the final dizain labelled 458 instead of 449), has largely dismissed such esoteric numerological interpretations and chosen to focus instead on the work's more linguistic principles of organization.
For those critics wishing to demonstrate that the Délie does in fact trace out a spiritual progression on the part of the poet and achieves a satisfying closure in the end, much emphasis falls on the final dizain of the collection—which firmly strikes a conclusive chord (heard in my translation as a terminal couplet) whose reverberations resolve all previous doubt and dissonance into confident harmony:
A flame this blest will endure in light,
Always bright, & clear to all,
As long as the World abides
And men hold Love in awe.
Thus I see little that might set apart
The ardor which will pursue our hearts
From the living virtue which will guide us
Beyond Heaven's infinite parts.
Our Juniper shall thus live on,
Unspoiled by death's Oblivion.
The burning "ardor" of physical passion and the "virtue" which ennobles it into a moral and aesthetic force are here no longer seen as conflicting drives but as the reciprocal energies of "human love divine" (Blake). In a daring revision of Petrarch's Trionfo del Tempo, where it is Time—and, more specifically the "lethargy" or forgetfulness it induces—which ultimately triumphs over Love, Scève instead insists that its flame will indeed shine eternal, not because he has immortalized it in his art (as in the Horatian "aere perennius" or any number of self-celebratory Pléiade love poems) but simply because of its absolutely singular intensity in the here and now. Whether this dizain provides the crowning capstone of the entire edifice of the Délie or whether it merely represents a stop-gap effort to escape at long last from the repetition compulsion that drives its machine désirante ever onward will, of course, ultimately depend on the horizons of expectation each reader brings to the work.
In this concluding dizain, the connotations of the allegorical "Genevre" or Juniper whose evergreen foliage withstands the amnesia of Time are far more medieval (or Biblical) than Petrarch's classical Laurel. In similar fashion, Scève rescrambles the five magical letters of the name Laura into his own Délie, brightening the vowels into the diacritical dyad é/i while further introducing a majuscule D (or ideogrammic half-moon) which allows the lateral slippage of her name into the affiliated declensions of Diana, Daphne, Dictynna, and Diotima, all of whom are phonetic cousins of the frequently recurring terms "désir," "délice," and "déité." Sources for the name have been discovered among the Latin poets (notably Tibullus) and an early tradition had it that Scève's muse, like the addressee of Samuel Daniel's sonnet sequence Delia (1592), concealed an anagram of "L'Idée"—a reading now mostly rejected, given its misleading neo-Platonic associations, though still useful if pursued to its etymological roots in the act of seeing (idein).
Petrarch's Laura, all the more commanding because so rarely designated, is at base a sun-goddess: her death in the Rime provokes a solar eclipse and her auratic name glows with the light of dawn ("aurora") or gold ("ora," "aureo"), while quickening to the morning breeze ("aura"). Scève's Délie, a far more oneiric presence-absence, by contrast emerges as a creation of the twilight of the mind, waxing and waning in the poet's desires like the cycles of Luna that alternately inflame and soothe the sick man's ague (D 383). Bearing within her name the solar radiance of the Delian Apollo, she is also his sister Diana, goddess of the moon, and—in her more archaic Greek guises—Artemis the virgin huntress, Hecate the witch, and Persephone, queen of the Underworld:
As Hecate, you will doom me to wander
Among the Shades, alive, & dead a hundred years:
As Diana, you will confine me to the Sky
Whence you descended to this vale of tears:
As Queen of Hell in your dark domain
You will increase or diminish my pains.
