Part 28 out of 32
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.
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.
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.
BORGO DELLE VERGINE AT NAPLES
Room in the Palace of JULIA GONZAGA. Night.
JULIA GONZAGA, GIOVANNI VALDESSO.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
A room in the Torre Argentina.
VITTORIA COLONNA and JULIA GONZAGA.
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--
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.
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.
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.
Enter MICHAEL ANGELO.
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.
MICHAEL ANGELO to JULIA.
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.
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?
MICHAEL ANGELO, drawing.
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.
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.
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!
MICHAEL ANGELO AND BENVENUTO CELLINI
MICHAEL ANGELO, BENVENUTO CELLINI in gay attire.
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 it.
There is a charm,
A certain something in the atmosphere,
That all men feel, and no man can describe.
Yes, malaria of the mind,
Out of this tomb of the majestic Past!
The fever to accomplish some great work
That will not let us sleep. I must go on
Until I die.
Do you ne'er think of Florence?
I think of anything beside my work,
I think of Florence. I remember, too,
The bitter days I passed among the quarries
Of Seravezza and Pietrasanta;
Road-building in the marshes; stupid people,
And cold and rain incessant, and mad gusts
Of mountain wind, like howling dervishes,
That spun and whirled the eddying snow about them
As if it were a garment; aye, vexations
And troubles of all kinds, that ended only
In loss of time and money.
But that was not in Florence. You should leave
Such work to others. Sweeter memories
Cluster about you, in the pleasant city
Upon the Arno.
In my waking dreams
I see the marvellous dome of Brunelleschi,
Ghiberti's gates of bronze, and Giotto's tower;
And Ghirlandajo's lovely Benci glides
With folded hands amid my troubled thoughts,
A splendid vision! Time rides with the old
At a great pace. As travellers on swift steeds
See the near landscape fly and flow behind them,
While the remoter fields and dim horizons
Go with them, and seem wheeling round to meet them,
So in old age things near us slip away,
And distant things go with as. Pleasantly
Come back to me the days when, as a youth,
I walked with Ghirlandajo in the gardens
Of Medici, and saw the antique statues,
The forms august of gods and godlike men,
And the great world of art revealed itself
To my young eyes. Then all that man hath done
Seemed possible to me. Alas! how little
Of all I dreamed of has my hand achieved!
Nay, let the Night and Morning, let Lorenzo
And Julian in the Sacristy at Florence,
Prophets and Sibyls in the Sistine Chapel,
And the Last Judgment answer. Is it finished?
The work is nearly done. But this Last Judgment
Has been the cause of more vexation to me
Than it will be of honor. Ser Biagio,
Master of ceremonies at the Papal court,
A man punctilious and over nice,
Calls it improper; says that those nude forms,
Showing their nakedness in such shameless fashion,
Are better suited to a common bagnio,
Or wayside wine-shop, than a Papal Chapel.
To punish him I painted him as Minos
And leave him there as master of ceremonies
In the Infernal Regions. What would you
Have done to such a man?
I would have killed him.
When any one insults me, if I can
I kill him, kill him.
Oh, you gentlemen,
Who dress in silks and velvets, and wear swords,
Are ready with your weapon; and have all
A taste for homicide.
I learned that lesson
Under Pope Clement at the siege of Rome,
Some twenty years ago. As I was standing
Upon the ramparts of the Campo Santo
With Alessandro Bene, I beheld
A sea of fog, that covered all the plain,
And hid from us the foe; when suddenly,
A misty figure, like an apparition,
Rose up above the fog, as if on horseback.
At this I aimed my arquebus, and fired.
The figure vanished; and there rose a cry
Out of the darkness, long and fierce and loud,
With imprecations in all languages.
It was the Constable of France, the Bourbon,
That I had slain.
Rome should be grateful to you.
But has not been; you shall hear presently.
During the siege I served as bombardier,
There in St. Angelo. His Holiness,
One day, was walking with his Cardinals
On the round bastion, while I stood above
Among my falconets. All thought and feeling,
All skill in art and all desire of fame,
Were swallowed up in the delightful music
Of that artillery. I saw far off,
Within the enemy's trenches on the Prati,
A Spanish cavalier in scarlet cloak;
And firing at him with due aim and range,
I cut the gay Hidalgo in two pieces.
