Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part Second. III. Michael Angelo and Benvenuto Cellini

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

Michael Angelo: A Fragment

Part Second. III. Michael Angelo and Benvenuto Cellini


A GOOD day and good year to the divine

Maestro Michael Angelo, the sculptor!

Welcome, my Benvenuto.

That is what

My father said, the first time he beheld

This handsome face. But say farewell, not welcome.

I come to take my leave. I start for Florence

As fast as horse can carry me. I long

To set once more upon its level flags

These feet, made sore by your vile Roman pavements.

Come with me; you are wanted there in Florence.

The Sacristy is not finished.

Speak not of it!

How damp and cold it was! How my bones ached

And my head reeled, when I was working there!

I am too old. I will stay here in Rome,

Where all is old and crumbling, like myself,

To hopeless ruin. All roads lead to Rome.

And all lead out of it.

There is a charm,

A certain something in the atmosphere,

That all men feel, and no man can describe.


Yes, malaria of the mind,

Out of this tomb of the majestic Past;

The fever to accomplish some great work

That will not let us sleep. I must go on

Until I die.

Do you ne’er think of Florence?

Yes; whenever

I think of anything beside my work,

I think of Florence. I remember, too,

The bitter days I passed among the quarries

Of Seravezza and Pietrasanta;

Road-building in the marshes; stupid people,

And cold and rain incessant, and mad gusts

Of mountain wind, like howling Dervishes,

That spun and whirled the eddying snow about them

As if it were a garment; aye, vexations

And troubles of all kinds, that ended only

In loss of time and money.

True, Maestro;

But that was not in Florence. You should leave

Such work to others. Sweeter memories

Cluster about you, in the pleasant city

Upon the Arno.

In my waking dreams

I see the marvellous dome of Brunelleschi,

Ghiberti’s gates of bronze, and Giotto’s tower;

And Ghirlandajo’s lovely Benci glides

With folded hands amid my troubled thoughts,

A splendid vision! Time rides with the old

At a great pace. As travellers on swift steeds

See the near landscape fly and flow behind them,

While the remoter fields and dim horizons

Go with them, and seem wheeling round to meet them,

So in old age things near us slip away,

And distant things go with us. Pleasantly

Come back to me the days when, as a youth,

I walked with Ghirlandajo in the gardens

Of Medici, and saw the antique statues,

The forms august of gods and godlike men,

And the great world of art revealed itself

To my young eyes. Then all that man hath done

Seemed possible to me. Alas! how little

Of all I dreamed of has my hand achieved!

Nay, let the Night and Morning, let Lorenzo

And Julian in the Sacristy at Florence,

Prophets and Sibyls in the Sistine Chapel,

And the Last Judgment answer. Is it finished?

The work is nearly done. But this Last Judgment

Has been the cause of more vexation to me

Than it will be of honor. Ser Biagio,

Master of ceremonies at the Papal court,

A man punctilious and over nice,

Calls it improper; says that those nude forms,

Showing their nakedness in such shameless fashion,

Are better suited to a common bagnio,

Or wayside wine-shop, than a Papal Chapel.

To punish him I painted him as Minos

And leave him there as master of ceremonies

In the Infernal Regions. What would you

Have done to such a man?

I would have killed him.

When any one insults me, if I can

I kill him, kill him.

Oh, you gentlemen,

Who dress in silks and velvets, and wear swords,

Are ready with your weapons, and have all

A taste for homicide.

I learned that lesson

Under Pope Clement at the siege of Rome,

Some twenty years ago. As I was standing

Upon the ramparts of the Campo Santo

With Alessandro Bene, I beheld

A sea of fog, that covered all the plain,

And hid from us the foe; when suddenly,

A misty figure, like an apparition,

Rose up above the fog, as if on horseback.

At this I aimed my arquebus, and fired.

The figure vanished; and there rose a cry

Out of the darkness, long and fierce and loud.

With imprecations in all languages.

It was the Constable of France, the Bourbon,

That I had slain.

Rome should be grateful to you.

But has not been; you shall hear presently.

