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

Michael Angelo: A Fragment

Part Third. I. Monologue

Macello de’ Corvi. A room in MICHAEL ANGELO’S house.

MICHAEL ANGELO, standing before a model of St. Peter’s.

BETTER than thou I cannot, Brunelleschi,

And less than thou I will not! If the thought

Could, like a windlass, lift the ponderous stones

And swing them to their places; if a breath

Could blow this rounded dome into the air,

As if it were a bubble, and these statues

Spring at a signal to their sacred stations,

As sentinels mount guard upon a wall,

Then were my task completed. Now, alas!

Naught am I but a Saint Sebaldus, holding

Upon his hand the model of a church,

As German artists paint him; and what years,

What weary years, must drag themselves along,

Ere this be turned to stone! What hindrances

Must block the way; what idle interferences

Of Cardinals and Canons of St. Peter’s,

Who nothing know of art beyond the color

Of cloaks and stockings, nor of any building

Save that of their own fortunes! And what then?

I must then the short-coming of my means

Piece out by stepping forward, as the Spartan

Was told to add a step to his short sword.[A pause.

And is Fra Bastian dead? Is all that light

Gone out? that sunshine darkened? all that music

And merriment, that used to make our lives

Less melancholy, swallowed up in silence

Like madrigals sung in the street at night

By passing revellers? It is strange indeed

That he should die before me. ’T is against

The laws of nature that the young should die,

And the old live; unless it be that some

Have long been dead who think themselves alive,

Because not buried. Well, what matters it,

Since now that greater light, that was my sun,

Is set, and all is darkness, all is darkness!

Death’s lightnings strike to right and left of me,

And, like a ruined wall, the world around me

Crumbles away, and I am left alone.

I have no friends, and want none. My own thoughts

Are now my sole companions,—thoughts of her,

That like a benediction from the skies

Come to me in my solitude and soothe me.

When men are old, the incessant thought of Death

Follows them like their shadow; sits with them

At every meal; sleeps with them when they sleep;

And when they wake already is awake,

And standing by their bedside. Then, what folly

It is in us to make an enemy

Of this importunate follower, not a friend!

To me a friend, and not an enemy,

Has he become since all my friends are dead.