SCEVE, Maurice

SCEVE, Maurice
(1501-c. 1560)
Maurice Sceve is best known for his Délie (Lyon, 1544), the first sequence of love poetry in France in the tradition of Petrarch's Canzoniere. Sceve's dense, intellectual style draws imagery and themes from classical, Petrarchan, Neopla-tonic, and Christian literature and philosophy.
Born in 1501 into an aristocratic ruling family of Lyons, Maurice Sceve played a central role in important intellectual circles throughout his life, along with Etienne Dolet,* Clement Marot,* and others. He was a key figure in the successful circle of Lyonnese poets that included Louise Labe,* Pernette Du Guillet,* and Pontus de Tyard. Little is known about Sceve's life as a young man, but tradition assumes an unhappy love affair about 1520, an experience that would form the basis for the love poetry of Delie.
While Sceve was in Avignon in 1533, he reportedly discovered the tomb of Petrarch's Laura. The Lyonnese printer Jean de Tournes describes this episode in the dedication to his 1545 French translation of Petrarch's Canzoniere. Whether or not the account is true, the reported uncovering of Laura's tomb symbolizes the enormous influence of Petrarch on Sceve and the vast majority of French Renaissance poets.
In 1535 Sceve began his literary career with La deplourable fin de Flamete, a French translation of a Spanish novel by Juan de Flores. In 1536 Sceve sub­mitted two poems, "Le Sourcil" (The eyebrow) and "La Larme" (The tear), for a competition of blasons anatomiques (brief, concrete descriptions of parts of the female anatomy, written in epigrammatic form) called by Clement Marot. The winner, Sceve's "Le Sourcil," was published with other entries in 1536 in Lyon. Sceve's success with the genre (in 1536 and with three more blasons contributed to an edition in 1539) is due to his ability to balance realistic de­scription and abstract qualities in a brief poetic form. Also in 1536 Sceve con­tributed poems in both Latin and French to a collection of verse, commemorating the death of the dauphin Francis, edited by Etienne Dolet.
In 1544 Sceve published what is now considered his masterpiece, the sequence of love poetry entitled Delie object de plus haulte vertu. Sceve's canzoniere conveys the progression of the lover, suffering from unrequited love, undergoing separation, experiencing absence and jealousy, slowly mastering de­sire, and striving for an ascetic goal of "haulte vertu." Sceve uses numerous themes familiar to Renaissance poetry drawn from Petrarchan motifs, Greek mythology, Platonic philosophy, and Christian iconography to create the her­metic series of dizains that demand the reader's intellectual engagement. Delie is composed of 1 "huitain" (an epigram of eight lines of verse), 449 "dizains" (epigrams of ten lines of decasyllabic verse), and 50 woodcut emblems with mottos. Many theories have been advanced to explain the relationship between emblem (image) and text, as well as the mathematical arrangements of the po­ems, but none resolve the enigma that characterizes the work and is an important element of its enduring beauty.
Who was "Delie"? That question too has elicited many answers. Delie was probably intended to be an anagram of "l'idee," the Platonic Idea. Sixteenth-century humanists and poets were very familiar with Neoplatonist thought and well versed in the use of anagrams. Uncertain biographical details suggest that Delie is Pernette Du Guillet, the younger poet for whom Sceve was mentor, teacher, and platonic beloved. She inscribes his name in anagrammatic form in her Rymes, but Sceve's canzoniere itself yields no clues as to her identity, re­inforcing the notion that Delie is an idealized figure, the poetic creation of Sceve.
In 1545, following the death of Pernette Du Guillet, Sceve contributed three poems to the posthumous edition of her works. After a brief period of retirement in the country, Sceve published La saulsaye, eglogue de la vie solitaire (The Willow Grove, Eclogue of Solitary Life) in 1547. He was called back to the city in 1548 to lead preparations for the lavish royal entry of King Henri II into Lyons on 23 September 1548. The poet's own account of the events was pub­lished by Jean de Tournes in 1549.
We know very little of Sceve's later years, during which he composed his last great poem, Microcosme, published in 1562. He is believed to have died as early as 1560, when civil war broke out in France, or as late as 1564, when the plague struck Lyons. Sadly, the death of such a prominent civic figure and influential poet seems to have gone unremarked, although his works seem never to have gone unnoticed.
D. Coleman, Maurice Sceve, Poet of Love: Tradition and Originality, 1975.
R. Mulhauser, Maurice Sceve, 1977.
D. M. Sceve, ed., I. D. McFarlane, "Delie," 1966.
Karen S. James

Renaissance and Reformation 1500-1620: A Biographical Dictionary. . 2001.

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