The eyes are dry that wept for him in Spain.
His Holiness, delighted beyond measure
With such display of gunnery, and amazed
To see the man in scarlet cut in two,
Gave me his benediction, and absolved me
From all the homicides I had committed
In service of the Apostolic Church,
Or should commit thereafter. From that day
I have not held in very high esteem
The life of man.
And who absolved Pope Clement?
Now let us speak of Art.
Of what you will.
Say, have you seen our friend Fra Bastian lately,
Since by a turn of fortune he became
Friar of the Signet?
Faith, a pretty artist
To pass his days in stamping leaden seals
On Papal bulls!
He has grown fat and lazy,
As if the lead clung to him like a sinker.
He paints no more, since he was sent to Fondi
By Cardinal Ippolito to paint
The fair Gonzaga. Ah, you should have seen him
As I did, riding through the city gate,
In his brown hood, attended by four horsemen,
Completely armed, to frighten the banditti.
I think he would have frightened them alone,
For he was rounder than the O of Giotto.
He must have looked more like a sack of meal
Than a great painter.
Well, he is not great
But still I like him greatly. Benvenuto
Have faith in nothing but in industry.
Be at it late and early; persevere,
And work right on through censure and applause,
Or else abandon Art.
No man works harder
Then I do. I am not a moment idle.
And what have you to show me?
This gold ring,
Made for his Holiness,--my latest work,
And I am proud of it. A single diamond
Presented by the Emperor to the Pope.
Targhetta of Venice set and tinted it;
I have reset it, and retinted it
Divinely, as you see. The jewellers
Say I've surpassed Targhetta.
Let me see it.
A pretty jewel.
That is not the expression.
Pretty is not a very pretty word
To be applied to such a precious stone,
Given by an Emperor to a Pope, and set
I lose all patience with you; for the gifts
That God hath given you are of such a kind,
They should be put to far more noble uses
Than setting diamonds for the Pope of Rome.
You can do greater things.
The God who made me
Knows why he made me what I am,--a goldsmith,
A mere artificer.
Oh no; an artist
Richly endowed by nature, but who wraps
His talent in a napkin, and consumes
His life in vanities.
May say what Benvenuto would not bear
From any other man. He speaks the truth.
I know my life is wasted and consumed
In vanities; but I have better hours
And higher aspirations than you think.
Once, when a prisoner at St. Angelo,
Fasting and praying in the midnight darkness,
In a celestial vision I beheld
A crucifix in the sun, of the same substance
As is the sun itself. And since that hour
There is a splendor round about my head,
That may he seen at sunrise and at sunset
Above my shadow on the grass. And now
I know that I am in the grace of God,
And none henceforth can harm me.
None but one,--
None but yourself, who are your greatest foe.
He that respects himself is safe from others;
He wears a coat of mail that none can pierce.
I always wear one.
At least, forget not the celestial vision.
Man must have something higher than himself
To think of.
That I know full well. Now listen.
I have been sent for into France, where grow
The Lilies that illumine heaven and earth,
And carry in mine equipage the model
Of a most marvellous golden salt-cellar
For the king's table; and here in my brain
A statue of Mars Armipotent for the fountain
Of Fontainebleau, colossal, wonderful.
I go a goldsmith, to return a sculptor.
And so farewell, great Master. Think of me
As one who, in the midst of all his follies,
Had also his ambition, and aspired
To better things.
Do not forget the vision.
[Sitting down again to the Divina Commedia.
Now in what circle of his poem sacred
Would the great Florentine have placed this man?
Whether in Phlegethon, the river of blood,
Or in the fiery belt of Purgatory,
I know not, but most surely not with those
Who walk in leaden cloaks. Though he is one
Whose passions, like a potent alkahest,
Dissolve his better nature, he is not
That despicable thing, a hypocrite;
He doth not cloak his vices, nor deny them.
Come back, my thoughts, from him to Paradise.
FRA SEBASTIANO DEL PIOMBO
MICHAEL ANGELO; FRA SEBASTIANO DEL PIOMBO.
MICHAEL ANGELO, not turning round.
Who is it?
Wait, for I am out of breath
In climbing your steep stairs.
