The Góngora post went all right. I’ll try another tough one, the Délie of Maurice Scève, a collection of poems published in 1544 in the most pleasant city in France, Lyon, then the innovative center of French publishing. The poems are mostly dizains, ten lines of ten syllables each, little poetic boxes, 449 of the little suckers. There exists an unpublished doctoral dissertation that translates them all, but otherwise, to remain sane, everyone picks out favorites.
My choice this time was Emblems of Desire, the 2003 translation by Richard Sieburth, reissued in 2007 by Archipelago Books. The poems were originally accompanied by allegorical emblems, and Sieburth includes a number of them (please sample them at the Archipelago site – click “Extras”) along with the sixty or so poems he translates. I will ignore those. What is more tedious than early modern emblems.
Poems aside, Scève is most famous as the discoverer of the tomb of Petrarch’s Laura, a phony publicity stunt, but relevant here since Délie is although not a sonnet sequence an imitation of Petrarch’s Canzoniere. Délie is Scève’s Laura, his poetic love object, but rearrange the letters to L’Idée, “the idea”, to get a better idea of what is going on.
I lived at liberty in the April of my life,
My youth exempt from every care,
When my eye, unschooled in strife,
Was caught by that presence fair
Which by its deep, & divine excellence
So stunned my Soul, & common sense
That the cruel archer of her eyes
Took my freedom as his prize:
And from that day on, without cease,
In her beauty lies my death, & life. (6)
And then this goes on for hundreds of poems, with minute variations in imagery and ironic effect, mostly lamenting the absence of this idea or possibly woman. The poems are hardly as elaborate as Góngora, but that cruel archer is a buried classical reference, although an easy one, and “April of my life” is a clear reference to a Petrarch poem – clear once Sieburth points it out in a footnote, I mean.
One by one, they do not necessarily seem like much, and I would not argue for a cumulative effect, either. Rather the art of Délie lies in the subtle emotional shifts as words and images are repeated and varied. And this with a selection, and in translation! But with Sieburth’s help I can piece it together.
Here is a dizain that does stand on its own. Again, Scève is riffing on Petrarch, a poem where the poet says he is like a ship that is adrift. Scève makes a big change:
Like a corpse adrift on the open Sea,
Plaything of Winds, & pastime of Waves,
I floated astray in this bitter Abyss,
Buoyed by the ground-swells of my woes.
Then, O Hope, you who arise
From the vain mirages of my mind,
In the name of her, you wake me
From the deeps in which I died:
And my ears staggered by this sound,
I was at a loss to fathom who I was. (164)
Sieburth includes the early modern French, which is something to see:
Commes corps mort vagant en haulte Mer,
Esbat des Ventz, & passetemps des Vndes,
I’errois flottant parmy ce Gouffre amer,
Ou mes soucys enflent vagues profondes.
And so on, easier to convert than early modern English, certainly.
So, more early modern puzzle poetry, but a different kind of puzzle, and one, for the poor sap stuck with English, missing eighty percent of its pieces.