Michael Angelo

A poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Michel, piu che mortal, Angel divino. -- ARIOSTO.

Similamente operando all' artista ch' a l'abito dell' arte e man che trema. -- DANTE, Par. xiii., st. 77.


Nothing that is shall perish utterly,
But perish only to revive again
In other forms, as clouds restore in rain
The exhalations of the land and sea.
Men build their houses from the masonry
Of ruined tombs; the passion and the pain
Of hearts, that long have ceased to beat, remain
To throb in hearts that are, or are to be.
So from old chronicles, where sleep in dust
Names that once filled the world with trumpet tones,
I build this verse; and flowers of song have thrust
Their roots among the loose disjointed stones,
Which to this end I fashion as I must.
Quickened are they that touch the Prophet's bones.





Will you then leave me, Julia, and so soon,
To pace alone this terrace like a ghost?

To-morrow, dearest.

Do not say to-morrow.
A whole month of to-morrows were too soon.
You must not go. You are a part of me.

I must return to Fondi.

The old castle
Needs not your presence. No one waits for you.
Stay one day longer with me. They who go
Feel not the pain of parting; it is they
Who stay behind that suffer. I was thinking
But yesterday how like and how unlike
Have been, and are, our destinies. Your husband,
The good Vespasian, an old man, who seemed
A father to you rather than a husband,
Died in your arms; but mine, in all the flower
And promise of his youth, was taken from me
As by a rushing wind. The breath of battle
Breathed on him, and I saw his face no more,
Save as in dreams it haunts me. As our love
Was for these men, so is our sorrow for them.
Yours a child's sorrow, smiling through its tears;
But mine the grief of an impassioned woman,
Who drank her life up in one draught of love.

Behold this locket. This is the white hair
Of my Vespasian. This is the flower-of-love,
This amaranth, and beneath it the device
Non moritura. Thus my heart remains
True to his memory; and the ancient castle,
Where we have lived together, where he died,
Is dear to me as Ischia is to you.

I did not mean to chide you.

Let your heart
Find, if it can, some poor apology
For one who is too young, and feels too keenly
The joy of life, to give up all her days
To sorrow for the dead. While I am true
To the remembrance of the man I loved
And mourn for still, I do not make a show
Of all the grief I feel, nor live secluded
And, like Veronica da Gambara,
Drape my whole house in mourning, and drive forth
In coach of sable drawn by sable horses,
As if I were a corpse. Ah, one to-day
Is worth for me a thousand yesterdays.

Dear Julia! Friendship has its jealousies
As well as love. Who waits for you at Fondi?

A friend of mine and yours; a friend and friar.
You have at Naples your Fra Bernadino;
And I at Fondi have my Fra Bastiano,
The famous artist, who has come from Rome
To paint my portrait. That is not a sin.

Only a vanity.

He painted yours.

Do not call up to me those days departed
When I was young, and all was bright about me,
And the vicissitudes of life were things
But to be read of in old histories,
Though as pertaining unto me or mine
Impossible. Ah, then I dreamed your dreams,
And now, grown older, I look back and see
They were illusions.

Yet without illusions
What would our lives become, what we ourselves?
Dreams or illusions, call them what you will,
They lift us from the commonplace of life
To better things.

Are there no brighter dreams,
No higher aspirations, than the wish
To please and to be pleased?

For you there are;
I am no saint; I feel the world we live in
Comes before that which is to be here after,
And must be dealt with first.

But in what way?

Let the soft wind that wafts to us the odor
Of orange blossoms, let the laughing sea
And the bright sunshine bathing all the world,
Answer the question.

And for whom is meant
This portrait that you speak of?

For my friend
The Cardinal Ippolito.

For him?

Yes, for Ippolito the Magnificent.
'T is always flattering to a woman's pride
To be admired by one whom all admire.

Ah, Julia, she that makes herself a dove
Is eaten by the hawk. Be on your guard,
He is a Cardinal; and his adoration
Should be elsewhere directed.

You forget
The horror of that night, when Barbarossa,
The Moorish corsair, landed on our coast
To seize me for the Sultan Soliman;
How in the dead of night, when all were sleeping,
He scaled the castle wall; how I escaped,
And in my night-dress, mounting a swift steed,
Fled to the mountains, and took refuge there
Among the brigands. Then of all my friends
The Cardinal Ippolito was first
To come with his retainers to my rescue.
Could I refuse the only boon he asked
At such a time, my portrait?

I have heard
Strange stories of the splendors of his palace,
And how, apparelled like a Spanish Prince,
He rides through Rome with a long retinue
Of Ethiopians and Numidians
And Turks and Tartars, in fantastic dresses,
Making a gallant show. Is this the way
A Cardinal should live?

He is so young;
Hardly of age, or little more than that;
Beautiful, generous, fond of arts and letters,
A poet, a musician, and a scholar;
Master of many languages, and a player
On many instruments. In Rome, his palace
Is the asylum of all men distinguished
In art or science, and all Florentines
Escaping from the tyranny of his cousin,
Duke Alessandro.

I have seen his portrait,
Painted by Titian. You have painted it
In brighter colors.

And my Cardinal,
At Itri, in the courtyard of his palace,
Keeps a tame lion!

And so counterfeits
St. Mark, the Evangelist!

Ah, your tame lion
Is Michael Angelo.

