Verse > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow > Complete Poetical Works
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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
 
Michael Angelo: A Fragment
Part First.
II. San Silvestro
 
A Chapel in the Church of San Silvestro on Monte Cavallo.

VITTORIA COLONNA, CLAUDIO TOLOMMEI, and others.

VITTORIA.
HERE let us rest awhile, until the crowd
Has left the church. I have already sent
For Michael Angelo to join us here.
 
MESSER CLAUDIO.
After Fra Bernardino’s wise discourse
On the Pauline Epistles, certainly        5
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        10
At once the artist’s worship and despair!
 
VITTORIA.
Welcome, Maestro. We were waiting for you.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
I met your messenger upon the way,
And hastened hither.

VITTORIA.
                    It is kind of you
To come to us, who linger here like gossips        15
Wasting the afternoon in idle talk.
These are all friends of mine and friends of yours.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
If friends of yours, then are they friends of mine.
Pardon me, gentlemen. But when I entered
I saw but the Marchesa.

VITTORIA.
                        Take this seat
        20
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.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                        Eccellenza—
 
VITTORIA.
Ser Claudio has banished Eccellenza
        25
And all such titles from the Tuscan tongue.
 
MESSER CLAUDIO.
’T is the abuse of them, and not the use,
I deprecate.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                The use or the abuse,
It matters not. Let them all go together,
As empty phrases and frivolities,        30
And common as gold-lace upon the collar
Of an obsequious lackey.

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

MESSER CLAUDIO.
                    Undoubtedly.

VITTORIA.
                            But that
        35
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,        40
Where the old tower is standing, from whose top
Nero looked down upon the burning city.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
It is an inspiration!

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

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                    Ah, to build, to build!
        45
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,        50
Existing in itself, and not in seeming
A something it is not, surpasses them
As substance shadow. Long, long year ago,
Standing one morning near the Baths of Titus,
I saw the statue of Laocoön        55
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        60
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        65
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.

VITTORIA.
                    I understand you.
        70
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        75
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        80
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.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
If strong enough.

VITTORIA.
                If not, it can be strengthened.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
I see no bar nor drawback to this building,
        85
And on our homeward way, if it shall please you,
We may together view the site.

VITTORIA.
                            I thank you.
I did not venture to request so much.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
Let us now go to the old walls you spake of,
Vossignoria—

VITTORIA.
                    What, again, Maestro?
        90
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
Pardon me, Messer Claudio, if once more
I use the ancient courtesies of speech.
I am too old to change.
 
 
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