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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
 
Michael Angelo: A Fragment
Part First.
V. Vittoria Colonna
 
A room in the Torre Argentina.

VITTORIA COLONNA and JULIA GONZAGA.

VITTORIA.
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.

JULIA.
                            Name it not.
Let me forget it.

VITTORIA.
                    I will say no more.
        5
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?        10
 
JULIA.
I have not been at Fondi since—

VITTORIA.
                            Ah me!
You need not speak the word: I understand you.
 
JULIA.
I came from Naples by the lovely valley,
The Terra di Lavoro.

VITTORIA.
                    And you find me
But just returned from a long journey northward.        15
I have been staying with that noble woman,
Renée of France, the Duchess of Ferrara.
 
JULIA.
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        20
And of her brilliant court.

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

JULIA.
                        What deadly sin
Have you committed?

VITTORIA.
                    Not a sin; a folly.
I chid you once at Ischia, when you told me        25
That brave Fra Bastian was to paint your portrait.
 
JULIA.
Well I remember it.

VITTORIA.
                    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        30
Of Michael Angelo—

JULIA.
                        To marry him?
 
VITTORIA.
I pray you, do not jest with me! You know,
Or you should know, that never such a thought
Entered my breast. I am already married.
The Marquis of Pescara is my husband,        35
And death has not divorced us.

JULIA.
                            Pardon me.
Have I offended you?

VITTORIA.
                    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,        40
But for the love I bear him.

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

VITTORIA.
                    Hark! he is coming.
 
JULIA.
And shall I go or stay?

VITTORIA.
                        By all means, stay.
The drawing will be better for your presence;        45
You will enliven me.

JULIA.
                        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.
Enter MICHAEL ANGELO.
        50
 
VITTORIA.
Come in.

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

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

MICHAEL ANGELO to JULIA.
                        I salute you.
’T is long since I have seen your face, my lady;        55
Pardon me if I say that having seen it,
One never can forget it.

JULIA.
                        You are kind
To keep me in your memory.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                            It is
The privilege of age to speak with frankness.
You will not be offended when I say        60
That never was your beauty more divine.
 
JULIA.
When Michael Angelo condescends to flatter
Or praise me, I am proud, and not offended.
 
VITTORIA.
Now this is gallantry enough for one;
Show me a little.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                Ah, my gracious lady,
        65
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 more.        70
But now your hour of martyrdom has come.
You know why I am here.

VITTORIA.
                    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,        75
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.”
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
And now I come to add one labor more,
        80
If you will call that labor which is pleasure,
And only pleasure.

VITTORIA.
                How shall I be seated?
 
MICHAEL ANGELO, opening his portfolio.
Just as you are. The light falls well upon you.
 
VITTORIA.
I am ashamed to steal the time from you
That should be given to the Sistine Chapel.        85
How does that work go on?

MICHAEL ANGELO, drawing.
                        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.        90
 
VITTORIA.
My dear Maestro! have you, then, forgotten
The story of Sophocles in his old age?
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
What story is it?

VITTORIA.
                When his sons accused him,
Before the Areopagus, of dotage,
For all defence, he read there to his Judges        95
The Tragedy of Œdipus Coloneus,—
The work of his old age.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                        ’T is an illusion,
A fabulous story, that will lead old men
Into a thousand follies and conceits.
 
VITTORIA.
So you may show to cavillers your painting
        100
Of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
Now you and Lady Julia shall resume
The conversation that I interrupted.
 
VITTORIA.
It was of no great import; nothing more
Nor less than my late visit to Ferrara,        105
And what I saw there in the ducal palace.
Will it not interrupt you?

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                        Not the least.
 
VITTORIA.
Well, first, then, of Duke Ercole: a man
Cold in his manners, and reserved and silent,
And yet magnificent in all his ways;        110
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.        115
 
JULIA.
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?

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                The men that women marry,
        120
And why they marry them, will always be
A marvel and a mystery to the world.
 
VITTORIA.
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?        125
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        130
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.

JULIA.
                    She draws me to her
        135
As much as her Duke Ercole repels me.
 
VITTORIA.
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,        140
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.
 
JULIA.
Boccaccio would have envied you such dames.
        145
 
VITTORIA.
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.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                            Yet he wrote
The story of Griseldis. That is something        150
To set down in his favor.

VITTORIA.
                        With these ladies
Was a young girl, Olympia Morata,
Daughter of Fulvio, the learned scholar,
Famous in all the universities:
A marvellous child, who at the spinning-wheel,        155
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        160
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.

JULIA.
                        A sad one, surely.
Frost kills the flowers that blossom out of season;        165
And these precocious intellects portend
A life of sorrow or an early death.
 
VITTORIA.
About the court were many learned men;
Chilian Sinapius from beyond the Alps,
And Celio Curione, and Manzolli,        170
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        175
The Koran of the heretics.

JULIA.
                        And what poets
Were there to sing you madrigals, and praise
Olympia’s eyes and Cherubina’s tresses?
 
VITTORIA.
None; for great Ariosto is no more.
The voice that filled those halls with melody        180
Has long been hushed in death.

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

VITTORIA.
                    And of yourself no less,
And of our master, Michael Angelo.        185
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
Of me?

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

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                    A mere play on words.
That adjective he wanted for a rhyme,
To match with Gian Bellino and Urbino.        190
 
VITTORIA.
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        195
By the Duke Ercole, has fled to Venice.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
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,        200
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.
 
VITTORIA.
What bee hath stung you?

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                One that makes no honey;
One that comes buzzing in through every window,        205
And stabs men with his sting. A bitter thought
Passed through my mind, but it is gone again;
I spake too hastily.

JULIA.
                    I pray you, show me
What you have done.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                Not yet; it is not finished.
 
 
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