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  • The Art of Meditation and the French Renaissance Love Lyric: The Poetics of Introspection in Maurice Scève's Délie, object de plus haulte vertu (1544)
  • Nancy Frelick
Michael J. Giordano. The Art of Meditation and the French Renaissance Love Lyric: The Poetics of Introspection in Maurice Scève's Délie, object de plus haulte vertu (1544). Toronto/Buffalo/London: University of Toronto Press, 2010. Pp. xxv + 668.

Michael Giordano's book explores Maurice Scève's poetic work as a site of spiritual reflection inspired by a kind of syncretic religious rhetoric, despite numerous pagan and mythological references. Though following a Petrarchan model, Scève's poetic persona is viewed as celebrating the divine through the human (rather than struggling with the Augustinian problem of idolatry). In the first chapter, "Two Models of Meditation for Délie: Ignatius's Spiritual Exercises and Augustine's Confessions," Giordano suggests that Ignatian and Augustinian intertexts may serve as examples for the organization and praxis of the meditative poetics in Scève's text, albeit for humanistic rather than religious ends. Both poems and visual devices are viewed as integral to a tripartite introspective movement of memory, understanding, and will. Giordano explains in Chapter 2, "Meditative Praxis and the Tensions of Transvaluation," that Scève's dizains and imprese have tripartite schemes homologous to meditative structures. They are sites for the struggle of the poet-lover and the reader (via "Délie-as-agon") to find vertu through introspection. Chapter 3, "Lyric Dispossession and the Powers of Enigma" explores ineffability and the failure of language before the divine, along with the relationship to the reader, whose challenge is not just that [End Page 118] of decoding the visual and verbal enigmas presented in the text, but also of encoding or naming the ineffable. Giordano suggests reading the whole of the Délie like an impresa, going from the visual to the verbal, from individual devices and dizains to the work as a whole. He also gives a typology of themes for the devices "that offers an arsenal of memory places for the whole poetic sequence" (226). Exploring various paradigmatic relationships and webs of potential associations and meaning between emblems, emblems and poems, mottoes and poems, and intertexts, he suggests that elements of this mobile text can be repositioned in different combinations to enrich its paradigms: thus, "Délie's ars memorativa is really an ars combinatoria" (230). "The Triple Way," the fourth and shortest chapter, serves as a transition, introducing and setting up the logic for the last three parts, which get their titles from the threefold path of virtue set out in meditative treatises: purification, illumination, and perfection. Chapter 5, "Via purgativa," explores purification through the lover's trials and tribulations in service to the triune deity that is Délie. Prudence and reason (including the logic of analogy and syllogism) are explored in the sixth chapter, "Via illuminativa," where "the poet-lover scales a ladder of improvement, stepping from scientia, to intellectus, to sapientia" (411). "Via unitiva" outlines the perfective way, or spiritual ascent through striving and the virtues of the beloved. In the end, the poet-lover's aspirations to the divine through mysticism and ecstatic experience lead not to religious transcendence but to a celebration of the divine in the human through the unstable dialectic oscillations between the apparently reversible contraries named le bien du mal and le mal du bien. Giordano's imposing study displays an encyclopedic knowledge of treatises on meditation and an impressive understanding of the subtleties of mysticism. Yet its greatest strength and interest lies in the detailed analysis of Scève's emblems and poems, and in the fascinating relationship described between poet-lover and reader.

Nancy Frelick
University of British Columbia


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pp. 118-119
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