You speak a name
That always thrills me with a noble sound,
As of a trumpet! Michael Angelo!
A lion all men fear and none can tame;
A man that all men honor, and the model
That all should follow; one who works and prays,
For work is prayer, and consecrates his life
To the sublime ideal of his art,
Till art and life are one; a man who holds
Such place in all men's thoughts, that when they speak
Of great things done, or to be done, his name
Is ever on their lips.

You too can paint
The portrait of your hero, and in colors
Brighter than Titian's; I might warn you also
Against the dangers that beset your path;
But I forbear.

If I were made of marble,
Of Fior di Persico or Pavonazzo,
He might admire me: being but flesh and blood,
I am no more to him than other women;
That is, am nothing.

Does he ride through Rome
Upon his little mule, as he was wont,
With his slouched hat, and boots of Cordovan,
As when I saw him last?

Pray do not jest.
I cannot couple with his noble name
A trivial word! Look, how the setting sun
Lights up Castel-a-mare and Sorrento,
And changes Capri to a purple cloud!
And there Vesuvius with its plume of smoke,
And the great city stretched upon the shore
As in a dream!

Parthenope the Siren!

And yon long line of lights, those sunlit windows
Blaze like the torches carried in procession
To do her honor! It is beautiful!

I have no heart to feel the beauty of it!
My feet are weary, pacing up and down
These level flags, and wearier still my thoughts
Treading the broken pavement of the Past,
It is too sad. I will go in and rest,
And make me ready for to-morrow's journey.

I will go with you; for I would not lose
One hour of your dear presence. 'T is enough
Only to be in the same room with you.
I need not speak to you, nor hear you speak;
If I but see you, I am satisfied.
[They go in.


MICHAEL ANGELO's Studio. He is at work on the cartoon of the
Last Judgment.

Why did the Pope and his ten Cardinals
Come here to lay this heavy task upon me?
Were not the paintings on the Sistine ceiling
Enough for them? They saw the Hebrew leader
Waiting, and clutching his tempestuous beard,
But heeded not. The bones of Julius
Shook in their sepulchre. I heard the sound;
They only heard the sound of their own voices.

Are there no other artists here in Rome
To do this work, that they must needs seek me?
Fra Bastian, my Era Bastian, might have done it;
But he is lost to art. The Papal Seals,
Like leaden weights upon a dead man's eyes,
Press down his lids; and so the burden falls
On Michael Angelo, Chief Architect
And Painter of the Apostolic Palace.
That is the title they cajole me with,
To make me do their work and leave my own;
But having once begun, I turn not back.
Blow, ye bright angels, on your golden trumpets
To the four corners of the earth, and wake
The dead to judgment! Ye recording angels,
Open your books and read? Ye dead awake!
Rise from your graves, drowsy and drugged with death,
As men who suddenly aroused from sleep
Look round amazed, and know not where they are!

In happy hours, when the imagination
Wakes like a wind at midnight, and the soul
Trembles in all its leaves, it is a joy
To be uplifted on its wings, and listen
To the prophetic voices in the air
That call us onward. Then the work we do
Is a delight, and the obedient hand
Never grows weary. But how different is it
En the disconsolate, discouraged hours,
When all the wisdom of the world appears
As trivial as the gossip of a nurse
In a sick-room, and all our work seems useless,

What is it guides my hand, what thoughts possess me,
That I have drawn her face among the angels,
Where she will be hereafter? O sweet dreams,
That through the vacant chambers of my heart
Walk in the silence, as familiar phantoms
Frequent an ancient house, what will ye with me?
'T is said that Emperors write their names in green
When under age, but when of age in purple.
So Love, the greatest Emperor of them all,
Writes his in green at first, but afterwards
In the imperial purple of our blood.
First love or last love,--which of these two passions
Is more omnipotent? Which is more fair,
The star of morning or the evening star?
The sunrise or the sunset of the heart?
The hour when we look forth to the unknown,
And the advancing day consumes the shadows,
Or that when all the landscape of our lives
Lies stretched behind us, and familiar places
Gleam in the distance, and sweet memories
Rise like a tender haze, and magnify
The objects we behold, that soon must vanish?

What matters it to me, whose countenance
Is like the Laocoon's, full of pain; whose forehead
Is a ploughed harvest-field, where three-score years
Have sown in sorrow and have reaped in anguish;
To me, the artisan, to whom all women
Have been as if they were not, or at most
A sudden rush of pigeons in the air,
A flutter of wings, a sound, and then a silence?
I am too old for love; I am too old
To flatter and delude myself with visions
Of never-ending friendship with fair women,
Imaginations, fantasies, illusions,
In which the things that cannot be take shape,
And seem to be, and for the moment are.
[Convent bells ring.

Distant and near and low and loud the bells,
Dominican, Benedictine, and Franciscan,
Jangle and wrangle in their airy towers,
Discordant as the brotherhoods themselves
In their dim cloisters. The descending sun
Seems to caress the city that he loves,
And crowns it with the aureole of a saint.
I will go forth and breathe the air a while.



A Chapel in the Church of San Silvestra on Monte Cavallo.


Here let us rest a while, until the crowd
Has left the church. I have already sent
For Michael Angelo to join us here.

After Fra Bernardino's wise discourse
On the Pauline Epistles, certainly
Some words of Michael Angelo on Art
Were not amiss, to bring us back to earth.

