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

Michael Angelo: A Fragment

Part Third. VIII. The Dead Christ

MICHAEL ANGELO’S Studio. MICHAEL ANGELO with a light, working upon the Dead Christ. Midnight.

O DEATH, why is it I cannot portray

Thy form and features? Do I stand too near thee?

Or dost thou hold my hand, and draw me back,

As being thy disciple, not thy master?

Let him who knows not what old age is like

Have patience till it comes, and he will know.

I once had skill to fashion Life and Death

And Sleep, which is the counterfeit of Death;

And I remember what Giovanni Strozzi

Wrote underneath my statue of the Night

In San Lorenzo, ah, so long ago!

Grateful to me is sleep! More grateful now

Than it was then; for all my friends are dead;

And she is dead, the noblest of them all.

I saw her face, when the great sculptor Death,

Whom men should call Divine, had at a blow

Stricken her into marble; and I kissed

Her cold white hand. What was it held me back

From kissing her fair forehead, and those lips,

Those dead, dumb lips? Grateful to me is sleep!


Good-evening, or good-morning, for I know not

Which of the two it is.

How came you in?

Why, by the door, as all men do.


Must have forgotten to bolt it.


Am I a spirit, or so like a spirit,

That I could slip through bolted door or window?

As I was passing down the street, I saw

A glimmer of light, and heard the well-known chink

Of chisel upon marble. So I entered,

To see what keeps you from your bed so late.

MICHAEL ANGELO, coming forward with the lamp.
You have been revelling with your boon companions,

Giorgio Vasari, and you come to me

At an untimely hour.

The Pope hath sent me.

His Holiness desires to see again

The drawing you once showed him of the dome

Of the Basilica.

We will look for it.

What is the marble group that glimmers there

Behind you?

Nothing, and yet everything,—

As one may take it. It is my own tomb

That I am building.

Do not hide it from me.

By our long friendship and the love I bear you,

Refuse me not!

MICHAEL ANGELO, letting fall the lamp.
Life hath become to me

An empty theatre,—its lights extinguished,

The music silent, and the actors gone;

And I alone sit musing on the scenes

That once have been. I am so old that Death

Oft plucks me by the cloak, to come with him;

And some day, like this lamp, shall I fall down,

And my last spark of life will be extinguished.

Ah me! ah me! what darkness of despair!

So near to death, and yet so far from God.