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“continuelz discors”: The Silent Discourse of Delie’s Emblems Randolph Runyon T HE FIFTY EMBLEMS THAT APPEAR after every nine dizains in Maurice Scève’s Délie (1544) have proved a well-nigh unsolvable puzzle for readers of the poem.1It could be that, in trying to figure out what relation there may be between the emblems and the poem, we have not paid enough attention to the emblems on their own terms, as a text within the larger text of Délie, one with a grammar of its own, one with its own set of rules. Certainly not enough attention has been paid to the relationships that exist among these emblems. Yet it is not as if there were not already certain clues. Why, for example, has no one pursued the implications of the fact that among the emblems there are two birds on fire—“ Le Phénix” (emblem 11) and “ Le Coq qui se brusle” (40)—and that among the fifty emblems, these two are in a precise symmetrical relation to each other, equidistant from the center? Or that a possible symmetrical arrangement of the system of emblems would align “ Le Bateau a rames froissées” (22) with “ La Cye” (29)—prompting one to wonder if the question one emblem poses (how did that boat’s oars get broken?) could be answered by the other (in which the saw is in fact being applied to a length of wood!). As if that visual connection were not sufficient to capture our atten­ tion, the accompanying mottoes in that instance introduce yet another parallel not in itself already apparent from the images, the complaint of the gradual weakening of one’s strength: “ Mes forces de jour en jour s’abaissent” (“ Le Bateau” ) vs. “ Force peu a peu me mine” (“ La Cye” ). The mottoes even sport a parallel adverbial construction, “ de jour en jour” finding a counterpart in “ peu a peu.” While force is present in both mottoes, yet—and this is where something especially interesting happens—on opposing sides. For in one motto the forces are “Mes forces” while in the other Force is the enemy—what is undermining me. It is not just, in other words, that the emblems may be linked by a sym­ metrical pairing structure, but that they may be opposed as well. Another symmetrically-placeable pair—“ La Coingnée, & l’Arbre” (24) and “ La Vipere qui se tue” (27)—might not appear to have anything particular in common until we look at their interpreting mottoes. “ Te 58 Su m m e r 1988 R u n y o n nuisant ie me dommage,” says the axe to the tree, confessing that in seeking to do harm it has only succeeded in inflicting damage on itself— for its handle has broken off. As the accompanying dizain puts it, “ Quand ie te cuyde abatre, ie m ’abas.” Now the point of “ La Vipere qui se tue” is likewise self-harm, but this time the emblem’s protagonist selfdestructs not unintentionally, and not from trying to harm another, but intentionally, sacrificing itself for the other’s benefit: “ Pour te donner vie ie me donne m ort,” says the mother viper to her serpent progeny.2 It is difficult to imagine two situations more exactly poised on the sharp edge of precise opposition—a balancing act underlined by the sequence of the mottoes’ repeated pronouns: “ Te nuisant ie me dommage” vs. “ Pour te donner vie ie me donne mort” (an echo enhanced by “dommage” and “ donne w ort” ). The emblems, if the pairs so far cited are any example, seem to have more than a little in common with the warring elements dizain 392 describes: Les elements entre eulx sont ennemys, Mouantz tousiours continuelz discors: Et toutesfois se font ensemble amys Pour composer l’vnion de ce corps. Emblems 24 and 27 are in this regard particularly emblematic, mises en abyme of the continual discords on which the subtext of Délie's emblems is based, for they each feature two elements that are in one case ennemys, in the other amys. The result, in this instance and in that of other emblem pairs, is “ l’vnion de ce...


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