But as Moon infused into my veins
You were, & are, & shall be DELIE,
So knotted by Love to my idle thoughts
That Death itself could never untie us. (D 22)
In the original, the final three lines wittily exploit the homophony of the proper name "DELIE" and the verb "deslie" (or untie): the latter derives from the Latin ligare (to bind or gather) and in turn provides one of the most crucial vocables in the entire work, namely the word lien, at once the bitter bond that sadomasochistically links master to slave and the musical legato that provides the sweetest ligature of love. Given the paranomastic poetics of the Délie—where letters, words, and semes continuously tie and untie themselves into various knots—the verb "délier" can occasion a veritable "délire," a hermeneutic delirium in which reading, like dreamwork, forever unravels into a mis- or unreading ("dé-lire").
"Car je te cele en ce surnom louable/Pource qu'en moy tu luys la nuict obscure," the lover observes in D 59, "For I cloak you in this praiseworthy name/Because you light the pitchdark night in me." The name "Délie" is thus a seal, a pseudonym, a troubadour senhal whose function is not to refer but rather to hide—or, at most, to signify the vocative site of an address, of a place or clearing (Heidegger's Lichtung) where the enigmatic Other might cast its ghostly, mirrored light back onto the obscurity of the subject's desire. Délie, the full title runs, Object of Highest Virtue. Ob-jectum, that which comes to the fore or leaps to the eye, the spectacle—usually glimpsed as a blason of partial objects: a lock of hair, a brow, a mouth, a hand, a sleeve—that brings "virtue" (vir, man) to the body and soul of the beholder, spurring him on to effect a series of transformations within himself which will allow him access to the good/bad/taboo Object's magical force (vis, power). Like those Ovidian figures of metamorphosis who make their appearance throughout the work—Glaucus, Orpheus, Daphne, Semele, etc.—the poet and his virtual Object are thus bound together as metaphors of each other, constantly exchanging places and genders, forever lost, like the name Délie itself, in translation.
In the dedicatory huitain "To His Délie" (what exactly does this possessive mean?), Scève speaks of the transformations occasioned by the sacred Object as a series of "deaths" (or in D 278, "untyings") which cause the lover, Phoenix-like, to be repeatedly consumed and renewed. This cycle of death and rebirth is aligned throughout the poems with the regular alternations of day and night. D 79 refashions the troubadour alba to express the grateful dawn-song of the lover upon rediscovering Apollonian clarity after a night astray in the dark Dionysian underworld of dreams:
Dawn was extinguishing Stars in profusion,
Drawing up day from the regions below,
Apollo was rising above the Horizon,
Painting the high horned hills in gold.
Then, from the depth of the dark Abyss
In which my mind, at the end of its wits,
Often tunnels me through the night,
I called my ravished soul back to my side:
Who, drying the tears from my eyes,
Cleared my view of the Sun of my life.
Elsewhere, it is night that instead provides a respite from the punishing self-awareness of daylight consciousness, as the lover, buried behind his bed-curtains (or perhaps eyelids), dies and is reborn into a free-floating fantasy of his Belle Dame Sans Merci:
As brown dusk blackens into night
And Somnus slowly lulls the Earth,
Buried in the shadows of my curtains,
A dream comes to set my spirit free
To be admitted into the intimacy
Of its revered, & majestic queen.
But her manner is so easy, so dear,
So inviting, it seems to me I might soon
Be allowed to hold her without fear,
If only as Endymion the Moon. (D 126)
"Il m'est aduis, certes, que ie la tien,/Mais ainsi, comme Endimion la Lune." The syntax of the final line observes the hermaphroditic reversibility of dream-logic, for if Endymion actively possesses the forbidden object Luna in his dreams, by the same token her rays ravish the passive shepherd during his slumbers (in the process siring, according to some traditions, the fifty lunar cycles of the year).
More frequently, however, desire in the Délie occupies an intermediary zone between waking and dreaming. Haunted by the hallucinatory image of his Lady, the lover in his fitful sleep undergoes a kind of out-of-body experience of Death-in-Life or Life-in-Death—which is no doubt why Larbaud compares Scève to, of all poets, Poe, although the following dizain is far more evocative of Wyatt's "What menythe thys? When I lye alone,/ I tosse, I turne, I syghe, I grone":
Sluggard in this soft roost of down,
A bed less of rest than of travail,
Tending the fire you light in me
At all hours, & to no avail,
Held hostage in these sheets
By idleness, my almighty enemy.
