“Emblems of Desire” is the first large-scale English translation of Maurice Scève’s cryptic poem cycle, “Délie,” originally published in Lyons in 1544 and only rediscovered in the early 20th century as one of the great forgotten masterpieces of French poetry. Introduced and annotated by the prize-winning translator Richard Sieburth, this edition has already reaped considerable praise. Poet John Ashbery said, “Richard Sieburth has performed a magnificent service. What is truly amazing is how he has found a contemporary equivalent for Scève’s extremely compact music and enabled it to breathe in English, while still retaining the tension of the original.”
A contemporary of Sir Thomas Wyatt in England, Maurice Scève occupies a crucial place in the history of French verse between the late medieval tradition of Marot and the more self-consciously Renaissance poetics of the Pléiade. While powerfully registering the early impact of Petrarch’s Rime in France, Scève’s work remains a strongly independent and fiercely idiosyncratic series of 449 love poems addressed to the poet’s mysterious object of desire, Délie. Often considered a 16th-century Mallarmé because of the obscurity of his verse, Scève emerges in these English translations as a poet whose passionate ironies can be compared to such English metaphysical poets as Donne.
The Penn Press edition includes both the original French and the English translation as well as 50 wood-block emblems that illustrated the original book. “Emblems of Desire” 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.
—University of Pennsylvania Press
Originally published on November 14, 2002