Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part First. I. Prologue at Ischia

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882). Complete Poetical Works. 1893.

Michael Angelo: A Fragment

Part First. I. Prologue at Ischia


WILL you then leave me, Julia, and so soon,

To pace alone this terrace like a ghost?

To-morrow, dearest.

Do not say to-morrow.

A whole month of to-morrows were too soon.

You must not go. You are a part of me.

I must return to Fondi.

The old castle

Needs not your presence. No one waits for you.

Stay one day longer with me. They who go

Feel not the pain of parting; it is they

Who stay behind that suffer. I was thinking

But yesterday how like and how unlike

Have been, and are, our destinies. Your husband,

The good Vespasian, an old man, who seemed

A father to you rather than a husband,

Died in your arms; but mine, in all the flower

And promise of his youth, was taken from me

As by a rushing wind. The breath of battle

Breathed on him, and I saw his face no more,

Save as in dreams it haunts me. As our love

Was for these men, so is our sorrow for them.

Yours a child’s sorrow, smiling through its tears;

But mine the grief of an impassioned woman,

Who drank her life up in one draught of love.

Behold this locket. This is the white hair

Of my Vespasian. This the flower-of-love,

This amaranth, and beneath it the device,

Non moritura. Thus my heart remains

True to his memory; and the ancient castle,

Where we have lived together, where he died,

Is dear to me as Ischia is to you.

I did not mean to chide you.

Let your heart

Find, if it can, some poor apology

For one who is too young, and feels too keenly

The joy of life, to give up all her days

To sorrow for the dead. While I am true

To the remembrance of the man I loved

And mourn for still, I do not make a show

Of all the grief I feel, nor live secluded

And, like Veronica da Gámbara,

Drape my whole house in mourning, and drive forth

In coach of sable drawn by sable horses,

As if I were a corpse. Ah, one to-day

Is worth for me a thousand yesterdays.

Dear Julia! Friendship has its jealousies

As well as love. Who waits for you at Fondi?

A friend of mine and yours; a friend and friar.

You have at Naples your Fra Bernardino;

And I at Fondi have my Fra Bastiano,

The famous artist, who has come from Rome

To paint my portrait. That is not a sin.

Only a vanity.

He painted yours.

Do not call up to me those days departed,

When I was young, and all was bright about me,

And the vicissitudes of life were things

But to be read of in old histories,

Though as pertaining unto me or mine

Impossible. Ah, then I dreamed your dreams,

And now, grown older, I look back and see

They were illusions.

Yet without illusions

What would our lives become, what we ourselves?

Dreams or illusions, call them what you will,

They lift us from the commonplace of life

To better things.

Are there no brighter dreams,

No higher aspirations, than the wish

To please and to be pleased?

For you there are:

I am no saint; I feel the world we live in

Comes before that which is to be hereafter,

And must be dealt with first.

But in what way?

Let the soft wind that wafts to us the odor

Of orange blossoms, let the laughing sea

And the bright sunshine bathing all the world,

Answer the question.

And for whom is meant

This portrait that you speak of?

For my friend

The Cardinal Ippolito.

For him?

Yes, for Ippolito the Magnificent.

’T is always flattering to a woman’s pride

To be admired by one whom all admire.

Ah, Julia, she that makes herself a dove

Is eaten by the hawk. Be on your guard.

He is a Cardinal; and his adoration

Should be elsewhere directed.

You forget

The horror of that night, when Barbarossa,

The Moorish corsair, landed on our coast

To seize me for the Sultan Soliman;

How in the dead of night, when all were sleeping,

He scaled the castle wall; how I escaped,

And in my night-dress, mounting a swift steed,

Fled to the mountains, and took refuge there

Among the brigands. Then of all my friends

The Cardinal Ippolito was first

To come with his retainers to my rescue.

Could I refuse the only boon he asked

At such a time, my portrait?

I have heard

Strange stories of the splendors of his palace,

And how, apparelled like a Spanish Prince,

He rides through Rome with a long retinue

Of Ethiopians and Numidians

And Turks and Tartars, in fantastic dresses,

Making a gallant show. Is this the way

A Cardinal should live?

He is so young;

Hardly of age, or little more than that;

Beautiful, generous, fond of arts and letters,

A poet, a musician, and a scholar;

Master of many languages, and a player

On many instruments. In Rome, his palace

Is the asylum of all men distinguished

In art or science, and all Florentines

Escaping from the tyranny of his cousin,

Duke Alessandro.

I have seen his portrait,

Painted by Titian. You have painted it

In brighter colors.

And my Cardinal,

At Itri, in the courtyard of his palace,

Keeps a tame lion!

And so counterfeits

St. Mark, the Evangelist!

Ah, your tame lion

Is Michael Angelo.

You speak a name

That always thrills me with a noble sound,

As of a trumpet! Michael Angelo!

A lion all men fear and none can tame;

A man that all men honor, and the model

That all should follow; one who works and prays,

For work is prayer, and consecrates his life

To the sublime ideal of his art,

Till art and life are one; a man who holds

Such place in all men’s thoughts, that when they speak

Of great things done, or to be done, his name

Is ever on their lips.

You too can paint

The portrait of your hero, and in colors

Brighter than Titian’s; I might warn you also

Against the dangers that beset your path;

But I forbear.

If I were made of marble,

Of Fior di Persico or Pavonazzo,

He might admire me: being but flesh and blood,

I am no more to him than other women;

That is am nothing.

Does he ride through Rome

Upon his little mule, as he was wont,

With his slouched hat, and boots of Cordovan,

As when I saw him last?

Pray do not jest.

I cannot couple with his noble name

A trivial word! Look, how the setting sun

Lights up Castel-a-mare and Sorrento,

And changes Capri to a purple cloud!

And there Vesuvius with its plume of smoke,

And the great city stretched upon the shore

As in a dream!

Parthenope the Siren!

And yon long line of lights, those sunlit windows

Blaze like the torches carried in procession

To do her honor! It is beautiful!

I have no heart to feel the beauty of it!

My feet are weary, pacing up and down

These level flags, and wearier still my thoughts

Treading the broken pavement of the Past.

It is too sad. I will go in and rest,

And make me ready for to-morrow’s journey.

I will go with you; for I would not lose

One hour of your dear presence. ’T is enough

Only to be in the same room with you.

I need not speak to you, nor hear you speak;

If I but see you, I am satisfied.[They go in.