My mind here leaves its sleeping body
Transformed into the image of Death,
To show you that, now half a man,
For you I live, & for myself am dead. (D 100)
A similar sensitivity to the (sub)liminal informs the Scèvian experience of time-often represented a series of discrete and mutable units whose shifting thresholds exclude all possibility of permanence or continuity:
At divers times, days, months, hours at a spell,
Hour into moment, moment without close,
Within my Soul, O Lady, you dwell,
Occupant of these contrary homes. (D 216)
In what is thought to be one of the first mentions of a mechanical time-piece in Western lyric poetry, the famished lover measures out his solitary nighttime hunger by the interminable hours struck by a clock:
All the repose, Night, you owe me,
My mind devours in time.
My fingers count the Clock
From evening to the white of Dawn. (D 232)
This space in between is called an "interval" by Scève, a term which in the Renaissance still referred to the period between recurrences of a disease, especially an intermittent fever:
O years, O months, weeks, days, & hours,
O intervals, O minutes, O moments
Who swallow up the pain, however sour (D 114)
In the liturgical calendar, however, the "interval" (as Cotgrave's dictionary explains) comprises "the flesh-daies between Christmas and Ashwednesday," a parenthesis of plenitude which opens up the private and always potentially solipsistic universe of the Délie into a jubilant (if astringently ironic) Renaissance affirmation of macrocosmic space and time:
Every long, & wide expanse of Sea,
Every whirling tract of solid land,
Every distant site of day, & night,
Every interval, O you who unsettle me,
Will be filled by your sweet severity.
Thus surpassing the spans of Time,
You will climb beyond the sphere of Stars,
Your sacred name, sped by my misery,
Traversing all creation at full sail. (D 259)
Such moments of expansion in the Délie are countered by those in which time contracts into a single point whose sudden acuity provokes epiphany or panic. The very first dizain of the Délie (which opens, significantly, with the word "eye") stages the instant at which time's aimless cyclicity (emblematized by the whirling weathercock) is abruptly brought to a halt by the penetrating gaze of the Basilisk, a legendary creature said to strike men dead with its piercing glance and who here cuts the fatal image (or eidwlon) of Délie deep into the retina of the lover's soul:
The Eye, too afire with my youthful errors,
Whirled like a weathercock, without design:
When suddenly (what delight, what terrors)
My Basilisk, now sharpening its sights,
Pierced Body, & Heart, put Reason to flight,
Lancing deep into the Soul of my Soul. (D 1)
Or as Chaucer memorably phrases it in his triple roundel "Merciles Beaute": "Your eyen two wol slee me sodenly;/ I may the beautee of hem not sustene." In Scève's equally Petrarchan scenario of the fatal glance, all of time is apocalyptically consumed by flames the split-second the lover's eyes meet:
From your holy eye, dark Flint of my flame,
Shots the great fire sealed in my heart:
It enters through my eyes, & ignites
With its muffled & covert spark. (D 292)
The vision of Délie is often so unbearable in its incandescence that the lover must learn (in a very Hölderlinian trope) to turn his profane gaze from her divine fire:
Much as the Sun causes each thing
To lie so clearly before our eyes,
To linger too long on its splendor
Is to be suddenly robbed of sight.
The risk he runs is that of Semele, incinerated by the lightning of her lover Zeus:
As if, within me, to my surprise,
Semele were ravished in my sight
By her Lover who, thundering on high,
Snatched her life in a flash of light. (D443)
The only solution would be to flee Délie's presence altogether, to place her at a distance, to consign her to the past so that, now absent, now mediated by memory, the view of her might at last achieve lucidity:
The object absent, memory acquires
A greater ease, more apt to conceive,
Interposed by reason, like the light
Upon the thing one longs to see. (D 434)
This strategy, however, also fails, for the absence of the Object is just as intolerable as its presence. The lover never fully manages to move beyond the child's game of fort-da:
The less I see her, the more I hate her:
The more I hate her, the less anger I feel.