During the siege I served as bombardier,

There in St. Angelo. His Holiness

One day was walking with his Cardinals

On the round bastion, while I stood above

Among my falconets. All thought and feeling,

All skill in art and all desire of fame,

Were swallowed up in the delightful music

Of that artillery. I saw far off,

Within the enemy’s trenches on the Prati,

A Spanish cavalier in scarlet cloak;

And firing at him with due aim and range,

I cut the gay Hidalgo in two pieces.

The eyes are dry that wept for him in Spain.

His Holiness, delighted beyond measure

With such display of gunnery, and amazed

To see the man in scarlet cut in two,

Gave me his benediction, and absolved me

From all the homicides I had committed

In service of the Apostolic Church,

Or should commit thereafter. From that day

I have not held in very high esteem

The life of man.

And who absolved Pope Clement?

Now let us speak of Art.

Of what you will.

Say, have you seen our friend Fra Bastian lately,

Since by a turn of fortune he became

Friar of the Signet?

Faith, a pretty artist

To pass his days in stamping leaden seals

On Papal bulls!

He has grown fat and lazy,

As if the lead clung to him like a sinker.

He paints no more since he was sent to Fondi

By Cardinal Ippolito to paint

The fair Gonzaga. Ah, you should have seen him

As I did, riding through the city gate,

In his brown hood, attended by four horsemen,

Completely armed, to frighten the banditti.

I think he would have frightened them alone,

For he was rounder than the O of Giotto.

He must have looked more like a sack of meal

Than a great painter.

Well, he is not great,

But still I like him greatly. Benvenuto,

Have faith in nothing but in industry.

Be at it late and early; persevere,

And work right on through censure and applause,

Or else abandon Art.

No man works harder

Than I do. I am not a moment idle.

And what have you to show me?

This gold ring,

Made for his Holiness,—my latest work,

And I am proud of it. A single diamond,

Presented by the Emperor to the Pope.

Targhetta of Venice set and tinted it;

I have reset it, and retinted it

Divinely, as you see. The jewellers

Say I ’ve surpassed Targhetta.

Let me see it.

A pretty jewel.

That is not the expression.

Pretty is not a very pretty word

To be applied to such a precious stone,

Given by an Emperor to a Pope, and set

By Benvenuto!

Messer Benvenuto,

I lose all patience with you; for the gifts

That God hath given you are of such a kind,

They should be put to far more noble uses

Than setting diamonds for the Pope of Rome.

You can do greater things.

The God who made me

Knows why he made me what I am,—a goldsmith,

A mere artificer.

Oh no; an artist,

Richly endowed by nature, but who wraps

His talent in a napkin, and consumes

His life in vanities.

Michael Angelo

May say what Benvenuto would not bear

From any other man. He speaks the truth.

I know my life is wasted and consumed

In vanities; but I have better hours

And higher aspirations than you think.

Once, when a prisoner at St. Angelo,

Fasting and praying in the midnight darkness,

In a celestial vision I beheld

A crucifix in the sun, of the same substance

As is the sun itself. And since that hour

There is a splendor round about my head,

That may be seen at sunrise and at sunset

Above my shadow on the grass. And now

I know that I am in the grace of God,

And none henceforth can harm me.

None but one,—

None but yourself, who are your greatest foe.

He that respects himself is safe from others;

He wears a coat of mail that none can pierce.

I always wear one.

O incorrigible!

At least, forget not the celestial vision.

Man must have something higher than himself

To think of.

That I know full well. Now listen.

I have been sent for into France, where grow

The Lilies that illumine heaven and earth,

And carry in mine equipage the model

Of a most marvellous golden salt-cellar

For the king’s table; and here in my brain

A statue of Mars Armipotent for the fountain

Of Fontainebleau, colossal, wonderful.

I go a goldsmith, to return a sculptor.

And so farewell, great Master. Think of me

As one who, in the midst of all his follies,

Had also his ambition, and aspired

To better things.

Do not forget the vision.

SCENE II.—MICHAEL ANGELO sitting down again to the Divina Commedia.

Now in what circle of his poem sacred

Would the great Florentine have placed this man?

Whether in Phlegethon, the river of blood,

Or in the fiery belt of Purgatory,

I know not, but most surely not with those

Who walk in leaden cloaks. Though he is one

Whose passions, like a potent alkahest,

Dissolve his better nature, he is not

That despicable thing, a hypocrite;

He doth not cloak his vices, nor deny them.

Come back, my thoughts, from him to Paradise.