Home  »  Complete Poetical Works by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow  »  Part Third. VII. The Oaks of Monte Luca

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

Michael Angelo: A Fragment

Part Third. VII. The Oaks of Monte Luca

MICHAEL ANGELO, alone in the woods.

HOW still it is among these ancient oaks!

Surges and undulations of the air

Uplift the leafy boughs, and let them fall

With scarce a sound. Such sylvan quietudes

Become old age. These huge centennial oaks,

That may have heard in infancy the trumpets

Of Barbarossa’s cavalry, deride

Man’s brief existence, that with all his strength

He cannot stretch beyond the hundredth year.

This little acorn, turbaned like the Turk,

Which with my foot I spurn, may be an oak

Hereafter, feeding with its bitter mast

The fierce wild-boar, and tossing in its arms

The cradled nests of birds, when all the men

That now inhabit this vast universe,

They and their children, and their children’s children,

Shall be but dust and mould, and nothing more.

Through openings in the trees I see below me

The valley of Clitumnus, with its farms

And snow-white oxen grazing in the shade

Of the tall poplars on the river’s brink.

O Nature, gentle mother, tender nurse!

I, who have never loved thee as I ought,

But wasted all my years immured in cities,

And breathed the stifling atmosphere of streets,

Now come to thee for refuge. Here is peace.

Yonder I see the little hermitages

Dotting the mountain side with points of light,

And here St. Julian’s convent, like a nest

Of curlews, clinging to some windy cliff.

Beyond the broad, illimitable plain

Down sinks the sun, red as Apollo’s quoit,

That, by the envious Zephyr blown aside,

Struck Hyacinthus dead, and stained the earth

With his young blood, that blossomed into flowers.

And now, instead of these fair deities,

Dread demons haunt the earth; hermits inhabit

The leafy homes of sylvan Hamadryads;

And jovial friars, rotund and rubicund,

Replace the old Silenus with his ass.

Here underneath these venerable oaks,

Wrinkled and brown and gnarled like them with age,

A brother of the monastery sits,

Lost in his meditations. What may be

The questions that perplex, the hopes that cheer him?—

Good-evening, holy father.

God be with you.

Pardon a stranger if he interrupt

Your meditations.

It was but a dream.—

The old, old dream, that never will come true;

The dream that all my life I have been dreaming,

And yet is still a dream.

All men have dreams,

I have had mine; but none of them came true;

They were but vanity. Sometimes I think

The happiness of man lies in pursuing,

Not in possessing; for the things possessed

Lose half their value. Tell me of your dream.

The yearning of my heart, my sole desire,

That like the sheaf of Joseph stands upright,

While all the others bend and bow to it;

The passion that torments me, and that breathes

New meaning into the dead forms of prayer,

Is that with mortal eyes I may behold

The Eternal City.


There is but one;

The rest merely names. I think of it

As the Celestial City, paved with gold,

And sentinelled with angels.

Would it were.

I have just fled from it. It is beleaguered

By Spanish troops, led by the Duke of Alva.

But still for me ’t is the Celestial City,

And I would see it once before I die.

Each one must bear his cross.

Were it a cross

That had been laid upon me, I could bear it,

Or fall with it. It is a crucifix;

I am nailed hand and foot, and I am dying!

What would you see in Rome?

His Holiness.

Him that was once the Cardinal Caraffa?

You would but see a man of fourscore years,

With sunken eyes, burning like carbuncles,

Who sits at table with his friends for hours,

Cursing the Spaniards as a race of Jews

And miscreant Moors. And with what soldiery

Think you he now defends the Eternal City?

With legions of bright angels.

So he calls them;

And yet in fact these bright angelic legions

Are only German Lutherans.

MONK, crossing himself.
Heaven protect us!

What further would you see?

The Cardinals,

Going in their gilt coaches to High Mass.

Men do not go to Paradise in coaches.

The catacombs, the convents, and the churches;

The ceremonies of the Holy Week

In all their pomp, or, at the Epiphany,

The feast of the Santissimo Bambino

At Ara Cœli. But I shall not see them.

These pompous ceremonies of the Church

Are but an empty show to him who knows

The actors in them. Stay here in your convent,

For he who goes to Rome may see too much.

What would you further?

I would see the painting

Of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.

The smoke of incense and of altar candles

Has blackened it already.

Woe is me!

Then I would hear Allegri’s Miserere,

Sung by the Papal choir.

A dismal dirge!

I am an old, old man, and I have lived

In Rome for thirty years and more, and know

The jarring of the wheels of that great world,

Its jealousies, its discords, and its strife.

Therefore I say to you, remain content

Here in your convent, here among your woods,

Where only there is peace. Go not to Rome.

There was of old a monk of Wittenberg

Who went to Rome; you may have heard of him;

His name was Luther; and you know what followed.

[The convent bell rings.

MONK, rising.
It is the convent bell; it rings for vespers.

Let us go in; we both will pray for peace.