The more I adore her, the less it means:
The more I flee her, the more I want her near.
Love with hate, & pleasure with pain,
The two arrows fall on me in a single rain. (D 43)
The infernal machine of these antitheses is recognizably geared to the rhetoric of courtly love: the golden arrows of attraction (Eros) vs. the leaden arrows of aversion (Anteros), pleasure vs. pain, near vs. far, light vs. dark, ice vs. fire. Where Scève moves this tradition brilliantly forward, however, is in his allegorical projection of these conflicting états d'âme onto the geography of Lyons. Although the city is never explicitly named in the poems, its phonemes ("lie-on," "on lie") pervade the larger semantic fields of the Délie. Dominating the city is the Mont Fourvière, site of the ancient Forum Veneris (or Temple to Venus) and still littered, in Scève's time, with Roman ruins. From its heights, the confluence of the rivers Rhône and Saône may be glimpsed below:
In myself I see this Mount Fourvière
Reproduced by the brushstrokes of my mind.
For at its feet flow both of the Rivers,
As two streams of tears descend to mine.
It is strewn with heaps of marbles ruins,
I, with blocks of ice: closer to the sun
It grows colder, & I, nearer your eye,
Freeze up: or smoulder afar from the fire. (D 26)
The presence of Délie in this landscape can suffuse it with an almost theophanic effulgence, as when her sun
Favored us with a rare burst of light,
And with its white surpassing ivory
Dispelled the fogs of the Fourvière:
Both rivers stopping in their course,
Such great clarity here shown forth
—although the poem closes with a typically Scèvian twist, surfeit of brightness leading to blindness:
So clear her day upon the Countryside
My mind went blank as blackest night. (D 128)
The meeting of the rivers Rhône and Saône in Lyons—the former racing down from the Alps, the later more placid in its course—provides the Délie with its most eloquent emblem of erotic union. At times this riverine conjunctio oppositorum merely serves to remind the lover of his own isolation:
And you, Rhône, you roil, & foam
As you rage down from the Alps
Toward the cool waters of the Saône,
Waiting to take you in her soft breast.
And I, sweating toward my goal
Can expect no peace from her, no rest. (D 396)
At others, it seems to rhyme perfectly with his fantasies of complete fusion. In the following poem, for example, the rhetorical figure of adynaton ("sooner . . . than") at once propels and delays the progress of the undivided dizain toward its gnomic climax, while Scève's (or his printer's) habit of inserting a comma between two items linked by an ampersand graphically heightens the logic of simultaneous conjunction and disjunction:
Rhône, & Saône shall sooner be disjoined
Than my heart tear itself away from you:
The two Mounts shall sooner be conjoined
Than any discord throw us out of tune:
Together, we shall sooner see, I, & you,
The Rhône tarry, & reverse its course,
The Saône roil, & return to source
Than this my fire ever die down
Or my fidelity ever lose its force.
Love, without these, is but a cloud.
The psychological space of the Délie alternates between the inner precincts of the poet's own mind, confined to its bedchamber or the "tristes Archives" (D 192) of its study, and the natural world outside—mountains, rivers, fields, trees, weather in all its variabilities. Allusions to landscape painting occur throughout the poems and at least one dizain mentions the effect of perspective on the representation of nature, the sfumato of a da Vinci here delicately registering the receding gradation of hues:
As Mountains gently retreat from our sight,
Their green is changed to the color of blue,
Which, further away, seems white to our eyes
Through the perspective which distance accrues. (D 73)
Given the overwhelming ocularity of Scève's imaginative universe—the eye in constant concourse with gazes, portraits, landscapes, and mirrors—and the vitality of the visual culture to which he belonged, the presence of woodcuts throughout the pages of the Délie serves a purpose not merely ornamental but genuinely intersemiotic. His contemporaries, at any rate, were quick to recognize the innovative quality of his conjunction of image and text.
