Maurice Scève  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Maurice Scève (c. 1500-c. 1564), French poet, was born at Lyon, where his father practised law.

He was the centre of the Lyonnese côterie that elaborated the theory of spiritual love, derived partly from Plato and partly from Petrarch. This spiritual love, which animated Antoine Héroet's Parfaicte Amye (1543) as well, owed much to Marsilio Ficino (1433-1499), the Florentine translator and commentator of Plato's works.

Scève's chief works are Délie, objet de plus haulte vertu (1544); three anatomical blazons (La Gorge, Le Sourcil, La Larme); the elegy Arion (1536) and the eclogue La Saulsaye (1547); and Microcosme (1562), an encyclopaedic poem beginning with the fall of man. Délie consists of 449 dizains (10-line epigrammes) preceded by a dedicatory "huitain" to his mistress, ("A sa Délie"). The poems alternate with 50 emblems, which include an image and a motto, the latter generally taken up from the last line of the following "dizain". The collection thus reflects the more general sixteenth-century vogue for emblem books (A. Alciati's emblems are particularly characteristic of the genre). Scève's epigrams, which have seen renewed critical interest since the late nineteenth century, were seen as difficult even in Scève's own day, although Schève was praised by Du Bellay, Ronsard, Pontus de Tyard and Des Autels for raising French poetry to new, higher aesthetic standards. His enthusiastic admirer Etienne Dolet confesses he could not understand them.

Scève was also a well versed musician as well as a poet; he cared very much for the musical value of the words he used, in this and in his erudition he forms a link between the school of Marot and the Pléiade. Délie (sometimes understood as an anagram for l'idée) is the first French "canzoniere" or poetic collection modeled after Petrarch's Canzoiere, a series of love poems addressed to a Lady. Scève was soon followed by Ronsard in Les Amours de Cassandre and by Du Bellay in Olive, these times collections of sonnets.

The Lyonnese school, of which Scève was the leader, included his friend Claude de Taillemont and the women writers Jeanne Gaillarde--placed by Marot on an equality with Christine de Pisan, Pernette du Guillet, Louise Labé, Clémence de Bourges and the poet's sisters, Claudine and Sibyile Scéve. Scève died sometime after 1560; the exact date is unknown. See also Louise Labe.


Important early literature on the poet includes Édouard Bourciez, La Littérature polie et les mœurs de cour sous Henri II (Paris, 1886); Jacques Pernetti, Recherches pour servir de l'histoire de Lyon (2 vols., Lyon, 1757), and especially F. Brunetière, "Un Précurseur de la Pléiade, Maurice Scève," in his Etudes critiques, vol. vi. (1899).

More recent scholarship includes V. Saunier's two-volume Sorbonne dissertation on the poet (Paris, 1948), as well as three excellent critical editions by Eugène Parturier (Paris, 1916, reissued 2001 with an introduction and bibliography by C. Alduy), I.D McFarlane (Cambridge, 1966) and Gérard Defaux (Geneva, 2004). McFarlane's edition remains authoritative. Critical studies, with various approaches, by Dorothy Coleman, Jerry Nash, Nancy Frelick, Cynthia Skenazi, James Helgeson and Thomas Hunkeler are particularly useful; important articles on the poet have been written by François Rigolot, Edwin Duval, Terence Cave, Gérard Defaux, and Richard Sieburth's "Introduction" to Emblems of Desire: Selections from the "Délie", a work which Sieburth translated and edited (see External links below for link to Sieburth's Introduction available on-line).

A complete annotated bibliography of all works by and on Scève since his lifetime has recently been published (Cécile Alduy, Maurice Scève, Roma: Memini, 2006, 200pp.). It contains in particular all the critical literature, past and present, on Scève and his works.

Selected works

English translation

  • Emblems of Desire: Selections from the "Délie" of Maurice Scève, Richard Sieburth, Editor and Translator. (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002) ISBN 0812236947

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