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The anonymous thirteenth-century allegorical poem, the Dit du cerf amoureux, was an important touchstone for poets working at the turn of the high and late medieval periods. This text is the first in a series of poetic texts to foreground the ritualized practice of the hunt in order to create an extended metaphor for the art of love. It is also the first of the robust literary tradition known as the dits to use a stag, or any other animal for that matter, in order to construct an allegorical system of meaning. In spite of its contemporary influence, however, this work has been almost completely ignored by modern scholarship.
The Dit du cerf amoureux, however, is more than just the one-to-one allegorization of romantic conquest that meets the eye. By consistently troubling the boundary between symbolic forms and their real-world antecedents, the author works not to support but rather to disappoint the speaker's promise of practical didacticism. In this way, the Dit du cerf amoureux frames itself as an exercise in pure poetics, the utilitarian patina of romantic instruction giving way to abstract reflection on the literary mechanics of the poem itself. This substitution of the speaker's explicit love metaphor with a subjacent allegory of reading reveals an ontological import hitherto unacknowledged in the Dit du cerf amoureux which allows me to reevaluate this poem's epistemological place in the literary world of which it was a part.