MICHAEL ANGELO, at the door.
How like a Saint or Goddess she appears;
Diana or Madonna, which I know not!
In attitude and aspect formed to be
At once the artist's worship and despair!

Welcome, Maestro. We were waiting for you.

I met your messenger upon the way,
And hastened hither.

It is kind of you
To come to us, who linger here like gossips
Wasting the afternoon in idle talk.
These are all friends of mine and friends of yours.

If friends of yours, then are they friends of mine.
Pardon me, gentlemen. But when I entered
I saw but the Marchesa.

Take this seat
Between me and Ser Claudio Tolommei,
Who still maintains that our Italian tongue
Should be called Tuscan. But for that offence
We will not quarrel with him.


Ser Claudio has banished Eccellenza
And all such titles from the Tuscan tongue.

'T is the abuse of them and not the use
I deprecate.

The use or the abuse
It matters not. Let them all go together,
As empty phrases and frivolities,
And common as gold-lace upon the collar
Of an obsequious lackey.

That may be,
But something of politeness would go with them;
We should lose something of the stately manners
Of the old school.


But that
Is not what occupies my thoughts at present,
Nor why I sent for you, Messer Michele.
It was to counsel me. His Holiness
Has granted me permission, long desired,
To build a convent in this neighborhood,
Where the old tower is standing, from whose top
Nero looked down upon the burning city.

It is an inspiration!

I am doubtful
How I shall build; how large to make the convent,
And which way fronting.

Ah, to build, to build!
That is the noblest art of all the arts.
Painting and sculpture are but images,
Are merely shadows cast by outward things
On stone or canvas, having in themselves
No separate existence. Architecture,
Existing in itself, and not in seeming
A something it is not, surpasses them
As substance shadow. Long, long years ago,
Standing one morning near the Baths of Titus,
I saw the statue of Laocoon
Rise from its grave of centuries, like a ghost
Writhing in pain; and as it tore away
The knotted serpents from its limbs, I heard,
Or seemed to hear, the cry of agony
From its white, parted lips. And still I marvel
At the three Rhodian artists, by whose hands
This miracle was wrought. Yet he beholds
Far nobler works who looks upon the ruins
Of temples in the Forum here in Rome.
If God should give me power in my old age
To build for Him a temple half as grand
As those were in their glory, I should count
My age more excellent than youth itself,
And all that I have hitherto accomplished
As only vanity.

I understand you.
Art is the gift of God, and must be used
Unto His glory. That in art is highest
Which aims at this. When St. Hilarion blessed
The horses of Italicus, they won
The race at Gaza, for his benediction
O'erpowered all magic; and the people shouted
That Christ had conquered Marnas. So that art
Which bears the consecration and the seal
Of holiness upon it will prevail
Over all others. Those few words of yours
Inspire me with new confidence to build.
What think you? The old walls might serve, perhaps,
Some purpose still. The tower can hold the bells.

If strong enough.

If not, it can be strengthened.

I see no bar nor drawback to this building,
And on our homeward way, if it shall please you,
We may together view the site.

I thank you.
I did not venture to request so much.

Let us now go to the old walls you spake of,

What, again, Maestro?

Pardon me, Messer Claudio, if once more
I use the ancient courtesies of speech.
I am too old to change.



A richly furnished apartment in the Palace of CARDINAL IPPOLITO.

JACOPO NARDI, an old man, alone.

I am bewildered. These Numidian slaves,
In strange attire; these endless ante-chambers;
This lighted hall, with all its golden splendors,
Pictures, and statues! Can this be the dwelling
Of a disciple of that lowly Man
Who had not where to lay his head? These statues
Are not of Saints; nor is this a Madonna,
This lovely face, that with such tender eyes
Looks down upon me from the painted canvas.
My heart begins to fail me. What can he
Who lives in boundless luxury at Rome
Care for the imperilled liberties of Florence,
Her people, her Republic? Ah, the rich
Feel not the pangs of banishment. All doors
Are open to them, and all hands extended,
The poor alone are outcasts; they who risked
All they possessed for liberty, and lost;
And wander through the world without a friend,
Sick, comfortless, distressed, unknown, uncared for.

Enter CARDINAL HIPPOLITO, in Spanish cloak and slouched hat.

I pray you pardon me that I have kept you
Waiting so long alone.

I wait to see
The Cardinal.

I am the Cardinal.
And you?

Jacopo Nardi.

You are welcome
I was expecting you. Philippo Strozzi
Had told me of your coming.

'T was his son
That brought me to your door.

Pray you, be seated.
You seem astonished at the garb I wear,
But at my time of life, and with my habits,
The petticoats of a Cardinal would be--
Troublesome; I could neither ride nor walk,
Nor do a thousand things, if I were dressed
Like an old dowager. It were putting wine
Young as the young Astyanax into goblets
As old as Priam.

Oh, your Eminence
Knows best what you should wear.

Dear Messer Nardi,
You are no stranger to me. I have read
Your excellent translation of the books
Of Titus Livius, the historian
Of Rome, and model of all historians
That shall come after him. It does you honor;
But greater honor still the love you bear
To Florence, our dear country, and whose annals
I hope your hand will write, in happier days
Than we now see.

Your Eminence will pardon
The lateness of the hour.

The hours I count not
As a sun-dial; but am like a clock,
That tells the time as well by night as day.
So no excuse. I know what brings you here.
You come to speak of Florence.

