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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
 
Michael Angelo: A Fragment
Part Third.
II. Vigna di Papa Giulio
 
SCENE I.—POPE JULIUS III. seated by the Fountain of Acqua Vergine, surrounded by Cardinals.

JULIUS.
TELL me, why is it ye are discontent,
You, Cardinals Salviati and Marcello,
With Michael Angelo? What has he done,
Or left undone, that ye are set against him?
When one Pope dies, another is soon made;        5
And I can make a dozen Cardinals,
But cannot make one Michael Angelo.
 
CARDINAL SALVIATI.
Your Holiness, we are not set against him;
We but deplore his incapacity.
He is too old.

JULIUS.
                You, Cardinal Salviati,
        10
Are an old man. Are you incapable?
’T is the old ox that draws the straightest furrow.
 
CARDINAL MARCELLO.
Your Holiness remembers he was charged
With the repairs upon St. Mary’s bridge;
Made cofferdams, and heaped up load on load        15
Of timber and travertine; and yet for years
The bridge remained unfinished, till we gave it
To Baccio Bigio.

JULIUS.
                    Always Baccio Bigio!
Is there no other architect on earth?
Was it not he that sometime had in charge        20
The harbor of Ancona?

CARDINAL MARCELLO.
                        Ay, the same.
 
JULIUS.
Then let me tell you that your Baccio Bigio
Did greater damage in a single day
To that fair harbor than the sea had done
Or would do in ten years. And him you think        25
To put in place of Michael Angelo,
In building the Basilica of St. Peter!
The ass that thinks himself a stag discovers
His error when he comes to leap the ditch.
 
CARDINAL MARCELLO.
He does not build; he but demolishes
        30
The labors of Bramante and San Gallo.
 
JULIUS.
Only to build more grandly.

CARDINAL MARCELLO.
                        But time passes;
Year after year goes by, and yet the work
Is not completed. Michael Angelo
Is a great sculptor, but no architect.        35
His plans are faulty.

JULIUS.
                    I have seen his model,
And have approved it. But here comes the artist.
Beware of him. He may make Persians of you,
To carry burdens on your backs forever.
 
SCENE II.—The same: MICHAEL ANGELO.

JULIUS.
Come forward, dear Maestro. In these gardens
        40
All ceremonies of our court are banished.
Sit down beside me here.

MICHAEL ANGELO, sitting down.
                        How graciously
Your Holiness commiserates old age
And its infirmities!

JULIUS.
                    Say its privileges.
Art I respect. The building of this palace        45
And laying out of these pleasant garden walks
Are my delight, and if I have not asked
Your aid in this, it is that I forbear
To lay new burdens on you at an age
When you need rest. Here I escape from Rome        50
To be at peace. The tumult of the city
Scarce reaches here.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                    How beautiful it is,
And quiet almost as a hermitage!
 
JULIUS.
We live as hermits here; and from these heights
O’erlook all Rome and see the yellow Tiber        55
Cleaving in twain the city, like a sword,
As far below there as St. Mary’s bridge.
What think you of that bridge?

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                        I would advise
Your Holiness not to cross it, or not often;
It is not safe.

JULIUS.
                It was repaired of late.
        60
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
Some morning you will look for it in vain;
It will be gone. The current of the river
Is undermining it.

JULIUS.
                    But you repaired it.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
I strengthened all its piers, and paved its road
With travertine. He who came after me        65
Removed the stone and sold it, and filled in
The space with gravel.

JULIUS.
                        Cardinal Salviati
And Cardinal Marcello, do you listen?
This is your famous Nanni Baccio Bigio.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO, aside.
There is some mystery here. These Cardinals
        70
Stand lowering at me with unfriendly eyes.
 
JULIUS.
Now let us come to what concerns us more
Than bridge or gardens. Some complaints are made
Concerning the Three Chapels in St. Peter’s;
Certain supposed defects or imperfections,        75
You doubtless can explain.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                        This is no longer
The golden age of art. Men have become
Iconoclasts and critics. They delight not
In what an artist does, but set themselves
To censure what they do not comprehend.        80
You will not see them bearing a Madonna
Of Cimabue to the church in triumph,
But tearing down the statue of a Pope
To cast it into cannon. Who are they
That bring complaints against me?

JULIUS.
                            Deputies
        85
Of the Commissioners; and they complain
Of insufficient light in the Three Chapels.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
Your Holiness, the insufficient light
Is somewhere else, and not in the Three Chapels.
Who are the deputies that make complaint?        90
 
JULIUS.
The Cardinals Salviati and Marcello,
Here present.

MICHAEL ANGELO, rising.
                With permission, Monsignori,
What is it ye complain of?

