An Emblem Poem for the Baroness Anne-Marie d'Ailleurs

Ursula Georges, April AS XXXVIII.


This poem is based on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century emblems, in particular the emblems in Geffrey Whitney's Choice of Emblemes, which was published in 1586, and Henry Peacham's book Minerva Britannica, which was published in 1612. Emblems combined a picture, a motto (usually in Latin), and an explanatory poem. They depicted a universal moral truth in allegorical form.

Several of Peacham's emblems were based on imprese from tournaments in honor of Queen Elizabeth, several years before. Like emblems, imprese combined a motto, a picture, and an explanatory poem or song. Unlike emblems, however, imprese commemorated a particular occasion: they were expected both to compliment the ruler presiding over a tournament and to express the bearer's personal aspirations on that day. Thus, I imagined this poem as the published form of a compliment designed for a unique occasion.

The Motto.

The motto, "Perpetui Frondis Honores," means "Everlasting honors from leaves." It refers to the laurel tree, which is evergreen. I adapted this motto from Book I of Ovid's Metamorphoses, in which the god Apollo unsuccessfully pursues the nymph Daphne, who transforms into the first laurel tree; the laurel then becomes Apollo's tree, and wreaths of its leaves are used to honor favored mortals. Since our noble Baroness is herself a member of the Order of the Laurel, I felt this motto was particularly appropriate.

Quotes from classical Roman poets such as Ovid and Vergil were often used in Renaissance emblems and imprese. For example, in his 1605 book Remaines . . . concerning Britain William Camden quotes an imprese with the motto "Amor est medicabilis herbis," which refers to Ovid's Epistulae. Similarly, Whitney uses "Latet anguis in herba," a quote from Vergil's Eclogues, as the title for one of his emblems. Educated members of the audience were expected to notice the borrowings, and perhaps analyze the details of the adaptation. I have simply changed the grammar in my quotation: the original line is "Tu quoque perpetuos semper gere frondis honores," "You, also, bear always everlasting honors in leaves." (Metamorphoses I.565.) Sometimes the adaptations were more complicated: in the case of "Amor est medicabilis herbis" (Love can be cured by herbs), the original text implies that herbs and potions cannot cure love.

The Picture.

Since I don't have access to sixteenth-century style engraving tools, I used Paintshop to imitate the emblem style. The emblem picture here combines images of a laurel tree, sun, and birds from three different emblems in Alciato's Book of Emblems, published first in Italy in 1531. Alciato's book made the emblem popular. It was reprinted many times and inspired various imitators, including the Englishman Geffrey Whitney's Choice of Emblemes; this book, published in 1586, used woodcuts from eight earlier emblem books, including 87 of Alciato's illustrations. Thus, I believe my co-optation of Alciato is merely the latest in a long and venerable tradition.

The Poem.

This poem follows the same rhyme scheme (two stanzas of the form ABABCC) as the poems in Choice of Emblemes and Minerva Britannica. I've also tried to match the style by using a strong rhythm and fitting the ends of lines to the ends of ideas, and I've used the Oxford English Dictionary to ensure that the poem's vocabulary is appropriate to the late sixteenth or early seventeenth century.

Mythological allusions were common in emblem poetry: one of Alciato's emblems features Icarus, and an emblem in Minerva Britannica contrasts the pen and the sword by referring to the gods Mars and Pallas. Mythological allusions in general, and the story of Apollo and Daphne in particular, appear in Tudor tournament imprese as well. For instance, Johann George Dehn-Rotfelser's 1611 diary records an impresa displayed at Whitehall with the motto "Heu sub umbra Daphnes" (Alas, beneath the shade of Daphne). My first stanza's retelling of the story explains the motto and elaborates on its meaning, referring to Apollo's status as a patron of art, particularly music.

The second stanza reinterprets the first: Apollo may be god of the sun, but we have our own sun and our own laurels. Imprese and emblems often compared rulers to the sun, and their subjects to plants growing in their warmth. For example, Marguerite of Navarre and Mary Queen of Scots both used an impresa which depicted marigolds turning toward the sun, and Dehn-Rotfelser recorded an impresa with the motto "Dum splendes floreo" (While you shine, I flourish), which showed the sun shining above a rose.

Other Details.

I used Jeff Lee's JSL Ancient font, based on typefaces used by the printer Edward Jones in 1685 and J. Redmayne in 1668. The font is very similar to the typeface used in Minerva Britannica; for instance, both have a long 's' that looks almost exactly like the 'f', down to the serif on the foot.


Alciato's Book of Emblems, WWW: Department of English, Memorial University of Newfoundland, last modified 18 December 2002,

William Camden, Remaines of a greater worke, concerning Britaine, the inhabitants thereof, their languages, names, surnames, empreses, wise speeches, poësies, and epitaphes, London: George Eld for Simon Waterson, 1605, WWW: Early English Books Online,

Jeff Lee, "Computer Typography", WWW: privately published,, accessed March 2004

Ovid, Metamorphoses I, edited A.G. Lee, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1953, reprinted 1999 by Bristol Classical Press, London

Oxford English Dictionary, WWW: Oxford University Press,, accessed March 2004

Alan Young, The English Tournament Imprese, New York: AMS Press, Inc., 1988

Alan Young, Tudor and Jacobean Tournaments, London: George Philip, 1987

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