And her woes.

The Duke, my cousin, the black Alessandro,
Whose mother was a Moorish slave, that fed
The sheep upon Lorenzo's farm, still lives
And reigns.

Alas, that such a scourge
Should fall on such a city!

When he dies,
The Wild Boar in the gardens of Lorenzo,
The beast obscene, should be the monument
Of this bad man.

He walks the streets at night
With revellers, insulting honest men.
No house is sacred from his lusts. The convents
Are turned by him to brothels, and the honor
Of women and all ancient pious customs
Are quite forgotten now. The offices
Of the Priori and Gonfalonieri
Have been abolished. All the magistrates
Are now his creatures. Liberty is dead.
The very memory of all honest living
Is wiped away, and even our Tuscan tongue
Corrupted to a Lombard dialect.

And worst of all his impious hand has broken
The Martinella,--our great battle bell,
That, sounding through three centuries, has led
The Florentines to victory,--lest its voice
Should waken in their souls some memory
Of far-off times of glory.

What a change
Ten little years have made! We all remember
Those better days, when Niccola Capponi,
The Gonfaloniere, from the windows
Of the Old Palace, with the blast of trumpets,
Proclaimed to the inhabitants that Christ
Was chosen King of Florence; and already
Christ is dethroned, and slain, and in his stead
Reigns Lucifer! Alas, alas, for Florence!

Lilies with lilies, said Savonarola;
Florence and France! But I say Florence only,
Or only with the Emperor's hand to help us
In sweeping out the rubbish.

Little hope
Of help is there from him. He has betrothed
His daughter Margaret to this shameless Duke.
What hope have we from such an Emperor?

Baccio Valori and Philippo Strozzi,
Once the Duke's friends and intimates are with us,
And Cardinals Salvati and Ridolfi.
We shall soon see, then, as Valori says,
Whether the Duke can best spare honest men,
Or honest men the Duke.

We have determined
To send ambassadors to Spain, and lay
Our griefs before the Emperor, though I fear
More than I hope.

The Emperor is busy
With this new war against the Algerines,
And has no time to listen to complaints
From our ambassadors; nor will I trust them,
But go myself. All is in readiness
For my departure, and to-morrow morning
I shall go down to Itri, where I meet
Dante da Castiglione and some others,
Republicans and fugitives from Florence,
And then take ship at Gaeta, and go
To join the Emperor in his new crusade
Against the Turk. I shall have time enough
And opportunity to plead our cause.

NARDI, rising.
It is an inspiration, and I hail it
As of good omen. May the power that sends it
Bless our beloved country, and restore
Its banished citizens. The soul of Florence
Is now outside its gates. What lies within
Is but a corpse, corrupted and corrupting.
Heaven help us all, I will not tarry longer,
For you have need of rest. Good-night.


Enter FRA SEBASTIANO; Turkish attendants.

Fra Bastiano, how your portly presence
Contrasts with that of the spare Florentine
Who has just left me!

As we passed each other,
I saw that he was weeping.

Poor old man!

Who is he?

Jacopo Nardi. A brave soul;
One of the Fuoruseiti, and the best
And noblest of them all; but he has made me
Sad with his sadness. As I look on you
My heart grows lighter. I behold a man
Who lives in an ideal world, apart
From all the rude collisions of our life,
In a calm atmosphere.

Your Eminence
Is surely jesting. If you knew the life
Of artists as I know it, you might think
Far otherwise.

But wherefore should I jest?
The world of art is an ideal world,--
The world I love, and that I fain would live in;
So speak to me of artists and of art,
Of all the painters, sculptors, and musicians
That now illustrate Rome.

Of the musicians,
I know but Goudimel, the brave maestro
And chapel-master of his Holiness,
Who trains the Papal choir.

In church this morning,
I listened to a mass of Goudimel,
Divinely chanted. In the Incarnatus,
In lieu of Latin words, the tenor sang
With infinite tenderness, in plain Italian,
A Neapolitan love-song.

You amaze me.
Was it a wanton song?

Not a divine one.
I am not over-scrupulous, as you know,
In word or deed, yet such a song as that.
Sung by the tenor of the Papal choir,
And in a Papal mass, seemed out of place;
There's something wrong in it.

There's something wrong
In everything. We cannot make the world
Go right. 'T is not my business to reform
The Papal choir.

Nor mine, thank Heaven.
Then tell me of the artists.

Naming one
I name them all; for there is only one.
His name is Messer Michael Angelo.
All art and artists of the present day
Centre in him.

You count yourself as nothing!

Or less than nothing, since I am at best
Only a portrait-painter; one who draws
With greater or less skill, as best he may,
The features of a face.

And you have had
The honor, nay, the glory, of portraying
Julia Gonzaga! Do you count as nothing
A privilege like that? See there the portrait
Rebuking you with its divine expression.
Are you not penitent? He whose skilful hand
Painted that lovely picture has not right
To vilipend the art of portrait-painting.
But what of Michael Angelo?

But lately
Strolling together down the crowded Corso,
We stopped, well pleased, to see your Eminence
Pass on an Arab steed, a noble creature,
Which Michael Angelo, who is a lover
Of all things beautiful, especially
When they are Arab horses, much admired,
And could not praise enough.