Although there is no information as to just how or why the secretive Scève chose to illustrate his canzoniere, he may well have been encouraged in this undertaking by his publisher Jean de Tournes, cannily aware that the center of the new market for illustrated books had now moved from Paris to Lyons. Scholars speculate that Scève came across a pre-existing stockpile of woodcuts that he then tailored to his own purposes, adding his own mottoes and elaborate surrounds to create symbolic ensembles along the lines of contemporary Italian imprese or devices (although the Délie simply refers to them as "Emblesmes"). In the printing process these three components of the device—image, text, and frame—required three separate superimposed impressions, a typographical challenge that would account for the spatial distribution of the 50 emblems among the 449 poems, the illustrations conveniently occupying only the verso of each signature. The visual permutations of these emblems are quite complex: each image and its framing motto is set within a geometrical pattern (rectangle, circle, lozange, ellipse, triangle, oval); this sequence of six patterns in turn repeats itself eight times in succession over the course of the book, the forms of the final two emblems (circle, rectangle) perhaps serving as the beginning of another module. These geometrical patterns are in turn framed by elaborate surrounds or "grotesques" of which there are sixteen in number and which (with three exceptions) reoccur in a regular order, consistently associated with the repeating geometric patterns. Like many ornamental Renaissance cartouches, Scève's mannerist surrounds (from the workshop of the printer Sulpice Sabon) combine abstract with figurative elements, usually in symmetrical twos, thus creating an enantiomorphic mirror effect, which is heightened by the three-dimensional illusion of curving scrolls and shields.
The intricacy of these various framing devices—to borrow a page from Jacques Derrida's analysis of the Kantian parergon—not only serves to underscore the porosity of the visual membrane separating inside from outside but highlights the ironic disjuncture of container and contained. The seventh emblem of the book, for example, pictures Narcissus staring at himself in a pool while two half-moon faces on either side of the surround avert their gazes from him as a (sacrificial?) lamb helplessly looks on from above. The proverb framing the woodcut reads "Dies enough who loves in vain" while the final lines of the poem immediately following the emblem provide a corrective reading of both the image and its motto:
And killing me, [Cupid] desires that I live,
And loving others, cease to love myself.
What need is there to go on slaying me?
Who loves in vain has far enough of death. (D 60)
At least four distinct visual and verbal elements are thus put into play here—image, motto, frame, and poem—with each providing a different interpretation of the Narcissus myth. Similar intersemiotic chords are struck at the outset of each group of nine poems (or neuvain), forming a regular series of knots through which the string of the whole sequence is threaded. The fifty emblematic nodes arrayed along this spatiotemporal grid in turn create a succession of optical and hermeneutic jolts whose aftershocks reverberate through the poems and woodcuts that follow.
Whereas most of the pedagogical emblem books of the mid-sixteenth century attempt to reinforce the unity of their visual and verbal components, binding image and concept tightly together so that their riddles, however veiled, may in the end be resolved into clearly legible symbols (from sumballein, to throw together), Scève's emblems (from emballein, to insert) instead drive a wedge between signifier and signified and, explicitly inscribed as they are within the temporality of reading (and seeing) his total Book, thus more resemble the unstable figures of baroque allegory described by Walter Benjamin. For the Délie is very much the product of the first great age of mechanical reproduction: a thriving commercial center like Lyons, on the cusp of French and Italian banking and home to a prosperous textile industry, offers in Scève's day a marketplace flooded with things produced in series, down to the allegorical processions and colonnades he designed as superintendent of the city's civic festivals. The very presence of woodcuts in his canzoniere attests to the new mobility and reproducibility of type. Whereas medieval illuminations were affixed to their manuscripts, iconographical elements can now move around within a single book or circulate from one textual whole to another, crossing national and linguistic boundaries in the process (derived from Italian imprese and contemporary French collections such as Corrozet's Hécatomgraphie, some of Scève's emblems will anonymously end up in Holland as late as the early 18th century).
