Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part First. IV. Borgo delle Vergine at Naples

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

Michael Angelo: A Fragment

Part First. IV. Borgo delle Vergine at Naples


DO not go yet.

The night is far advanced;

I fear to stay too late, and weary you

With these discussions.

I have much to say.

I speak to you, Valdesso, with that frankness

Which is the greatest privilege of friendship,—

Speak as I hardly would to my confessor,

Such is my confidence in you.

Dear Countess,

If loyalty to friendship be a claim

Upon your confidence, then I may claim it.

Then sit again, and listen unto things

That nearer are to me than life itself.

In all things I am happy to obey you,

And happiest then when you command me most.

Laying aside all useless rhetoric,

That is superfluous between us two,

I come at once unto the point, and say,

You know my outward life, my rank and fortune;

Countess of Fondi, Duchess of Trajetto,

A widow rich and flattered, for whose hand

In marriage princes ask, and ask it only

To be rejected. All the world can offer

Lies at my feet. If I remind you of it

It is not in the way of idle boasting,

But only to the better understanding

Of what comes after.

God hath given you also

Beauty and intellect; and the signal grace

To lead a spotless life amid temptations

That others yield to.

But the inward life,—

That you know not; ’t is known but to myself,

And is to me a mystery and a pain:

A soul disquieted and ill at ease,

A mind perplexed with doubts and apprehensions,

A heart dissatisfied with all around me,

And with myself, so that sometimes I weep,

Discouraged and disgusted with the world.

Whene’er we cross a river at a ford,

If we would pass in safety, we must keep

Our eyes fixed steadfast on the shore beyond,

For if we cast them on the flowing stream,

The head swims with it; so if we would cross

The running flood of things here in the world,

Our souls must not look down, but fix their sight

On the firm land beyond.

I comprehend you.

You think I am too worldly; that my head

Swims with the giddying whirl of life about me.

Is that your meaning?

Yes; your meditations

Are more of this world and its vanities

Than of the world to come.

Between the two

I am confused.

Yet have I seen you listen

Enraptured when Fra Bernardino preached

Of faith and hope and charity.

I listen,

But only as to music without meaning.

It moves me for the moment, and I think

How beautiful it is to be a saint,

As dear Vittoria is; but I am weak

And wayward, and I soon fall back again

To my old ways, so very easily.

There are too many week-days for one Sunday.

Then take the Sunday with you through the week,

And sweeten with it all the other days.

In part I do so; for to put a stop

To idle tongues, what men might say of me

If I lived all alone here in my palace,

And not from a vocation that I feel

For the monastic life, I now am living

With Sister Caterina at the convent

Of Santa Chiara, and I come here only

On certain days, for my affairs, or visits

Of ceremony, or to be with friends.

For I confess, to live among my friends

Is Paradise to me; my Purgatory

Is living among people I dislike.

And so I pass my life in these two worlds,

This palace and the convent.

It was then

The fear of man, and not the love of God,

That led you to this step. Why will you not

Renounce the world, and give your heart to God,

If God so commands it,

Wherefore hath He not made me capable

Of doing for Him what I wish to do

As easily as I could offer Him

This jewel from my hand, this gown I wear,

Or aught else that is mine?

The hindrance lies

In that original sin, by which all fell.

Ah me, I cannot bring my troubled mind

To wish well to that Adam, our first parent,

Who by his sin lost Paradise for us,

And brought such ills upon us.

We ourselves

When we commit a sin, lose Paradise,

As much as he did. Let us think of this,

And how we may regain it.

Teach me, then,

To harmonize the discord of my life,

And stop the painful jangle of these wires.

That is a task impossible, until

You tune your heart-strings to a higher key

Than earthly melodies.

How shall I do it?

Point out to me the way of this perfection,

And I will follow you; for you have made

My soul enamored with it, and I cannot

Rest satisfied until I find it out.

But lead me privately, so that the world

Hear not my steps; I would not give occasion

For talk among the people.

Now at last

I understand you fully. Then, what need

Is there for us to beat about the bush?

I know what you desire of me.

What rudeness!

If you already know it, why not tell me?

Because I rather wait for you to ask it

With your own lips.

Do me the kindness, then,

To speak without reserve; and with all frankness,

If you divine the truth, will I confess it.

I am content.

Then speak.

You would be free

From the vexatious thoughts that come and go

Through your imagination, and would have me

Point out some royal road and lady-like

Which you may walk in, and not wound your feet.

You would attain to the divine perfection,

And yet not turn your back upon the world;

You would possess humility within,

But not reveal it in your outward actions;

You would have patience, but without the rude

Occasions that require its exercise;

You would despise the world, but in such fashion

The world should not despise you in return;

Would clothe the soul with all the Christian graces,

Yet not despoil the body of its gauds;

Would feed the soul with spiritual food,

Yet not deprive the body of its feasts;

Would seem angelic in the sight of God,

Yet not too saint-like in the eyes of men;

In short, would lead a holy Christian life

In such a way that even your nearest friend

Would not detect therein one circumstance

To show a change from what it was before.

Have I divined your secret?

You have drawn

The portrait of my inner self as truly

As the most skilful painter ever painted

A human face.

This warrants me in saying

You think you can win heaven by compromise,

And not by verdict.

You have often told me

That a bad compromise was better even

Than a good verdict.

Yes, in suits at law;

Not in religion. With the human soul

There is no compromise. By faith alone

Can man be justified.

Hush, dear Valdesso;

That is a heresy. Do not, I pray you,

Proclaim it from the house-top, but preserve it

As something precious, hidden in your heart,

As I, who half believe and tremble at it.

I must proclaim the truth.


Why must you? You imperil both yourself

And friends by your imprudence. Pray, be patient.

You have occasion now to show that virtue

Which you lay stress upon. Let us return

To our lost pathway. Show me by what steps

I shall walk in it.

[Convent bells are heard.

Hark! the convent bells

Are ringing; it is midnight; I must leave you.

And yet I linger. Pardon me, dear Countess,

Since you to-night have made me your confessor,

If I so far may venture, I will warn you

Upon one point.

What is it? Speak, I pray you,

For I have no concealments in my conduct;

All is as open as the light of day.

What is it you would warn me of?

Your friendship

With Cardinal Ippolito.

What is there

To cause suspicion or alarm in that,

More than in friendships that I entertain

With you and others? I ne’er sat with him

Alone at night, as I am sitting now

With you, Valdesso.

Pardon me; the portrait

That Fra Bastiano painted was for him.

Is that quite prudent?

That is the same question

Vittoria put to me, when I last saw her.

I make you the same answer. That was not

A pledge of love, but of pure gratitude.

Recall the adventure of that dreadful night

When Barbarossa with two thousand Moors

Landed upon the coast, and in the darkness

Attacked my castle. Then, without delay,

The Cardinal came hurrying down from Rome

To rescue and protect me. Was it wrong

That in an hour like that I did not weigh

Too nicely this or that, but granted him

A boon that pleased him, and that flattered me?

Only beware lest, in disguise of friendship,

Another corsair, worse than Barbarossa,

Steal in and seize the castle, not by storm

But strategy. And now I take my leave.

Farewell; but ere you go, look forth and see

How night hath hushed the clamor and the stir

Of the tumultuous streets. The cloudless moon

Roofs the whole city as with tiles of silver;

The dim, mysterious sea in silence sleeps,

And straight into the air Vesuvius lifts

His plume of smoke. How beautiful it is!

[Voices in the street.

Poisoned at Itri.

Poisoned? Who is poisoned?

The Cardinal Ippolito, my master.

Call it malaria. It was very sudden.[Julia swoons.