IPPOLITO, to an attendant.
Hassan, to-morrow,
When I am gone, but not till I am gone,--
Be careful about that,--take Barbarossa
To Messer Michael Angelo, the sculptor,
Who lives there at Macello dei Corvi,
Near to the Capitol; and take besides
Some ten mule-loads of provender, and say
Your master sends them to him as a present.

A princely gift. Though Michael Angelo
Refuses presents from his Holiness,
Yours he will not refuse.

You think him like
Thymoetes, who received the wooden horse
Into the walls of Troy. That book of Virgil
Have I translated in Italian verse,
And shall, some day, when we have leisure for it,
Be pleased to read you. When I speak of Troy
I am reminded of another town
And of a lovelier Helen, our dear Countess
Julia Gonzaga. You remember, surely,
The adventure with the corsair Barbarossa,
And all that followed?

A most strange adventure;
A tale as marvellous and full of wonder
As any in Boccaccio or Sacchetti;
Almost incredible!

Were I a painter
I should not want a better theme than that:
The lovely lady fleeing through the night
In wild disorder; and the brigands' camp
With the red fire-light on their swarthy faces.
Could you not paint it for me?

No, not I.
It is not in my line.

Then you shall paint
The portrait of the corsair, when we bring him
A prisoner chained to Naples: for I feel
Something like admiration for a man
Who dared this strange adventure.

I will do it.
But catch the corsair first.

You may begin
To-morrow with the sword. Hassan, come hither;
Bring me the Turkish scimitar that hangs
Beneath the picture yonder. Now unsheathe it.
'T is a Damascus blade; you see the inscription
In Arabic: La Allah illa Allah,--
There is no God but God.

How beautiful
In fashion and in finish! It is perfect.
The Arsenal of Venice can not boast
A finer sword.

You like it? It is yours.

You do not mean it.

I am not a Spaniard,
To say that it is yours and not to mean it.
I have at Itri a whole armory
Full of such weapons. When you paint the portrait
Of Barbarossa, it will be of use.
You have not been rewarded as you should be
For painting the Gonzaga. Throw this bauble
Into the scale, and make the balance equal.
Till then suspend it in your studio;
You artists like such trifles.

I will keep it
In memory of the donor. Many thanks.

Fra Bastian, I am growing tired of Rome,
The old dead city, with the old dead people;
Priests everywhere, like shadows on a wall,
And morning, noon, and night the ceaseless sound
Of convent bells. I must be gone from here;
Though Ovid somewhere says that Rome is worthy
To be the dwelling-place of all the Gods,
I must be gone from here. To-morrow morning
I start for Itri, and go thence by sea
To join the Emperor, who is making war
Upon the Algerines; perhaps to sink
Some Turkish galleys, and bring back in chains
The famous corsair. Thus would I avenge
The beautiful Gonzaga.

An achievement
Worthy of Charlemagne, or of Orlando.
Berni and Ariosto both shall add
A canto to their poems, and describe you
As Furioso and Innamorato.
Now I must say good-night.

You must not go;
First you shall sup with me. My seneschal
Giovan Andrea dal Borgo a San Sepolcro,--
I like to give the whole sonorous name,
It sounds so like a verse of the Aeneid,--
Has brought me eels fresh from the Lake of Fondi,
And Lucrine oysters cradled in their shells:
These, with red Fondi wine, the Caecu ban
That Horace speaks of, under a hundred keys
Kept safe, until the heir of Posthumus
Shall stain the pavement with it, make a feast
Fit for Lucullus, or Fra Bastian even;
So we will go to supper, and be merry.

Beware! I Remember that Bolsena's eels
And Vernage wine once killed a Pope of Rome!

'T was a French Pope; and then so long ago;
Who knows?--perhaps the story is not true.



Room in the Palace of JULIA GONZAGA. Night.


Do not go yet.

The night is far advanced;
I fear to stay too late, and weary you
With these discussions.

I have much to say.
I speak to you, Valdesso, with that frankness
Which is the greatest privilege of friendship.--
Speak as I hardly would to my confessor,
Such is my confidence in you.

Dear Countess
If loyalty to friendship be a claim
Upon your confidence, then I may claim it.

Then sit again, and listen unto things
That nearer are to me than life itself.

In all things I am happy to obey you,
And happiest then when you command me most.

Laying aside all useless rhetoric,
That is superfluous between us two,
I come at once unto the point and say,
You know my outward life, my rank and fortune;
Countess of Fondi, Duchess of Trajetto,
A widow rich and flattered, for whose hand
In marriage princes ask, and ask it only
To be rejected. All the world can offer
Lies at my feet. If I remind you of it,
It is not in the way of idle boasting,
But only to the better understanding
Of what comes after.

God hath given you also
Beauty and intellect; and the signal grace
To lead a spotless life amid temptations,
That others yield to.

But the inward life,--
That you know not; 't is known but to myself,
And is to me a mystery and a pain.
A soul disquieted, and ill at ease,
A mind perplexed with doubts and apprehensions,
A heart dissatisfied with all around me,
And with myself, so that sometimes I weep,
Discouraged and disgusted with the world.

Whene'er we cross a river at a ford,
If we would pass in safety, we must keep
Our eyes fixed steadfast on the shore beyond,
For if we cast them on the flowing stream,
The head swims with it; so if we would cross
The running flood of things here in the world,
Our souls must not look down, but fix their sight
On the firm land beyond.

