Verse > Anthologies > Samuel Waddington, ed. > The Sonnets of Europe
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Samuel Waddington, comp.  The Sonnets of Europe.  1888.
 
To the Supreme Being
By Michelangelo (1475–1564)
 
Translated by William Wordsworth

THE PRAYERS 1 I make will then be sweet indeed,
If Thou the spirit give by which I pray:
My unassisted heart is barren clay,
Which of its native self can nothing feed:
Of good and pious works Thou art the seed,        5
Which quickens only where Thou say’st it may;
Unless Thou show to us Thine own true way,
No man can find it: Father! Thou must lead.
Do Thou, then, breathe those thoughts into my mind
By which such virtue may in me be bred        10
That in Thy holy footsteps I may tread;
The fetters of my tongue do Thou unbind,
That I may have the power to sing of Thee,
And sound Thy praises everlastingly.
 
Note 1. I have included this sonnet in the selection, but not without considerable hesitation, because, although unquestionably a fine poem, there is little of it that can be said to belong to Michael Angelo. His sonnets, as is well known, were not published until some fifty-nine years after his death, and were then given to the world in the year 1623 by his great-nephew, Michael Angelo Buonarroti the younger, with many additions and with numberless alterations of the original text. It is of this garbled version, this rifacimento, that Wordsworth has here given us a translation. Mr. J. A. Symonds, on the other hand, has followed the autograph of the sonnets first collated and published in 1863 by Signor Cesare Guasti.
  It is interesting to note that the larger portion of Michael Angelo’s sonnets were written during the period (1542–47) of his intimacy with Vittoria Colonna; and Mr. Walter Pater justly observes—“It was because Vittoria raised no great passion that the space in his life where she reigns has such peculiar suavity; the spirit of the sonnets is lost if we once take them out of that dreamy atmosphere in which men have things as they will, because the hold of all outward things upon them is faint and thin. Their prevailing tone is a calm and meditative sweetness. The cry of distress is indeed there, but as a mere residue, a trace of bracing chalybeate salt, just discernible in the song, which rises as a clear, sweet spring from a charmed space in his life.”—(The Renaissance, p. 91.)
  Of all the Italian sonnets there are none of greater worth, none of higher tone or nobility of thought and feeling, than are those of Michael Angelo. Where, for instance, shall we find one more pure, more perfect, more sublime, than that on Celestial Love, which Mr. Symonds has so excellently translated; or that on Love’s Justification, which Wordsworth has immortalised? These, as also that entitled A Prayer for Purification, stand forth pre-eminent as the work of a man who has learned to think clearly, and feel deeply, and is well acquainted with the innermost recesses of the human heart.
  The following is Wordsworth’s rendering of the sonnet given at page 54:—
  “No mortal object did these eyes behold
When first they met the placid light of thine,
And my soul felt her destiny divine,
And hope of endless peace in me grew bold:
Heaven-born, the soul a heav’nward course must hold;
Beyond the visible world she soars to seek
(For what delights the sense is false and weak)
Ideal form, the universal mould.
The wise man, I affirm, can find no rest
In that which perishes; nor will he lend
His heart to ought which doth on time depend.
’Tis sense, unbridled will, and not true love,
Which kills the soul: Love betters what is best,
Even here below, but more in heaven above.”
This is, we think, inferior to Mr. Symonds’s translation, but the termination of the sonnet in the above rendering is well expressed, and worthy of Wordsworth’s poetic genius. [back]
 
 
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