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The Art of Gardens in Maurice Scève’s Microcosme
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The Art of Gardens in Maurice Scève’s Microcosme
An encyclopaedic poem.
The segment on gardens.
The visual
The aural
Internal connexions
External connexions
Sketch for a comparison
A distinctive voice
Intricacies in form: assonances such as jardins-maints, mediated by the more open and also nasal phoneme agencer; or that from the final vowel in agencer and tournoyer; not to mention the soft consonant carried from jardin into agencer. In-tricacies in meaning: from the verb tournoyer predominantly. It turns an otherwise straightforward sentence into a rich line. What exactly have minutely designed gardens (Les jardins agencer en maints lieux) to do with the rounding process deno-ted by this verb? I understand this line to convey the abundance of unspecified cir-cular elements—such as lawns, parterres, a knot garden, fountains, …—in the mi-nutely designed garden. Scève’s voice is characteristic for such frequent moves into generalization and abstraction.
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Maurice Scève (1501?-1564?) is a major French poet of the sixteenth century best known for Délie (1544), a series of decasyllabic dizains dedicated to his beloved lady. He also wrote a most ambitious encyclopaedic poem, Microscosme (1562), embracing the whole creation. This paper analyzes in some detail the twelve lines he devotes to gardens and relates them to the contemporary art of gardens.


Maurice Scève’s encyclopaedic poem, Microcosme, has been eclipsed in fame by his other poetical masterpiece, Délie. I shall comment here on the section of Microcosme Scève devotes to gardens. 1 To relate Renaissance garden architecture to poetry and rhetorics is not unprecedented. 2,3