I comprehend you.
You think I am too worldly; that my head
Swims with the giddying whirl of life about me.
Is that your meaning?

Yes; your meditations
Are more of this world and its vanities
Than of the world to come.

Between the two
I am confused.

Yet have I seen you listen
Enraptured when Fra Bernardino preached
Of faith and hope and charity.

I listen,
But only as to music without meaning.
It moves me for the moment, and I think
How beautiful it is to be a saint,
As dear Vittoria is; but I am weak
And wayward, and I soon fall back again
To my old ways, so very easily.
There are too many week-days for one Sunday.

Then take the Sunday with you through the week,
And sweeten with it all the other days.

In part I do so; for to put a stop
To idle tongues, what men might say of me
If I lived all alone here in my palace,
And not from a vocation that I feel
For the monastic life, I now am living
With Sister Caterina at the convent
Of Santa Chiara, and I come here only
On certain days, for my affairs, or visits
Of ceremony, or to be with friends.
For I confess, to live among my friends
Is Paradise to me; my Purgatory
Is living among people I dislike.
And so I pass my life in these two worlds,
This palace and the convent.

It was then
The fear of man, and not the love of God,
That led you to this step. Why will you not
Give all your heart to God?

If God commands it,
Wherefore hath He not made me capable
Of doing for Him what I wish to do
As easily as I could offer Him
This jewel from my hand, this gown I wear,
Or aught else that is mine?

The hindrance lies
In that original sin, by which all fell.

Ah me, I cannot bring my troubled mind
To wish well to that Adam, our first parent,
Who by his sin lost Paradise for us,
And brought such ills upon us.

We ourselves,
When we commit a sin, lose Paradise,
As much as he did. Let us think of this,
And how we may regain it.

Teach me, then,
To harmonize the discord of my life,
And stop the painful jangle of these wires.

That is a task impossible, until
You tune your heart-strings to a higher key
Than earthly melodies.

How shall I do it?
Point out to me the way of this perfection,
And I will follow you; for you have made
My soul enamored with it, and I cannot
Rest satisfied until I find it out.
But lead me privately, so that the world
Hear not my steps; I would not give occasion
For talk among the people.

Now at last
I understand you fully. Then, what need
Is there for us to beat about the bush?
I know what you desire of me.

What rudeness!
If you already know it, why not tell me?

Because I rather wait for you to ask it
With your own lips.

Do me the kindness, then,
To speak without reserve; and with all frankness,
If you divine the truth, will I confess it.

I am content.

Then speak.

You would be free
From the vexatious thoughts that come and go
Through your imagination, and would have me
Point out some royal road and lady-like
Which you may walk in, and not wound your feet;
You would attain to the divine perfection,
And yet not turn your back upon the world;
You would possess humility within,
But not reveal it in your outward actions;
You would have patience, but without the rude
Occasions that require its exercise;
You would despise the world, but in such fashion
The world should not despise you in return;
Would clothe the soul with all the Christian graces,
Yet not despoil the body of its gauds;
Would feed the soul with spiritual food,
Yet not deprive the body of its feasts;
Would seem angelic in the sight of God,
Yet not too saint-like in the eyes of men;
In short, would lead a holy Christian life
In such a way that even your nearest friend
Would not detect therein one circumstance
To show a change from what it was before.
Have I divined your secret?

You have drawn
The portrait of my inner self as truly
As the most skilful painter ever painted
A human face.

This warrants me in saying
You think you can win heaven by compromise,
And not by verdict.

You have often told me
That a bad compromise was better even
Than a good verdict.

Yes, in suits at law;
Not in religion. With the human soul
There is no compromise. By faith alone
Can man be justified.

Hush, dear Valdesso;
That is a heresy. Do not, I pray you,
Proclaim it from the house-top, but preserve it
As something precious, hidden in your heart,
As I, who half believe and tremble at it.

I must proclaim the truth.

Why must you? You imperil both yourself
And friends by your imprudence. Pray, be patient.
You have occasion now to show that virtue
Which you lay stress upon. Let us return
To our lost pathway. Show me by what steps
I shall walk in it.
[Convent bells are heard.

Hark! the convent bells
Are ringing; it is midnight; I must leave you.
And yet I linger. Pardon me, dear Countess,
Since you to-night have made me your confessor,
If I so far may venture, I will warn you
Upon one point.

What is it? Speak, I pray you,
For I have no concealments in my conduct;
All is as open as the light of day.
What is it you would warn me of?

Your friendship
With Cardinal Ippolito.

What is there
To cause suspicion or alarm in that,
More than in friendships that I entertain
With you and others? I ne'er sat with him
Alone at night, as I am sitting now
With you, Valdesso.

Pardon me; the portrait
That Fra Bastiano painted was for him.
Is that quite prudent?

That is the same question
Vittoria put to me, when I last saw her.
I make you the same answer. That was not
A pledge of love, but of pure gratitude.
Recall the adventure of that dreadful night
When Barbarossa with two thousand Moors
Landed upon the coast, and in the darkness
Attacked my castle. Then, without delay,
The Cardinal came hurrying down from Rome
To rescue and protect me. Was it wrong
That in an hour like that I did not weigh
Too nicely this or that, but granted him
A boon that pleased him, and that flattered me?

Only beware lest, in disguise of friendship
Another corsair, worse than Barbarossa,
Steal in and seize the castle, not by storm
But strategy. And now I take my leave.

