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

Michael Angelo: A Fragment

Part Second. I. Monologue

A room in MICHAEL ANGELO’S house.

FLED to Viterbo, the old Papal city

Where once an Emperor, humbled in his pride,

Held the Pope’s stirrup, as his Holiness

Alighted from his mule! A fugitive

From Cardinal Caraffa’s hate, who hurls

His thunders at the house of the Colonna,

With endless bitterness!—Among the nuns

In Santa Caterina’s convent hidden,

Herself in soul a nun! And now she chides me

For my too frequent letters, that disturb

Her meditations, and that hinder me

And keep me from my work; now graciously

She thanks me for the crucifix I sent her,

And says that she will keep it: with one hand

Inflicts a wound, and with the other heals it.[Reading.

“Profoundly I believed that God would grant you

A supernatural faith to paint this Christ;

I wished for that which now I see fulfilled

So marvellously, exceeding all my wishes.

Nor more could be desired, or even so much.

And greatly I rejoice that you have made

The angel on the right so beautiful;

For the Archangel Michael will place you,

You, Michael Angelo, on that new day,

Upon the Lord’s right hand! And waiting that,

How can I better serve you than to pray

To this sweet Christ for you, and to beseech you

To hold me altogether yours in all things.”

Well, I will write less often, or no more,

But wait her coming. No one born in Rome

Can live elsewhere; but he must pine for Rome,

And must return to it. I, who am born

And bred a Tuscan and a Florentine,

Feel the attraction, and I linger here

As if I were a pebble in the pavement

Trodden by priestly feet. This I endure,

Because I breathe in Rome an atmosphere

Heavy with odors of the laurel leaves

That crowned great heroes of the sword and pen,

In ages past. I feel myself exalted

To walk the streets in which a Virgil walked,

Or Trajan rode in triumph; but far more,

And most of all, because the great Colonna

Breathes the same air I breathe, and is to me

An inspiration. Now that she is gone,

Rome is no longer Rome till she return.

This feeling overmasters me. I know not

If it be love, this strong desire to be

Forever in her presence; but I know

That I, who was the friend of solitude,

And ever was best pleased when most alone,

Now weary grow of my own company.

For the first time old age seems lonely to me.

[Opening the Divina Commedia.

I turn for consolation to the leaves

Of the great master of our Tuscan tongue,

Whose words, like colored garnet-shirls in lava,

Betray the heat in which they were engendered.

A mendicant, he ate the bitter bread

Of others, but repaid their meagre gifts

With immortality. In courts of princes

He was a by-word, and in streets of towns

Was mocked by children, like the Hebrew prophet,

Himself a prophet. I too know the cry,

Go up, thou bald head! from a generation

That, wanting reverence, wanteth the best food

The soul can feed on. There ’s not room enough

For age and youth upon this little planet.

Age must give way. There was not room enough

Even for this great poet. In his song

I hear reverberate the gates of Florence,

Closing upon him, never more to open;

But mingled with the sound are melodies

Celestial from the gates of paradise.

He came and he is gone. The people knew not

What manner of man was passing by their doors,

Until he passed no more; but in his vision

He saw the torments and beatitudes

Of souls condemned or pardoned, and hath left

Behind him this sublime Apocalypse.

I strive in vain to draw here on the margin

The face of Beatrice. It is not hers,

But the Colonna’s. Each hath his ideal,

The image of some woman excellent,

That is his guide. No Grecian art, nor Roman,

Hath yet revealed such loveliness as hers.