CARDINAL MARCELLO.
                            We regret
You have departed from Bramante’s plan,
And from San Gallo’s.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                    Since the ancient time
        95
No greater architect has lived on earth
Than Lazzari Bramante. His design,
Without confusion, simple, clear, well-lighted,
Merits all praise, and to depart from it
Would be departing from the truth. San Gallo,        100
Building about with columns, took all light
Out of this plan; left in the choir dark corners
For infinite ribaldries, and lurking places
For rogues and robbers; so that when the church
Was shut at night, not five and twenty men        105
Could find them out. It was San Gallo, then,
That left the church in darkness, and not I.
 
CARDINAL MARCELLO.
Excuse me; but in each of the Three Chapels
Is but a single window.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                        Monsignore,
Perhaps you do not know that in the vaulting        110
Above there are to go three other windows.
 
CARDINAL SALVIATI.
How should we know? You never told us of it.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
I neither am obliged, nor will I be,
To tell your Eminence or any other
What I intend or ought to do. Your office        115
Is to provide the means, and see that thieves
Do not lay hands upon them. The designs
Must all be left to me.

CARDINAL MARCELLO.
                    Sir architect,
You do forget yourself, to speak thus rudely
In presence of his Holiness, and to us        120
Who are his Cardinals.

MICHAEL ANGELO, putting on his hat.
                        I do not forget
I am descended from the Counts Canossa,
Linked with the Imperial line, and with Matilda,
Who gave the Church Saint Peter’s Patrimony.
I, too, am proud to give unto the Church        125
The labor of these hands, and what of life
Remains to me. My father Buonarotti
Was Podestà of Chiusi and Caprese.
I am not used to have men speak to me
As if I were a mason, hired to build        130
A garden wall, and paid on Saturdays
So much an hour.

CARDINAL SALVIATI, aside.
            No wonder that Pope Clement
Never sat down in presence of this man,
Lest he should do the same; and always bade him
Put on his hat, lest he unasked should do it!        135
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
If any one could die of grief and shame,
I should. This labor was imposed upon me;
I did not seek it; and if I assumed it,
’T was not for love of fame or love of gain,
But for the love of God. Perhaps old age        140
Deceived me, or self-interest, or ambition;
I may be doing harm instead of good.
Therefore, I pray your Holiness, release me;
Take off from me the burden of this work;
Let me go back to Florence.

JULIUS.
                        Never, never,
        145
While I am living.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                    Doth your Holiness
Remember what the Holy Scriptures say
Of the inevitable time, when those
Who look out of the windows shall be darkened,
And the almond-tree shall flourish?

JULIUS.
                            That is in
        150
Ecclesiastes.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                And the grasshopper
Shall be a burden, and desire shall fail,
Because man goeth unto his long home.
Vanity of Vanities, saith the Preacher; all
Is vanity.

JULIUS.
            Ah, were to do a thing
        155
As easy as to dream of doing it,
We should not want for artists. But the men
Who carry out in act their great designs
Are few in number; aye, they may be counted
Upon the fingers of this hand. Your place        160
Is at St. Peter’s.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                    I have had my dream,
And cannot carry out my great conception,
And put it into act.

JULIUS.
                        Then who can do it?
You would but leave it to some Baccio Bigio
To mangle and deface.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                            Rather than that,
        165
I will still bear the burden on my shoulders
A little longer. If your Holiness
Will keep the world in order, and will leave
The building of the church to me, the work
Will go on better for it. Holy Father,        170
If all the labors that I have endured,
And shall endure, advantage not my soul,
I am but losing time.

JULIUS, laying his hands on MICHAEL ANGELO’S shoulders.
                    You will be gainer
Both for your soul and body.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                            Not events
Exasperate me, but the funest conclusions        175
I draw from these events; the sure decline
Of art, and all the meaning of that word;
All that embellishes and sweetens life,
And lifts it from the level of low cares
Into the purer atmosphere of beauty;        180
The faith in the Ideal; the inspiration
That made the canons of the church of Seville
Say, “Let us build, so that all men hereafter
Will say that we were madmen.” Holy Father,
I beg permission to retire from here.        185
 
JULIUS.
Go; and my benediction be upon you.
 
SCENE III.—POPE JULIUS and the CARDINALS.

JULIUS.
My Cardinals, this Michael Angelo
Must not be dealt with as a common mason.
He comes of noble blood, and for his crest
Bears two bull’s horns; and he has given us proof        190
That he can toss with them. From this day forth
Unto the end of time, let no man utter
The name of Baccio Bigio in my presence.
All great achievements are the natural fruits
Of a great character. As trees bear not        195
Their fruits of the same size and quality,
But each one in its kind with equal ease,
So are great deeds as natural to great men
As mean things are to small ones. By his work
We know the master. Let us not perplex him.        200
 
 
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