Farewell; but ere you go look forth and see
How night hath hushed the clamor and the stir
Of the tumultuous streets. The cloudless moon
Roofs the whole city as with tiles of silver;
The dim, mysterious sea in silence sleeps;
And straight into the air Vesuvius lifts
His plume of smoke. How beautiful it is!
[Voices in the street.

Poisoned at Itri.

Poisoned? Who is poisoned?

The Cardinal Ippolito, my master.
Call it malaria. It was sudden.
[Julia swoons.



A room in the Torre Argentina.


Come to my arms and to my heart once more;
My soul goes out to meet you and embrace you,
For we are of the sisterhood of sorrow.
I know what you have suffered.

Name it not.
Let me forget it.

I will say no more.
Let me look at you. What a joy it is
To see your face, to hear your voice again!
You bring with you a breath as of the morn,
A memory of the far-off happy days
When we were young. When did you come from Fondi?

I have not been at Fondi since--

Ah me!
You need not speak the word; I understand you.

I came from Naples by the lovely valley
The Terra di Lavoro.

And you find me
But just returned from a long journey northward.
I have been staying with that noble woman
Renee of France, the Duchess of Ferrara.

Oh, tell me of the Duchess. I have heard
Flaminio speak her praises with such warmth
That I am eager to hear more of her
And of her brilliant court.

You shall hear all
But first sit down and listen patiently
While I confess myself.

What deadly sin
Have you committed?

Not a sin; a folly
I chid you once at Ischia, when you told me
That brave Fra Bastian was to paint your portrait.

Well I remember it.

Then chide me now,
For I confess to something still more strange.
Old as I am, I have at last consented
To the entreaties and the supplications
Of Michael Angelo--

To marry him?

I pray you, do not jest with me! You now,
Or you should know, that never such a thought
Entered my breast. I am already married.
The Marquis of Pescara is my husband,
And death has not divorced us.

Pardon me.
Have I offended you?

No, but have hurt me.
Unto my buried lord I give myself,
Unto my friend the shadow of myself,
My portrait. It is not from vanity,
But for the love I bear him.

I rejoice
To hear these words. Oh, this will be a portrait
Worthy of both of you! [A knock.

Hark! He is coming.

And shall I go or stay?

By all means, stay.
The drawing will be better for your presence;
You will enliven me.

I shall not speak;
The presence of great men doth take from me
All power of speech. I only gaze at them
In silent wonder, as if they were gods,
Or the inhabitants of some other planet.


Come in.

I fear my visit is ill-timed;
I interrupt you.

No; this is a friend
Of yours as well as mine,--the Lady Julia,
The Duchess of Trajetto.

I salute you.
'T is long since I have seen your face, my lady;
Pardon me if I say that having seen it,
One never can forget it.

You are kind
To keep me in your memory.

It is
The privilege of age to speak with frankness.
You will not be offended when I say
That never was your beauty more divine.

When Michael Angelo condescends to flatter
Or praise me, I am proud, and not offended.

Now this is gallantry enough for one;
Show me a little.

Ah, my gracious lady,
You know I have not words to speak your praise.
I think of you in silence. You conceal
Your manifold perfections from all eyes,
And make yourself more saint-like day by day.
And day by day men worship you the wore.
But now your hour of martyrdom has come.
You know why I am here.

Ah yes, I know it,
And meet my fate with fortitude. You find me
Surrounded by the labors of your hands:
The Woman of Samaria at the Well,
The Mater Dolorosa, and the Christ
Upon the Cross, beneath which you have written
Those memorable words of Alighieri,
"Men have forgotten how much blood it costs."

And now I come to add one labor more,
If you will call that labor which is pleasure,
And only pleasure.

How shall I be seated?

MICHAEL ANGELO, opening his portfolio.

Just as you are. The light falls well upon you.

I am ashamed to steal the time from you
That should be given to the Sistine Chapel.
How does that work go on?

But tardily.
Old men work slowly. Brain and hand alike
Are dull and torpid. To die young is best,
And not to be remembered as old men
Tottering about in their decrepitude.

My dear Maestro! have you, then, forgotten
The story of Sophocles in his old age?

What story is it?

When his sons accused him,
Before the Areopagus, of dotage,
For all defence, he read there to his Judges
The Tragedy of Oedipus Coloneus,--
The work of his old age.

'T is an illusion
A fabulous story, that will lead old men
Into a thousand follies and conceits.

So you may show to cavilers your painting
Of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.

Now you and Lady Julia shall resume
The conversation that I interrupted.

It was of no great import; nothing more
Nor less than my late visit to Ferrara,
And what I saw there in the ducal palace.
Will it not interrupt you?

Not the least.

Well, first, then, of Duke Ercole: a man
Cold in his manners, and reserved and silent,
And yet magnificent in all his ways;
Not hospitable unto new ideas,
But from state policy, and certain reasons
Concerning the investiture of the duchy,
A partisan of Rome, and consequently
Intolerant of all the new opinions.

I should not like the Duke. These silent men,
Who only look and listen, are like wells
That have no water in them, deep and empty.
How could the daughter of a king of France
Wed such a duke?

The men that women marry
And why they marry them, will always be
A marvel and a mystery to the world.