The fifty emblems illustrating the Délie may be grouped into several broad categories: those referring to the larger order of the cosmos (Sun, Moon, Stars), those alluding to paradigmatic figures of classical myth (Narcissus, Orpheus, Actaeon, the Phoenix), and those drawn from occurences in nature (Moth and Candle, the Fly, the Spider, the Bat) or daily life (the Ploughman, the Armorer, the Stew Pot, the Woman Winding Yarn). Any number of them are woven together by thematic affliations: light and dark, reflection, eyesight, imprisonment, resurrection, and, perhaps most tellingly, suicide (Dido in Flames, The Suicide of the Viper, Cleopatra & her Snakes). The overall effect is a kind of exacerbated citationality, as if Scève were recycling a dictionary of received ideas and images only to capture the extent to which his lover's discourse will never be able to free itself from the obligatory conceits and commonplaces within which it finds itself compelled to act out all the preordained postures of its joy or distress. As Thomas Greene observes, the Italian term impresa (like the French word dévise), meaning an undertaking or project, carries strong connotations of moral purpose appropriate to the sentitiousness of the maxim or adage. Scève's devices instead pivot on intentions that go awry or projects that are by definition doomed to self-defeat—the saw growing duller as it cuts, the rooster fanning the flames it attempts to extinguish, the wall crumbling in the ivy's loving embrace. The results are often quite comic: one of the mottoes, "Easily deceived he who believes," is accompanied by a woodcut showing a man pulling a stool out from beneath another, thus reducing the lover's sudden deception to a slapstick turn—a pratfall that often occurs when the homespun proverbs and crude imagery of the emblems collide with the high intellectuality and intricate workmanship of the dizains.
The illustrations of the Délie, in short, serve just as much to brighten as to darken our reading. Startled by their ironies and enigmas, we are left somewhat like the Hare of D 129, its ear alertly cocked, yet "tout esperdu," baffled by the hieroglyphic night that settles over the page:
Car dès le poinct, que partie tu fus,
Comme Le lieure accropy en son giste,
Ie tendz l'oreille, oyant vn bruit confus,
Tout esperdu aux tenebres d'Egypte.
For from the moment you left,
Like the Hare crouched in its seat,
I strain my ear, hearing muffled steps,
Baffled by the darkness over Egypt.
A Note on this Edition
The base text used in this bilingual selection is the one established by I.D. McFarlane's authoritative critical edition of The Délie of Maurice Scève (Cambridge Univerity Press, 1996). Following McFarlane, I have retained all the typographical idiosyncrasies of the 1544 printing-v's for u's, y's for i's, i's for j's, commas inserted after ampersands, erratic accentuation. More "normalized" versions of the Délie may be found in the editions of Françoise Charpentier (Gallimard, 1984), which prints the emblems illustrating the posthumous 1564 version, and of Françoise Joukovsky (Classiques Garnier, 1996). Both contain excellent introductions and notes which have informed my own.
In addition to the prefatory huitain, I have translated 88 of the book's 449 dizains, a number whose arithmosophic quotient (449—9 = 88 x 5) represents just a little under a fifth of the total number of poems. I have been guided in my selection both by personal taste and by the corpus of Scève scholarship: virtually all of the poems that have attracted significant readings and rereadings by critics have been included here.