And then the Duchess,--how shall I describe her,
Or tell the merits of that happy nature,
Which pleases most when least it thinks of pleasing?
Not beautiful, perhaps, in form and feature,
Yet with an inward beauty, that shines through
Each look and attitude and word and gesture;
A kindly grace of manner and behavior,
A something in her presence and her ways
That makes her beautiful beyond the reach
Of mere external beauty; and in heart
So noble and devoted to the truth,
And so in sympathy with all who strive
After the higher life.

She draws me to her
As much as her Duke Ercole repels me.

Then the devout and honorable women
That grace her court, and make it good to be there;
Francesca Bucyronia, the true-hearted,
Lavinia della Rovere and the Orsini,
The Magdalena and the Cherubina,
And Anne de Parthenai, who sings so sweetly;
All lovely women, full of noble thoughts
And aspirations after noble things.

Boccaccio would have envied you such dames.

No; his Fiammettas and his Philomenas
Are fitter company for Ser Giovanni;
I fear he hardly would have comprehended
The women that I speak of.

Yet he wrote
The story of Griselda. That is something
To set down in his favor.

With these ladies
Was a young girl, Olympia Morate,
Daughter of Fulvio, the learned scholar,
Famous in all the universities.
A marvellous child, who at the spinning wheel,
And in the daily round of household cares,
Hath learned both Greek and Latin; and is now
A favorite of the Duchess and companion
Of Princess Anne. This beautiful young Sappho
Sometimes recited to us Grecian odes
That she had written, with a voice whose sadness
Thrilled and o'ermastered me, and made me look
Into the future time, and ask myself
What destiny will be hers.

A sad one, surely.
Frost kills the flowers that blossom out of season;
And these precocious intellects portend
A life of sorrow or an early death.

About the court were many learned men;
Chilian Sinapius from beyond the Alps,
And Celio Curione, and Manzolli,
The Duke's physician; and a pale young man,
Charles d'Espeville of Geneva, whom the Duchess
Doth much delight to talk with and to read,
For he hath written a book of Institutes
The Duchess greatly praises, though some call it
The Koran of the heretics.

And what poets
Were there to sing you madrigals, and praise
Olympia's eyes and Cherubina's tresses?

No; for great Ariosto is no more.
The voice that filled those halls with melody
Has long been hushed in death.

You should have made
A pilgrimage unto the poet's tomb,
And laid a wreath upon it, for the words
He spake of you.

And of yourself no less,
And of our master, Michael Angelo.

Of me?

Have you forgotten that he calls you
Michael, less man than angel, and divine?
You are ungrateful.

A mere play on words.
That adjective he wanted for a rhyme,
To match with Gian Bellino and Urbino.

Bernardo Tasso is no longer there,
Nor the gay troubadour of Gascony,
Clement Marot, surnamed by flatterers
The Prince of Poets and the Poet of Princes,
Who, being looked upon with much disfavor
By the Duke Ercole, has fled to Venice.

There let him stay with Pietro Aretino,
The Scourge of Princes, also called Divine.
The title is so common in our mouths,
That even the Pifferari of Abruzzi,
Who play their bag-pipes in the streets of Rome
At the Epiphany, will bear it soon,
And will deserve it better than some poets.

What bee hath stung you?

One that makes no honey;
One that comes buzzing in through every window,
And stabs men with his sting. A bitter thought
Passed through my mind, but it is gone again;
I spake too hastily.

I pray you, show me
What you have done.

Not yet; it is not finished.




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 Catarina'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.

"Profoundly I believed that God would grant you
A supernatural faith to paint this Christ;
I wished for that which I now 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.



VITTORIA COLONNA at the convent window.

Parting with friends is temporary death,
As all death is. We see no more their faces,
Nor hear their voices, save in memory;
But messages of love give us assurance
That we are not forgotten. Who shall say
That from the world of spirits comes no greeting,
No message of remembrance? It may be
The thoughts that visit us, we know not whence,
Sudden as inspiration, are the whispers
Of disembodied spirits, speaking to us
As friends, who wait outside a prison wall,
Through the barred windows speak to those within.
[A pause.

As quiet as the lake that lies beneath me,
As quiet as the tranquil sky above me,
As quiet as a heart that beats no more,
This convent seems. Above, below, all peace!
Silence and solitude, the soul's best friends,
Are with me here, and the tumultuous world
Makes no more noise than the remotest planet.
O gentle spirit, unto the third circle
Of heaven among the blessed souls ascended,
Who, living in the faith and dying for it,
Have gone to their reward, I do not sigh
For thee as being dead, but for myself
That I am still alive. Turn those dear eyes,
Once so benignant to me, upon mine,
That open to their tears such uncontrolled
And such continual issue. Still awhile
Have patience; I will come to thee at last.
A few more goings in and out these doors,
A few more chimings of these convent bells,
A few more prayers, a few more sighs and tears,
And the long agony of this life will end,
And I shall be with thee. If I am wanting
To thy well-being, as thou art to mine,
Have patience; I will come to thee at last.
Ye minds that loiter in these cloister gardens,
Or wander far above the city walls,
Bear unto him this message, that I ever
Or speak or think of him, or weep for him.

By unseen hands uplifted in the light
Of sunset, yonder solitary cloud
Floats, with its white apparel blown abroad,
And wafted up to heaven. It fades away,
And melts into the air. Ah, would that I
Could thus be wafted unto thee, Francesco,
A cloud of white, an incorporeal spirit!




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

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