Given that this bilingual edition does not provide a full translation of the Délie—a project that would require some 450 pages—it has proved impossible to insert the emblems where they occur in the original, that is, at the outset of each group of nine poems, with the first poem of the neuvain usually providing an echo of the immediately preceding woodcut and/or its motto. In order to simulate the syncopation of image and text in the original Délie, I have therefore scattered its fifty emblems throughout my selection in somewhat aleatory fashion: in some cases the emblems and poems match up quite closely; in others, the relationship is perforce more a product of chance. The titles of the emblems (taken from Scève's synoptic "L'Ordre des Figures & Emblemes" at the back of the 1544 edition) have been included, together with a translation of their mottoes. A multidimensional reading is thus invited-the vertical interplay of the French and English versions of the poems complimented by the horizontal echoes between emblems and dizains.
Of previous attempts to bring Scève over into English, Wallace Fowlie's Sixty Poems of Scève deserves mention. Published in 1949 by the Swallow Press in its Books of the Renaissance series, Fowlie's versions provide approximate prose accounts of the poems, accompanied by commentaries that seek to make of Scève a 16th-century Baudelaire or Mallarmé. A second translation, a literalist graphing of the entire Délie, was undertaken as a doctoral dissertation by Ronald Hallet in 1973 and never published. It provides a useful trot that has occasionally helped me out of tight spots, but makes no claims to seize Scève's dizains as English poems. The British translator Edwin Morgan included thirty selections from the Délie in his Fifty Renascence Love-Poems (1975), to mixed results. The fifty dizains of John Ashbery's poem "Fragment" (published in 1969 by Black Sparrow Press with 25 accompanying "emblems" by the painter Alex Katz) constitute, to my knowledge, the only major encounter between poetry in the English language and the Délie, Scève's work having been entirely overlooked by his British contemporaries or, for that matter, by the Anglo-American modernist canon.
In preparing these translations, Randle Cograve's Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues was never far from my side. Published in 1611, the same year as the King James Bible, and the first French dictionary to be organized along alphabetical rather than etymological lines, it is notable for its extensive use of proverbs and popular expressions to illustrate its some 48,000 entries. Because its orthography and lexicography are so perfectly attuned to Scève's archaic French, it frequently provided me with solutions that might have otherwise escaped. The example of one dizain might suffice. D 58 opens:
Quand i'apperceu au serain de ses yeulx
L'air esclarcy de si longue tempeste,
with its first line containing what looks like a typically Scèvian nominalization of the adjective "serein" (from serenus, clear, bright, fair, serene). Consulting Cotgrave at the more accurately spelled "serain," however, I discovered that the word was indeed a full-fledged noun which in one of its meanings (no doubt influenced by the Latin serum, or late hour) referred to "the mildew, or harmefull dew of some Summer evenings," or "also, the fresh and coole ayre of the evening. "Although the latter seemed tempting, little in the poem suggested nighfall so I went back to the entry and settled on the far more obvious metereological definition: "fair, cleere, calme, or open weather." The phrase "open weather" serendipitously clicked—and suddenly the translation was off and running, with all the rhymes and decasyllables falling into place:
When by the open weather of her eyes
I saw the air was cleared of all its storms,
And already driven toward my prize,
Like a most noble conqueror of yore,
I went about with my head now held high . . .
The poem closes with a witty evocation of the jubilant pride of the now overconfident lover:
Dont mes pensers guidez par leurs Montioyes,
Se paonnoient tous en leur hault Paradis.
"Mont joye" is glossed by Cotgrave as "a barrow, a little hill, or heape of stones, layed in, or neere a highway, for the better discerning thereof; or in remembrance of some notable act performed, or accident befallen, in that place; also, a goal to run at." As for the verb "se paonner"—which I initially misread as "to pavane" (from the slow stately dance of Padua)—Cotgrave offered "to brag, or strout it like a Peacocke," thus providing me with the final epigrammatic couplet I needed to tie the poem shut—a device often deployed in these translations not just for its closural force, but in homage to an entire sonnet tradition in English that reaches back to Wyatt's versions of Petrarch:
All of my thoughts, guided by these way-signs,
Peacocking across their high Paradise.
Table of ContentsIntroduction