Ah, my Bastiano,
If you went up and down as many stairs
As I do still, and climbed as many ladders,
It would be better for you. Pray sit down.
Your idle and luxurious way of living
Will one day take your breath away entirely.
And you will never find it.
Well, what then?
That would be better, in my apprehension,
Than falling from a scaffold.
That was nothing
It did not kill me; only lamed me slightly;
I am quite well again.
But why, dear Master,
Why do you live so high up in your house,
When you could live below and have a garden,
As I do?
From this window I can look
On many gardens; o'er the city roofs
See the Campagna and the Alban hills;
And all are mine.
Can you sit down in them,
On summer afternoons, and play the lute
Or sing, or sleep the time away?
Sleep in the day-time; scarcely sleep at night.
I have not time. Did you meet Benvenuto
As you came up the stair?
He ran against me
On the first landing, going at full speed;
Dressed like the Spanish captain in a play,
With his long rapier and his short red cloak.
Why hurry through the world at such a pace?
Life will not be too long.
It is his nature,--
A restless spirit, that consumes itself
With useless agitations. He o'erleaps
The goal he aims at. Patience is a plant
That grows not in all gardens. You are made
Of quite another clay.
And thank God for it.
And now, being somewhat rested, I will tell you
Why I have climbed these formidable stairs.
I have a friend, Francesco Berni, here,
A very charming poet and companion,
Who greatly honors you and all your doings,
And you must sup with us.
Not I, indeed.
I know too well what artists' suppers are.
You must excuse me.
I will not excuse you.
You need repose from your incessant work;
Some recreation, some bright hours of pleasure.
To me, what you and other men call pleasure
Is only pain. Work is my recreation,
The play of faculty; a delight like that
Which a bird feels in flying, or a fish
In darting through the water,--nothing more.
I cannot go. The Sibylline leaves of life
Grow precious now, when only few remain.
I cannot go.
Berni, perhaps, will read
A canto of the Orlando Inamorato.
That is another reason for not going.
If aught is tedious and intolerable,
It is a poet reading his own verses,
Berni thinks somewhat better of your verses
Than you of his. He says that you speak things,
And other poets words. So, pray you, come.
If it were now the Improvisatore,
Luigia Pulci, whom I used to hear
With Benvenuto, in the streets of Florence,
I might be tempted. I was younger then
And singing in the open air was pleasant.
There is a Frenchman here, named Rabelais,
Once a Franciscan friar, and now a doctor,
And secretary to the embassy:
A learned man, who speaks all languages,
And wittiest of men; who wrote a book
Of the Adventures of Gargantua,
So full of strange conceits one roars with laughter
At every page; a jovial boon-companion
And lover of much wine. He too is coming.
Then you will not want me, who am not witty,
And have no sense of mirth, and love not wine.
I should be like a dead man at your banquet.
Why should I seek this Frenchman, Rabelais?
And wherefore go to hear Francesco Berni,
When I have Dante Alighieri here.
The greatest of all poets?
And the dullest;
And only to be read in episodes.
His day is past. Petrarca is our poet.
Petrarca is for women and for lovers
And for those soft Abati, who delight
To wander down long garden walks in summer,
Tinkling their little sonnets all day long,
As lap dogs do their bells.
I love Petrarca.
How sweetly of his absent love he sings
When journeying in the forest of Ardennes!
"I seem to hear her, hearing the boughs and breezes
And leaves and birds lamenting, and the waters
Murmuring flee along the verdant herbage."
Enough. It is all seeming, and no being.
If you would know how a man speaks in earnest,
Read here this passage, where St. Peter thunders
In Paradise against degenerate Popes
And the corruptions of the church, till all
The heaven about him blushes like a sunset.
I beg you to take note of what he says
About the Papal seals, for that concerns
Your office and yourself.
FRA SEBASTIANO, reading.
Is this the passage?
"Nor I be made the figure of a seal
To privileges venal and mendacious,
Whereat I often redden and flash with fire!"--
That is not poetry.
What is it, then?
Vituperation; gall that might have spirited
From Aretino's pen.
Name not that man!
A profligate, whom your Francesco Berni
Describes as having one foot in the brothel
And the other in the hospital; who lives
By flattering or maligning, as best serves
His purpose at the time. He writes to me
With easy arrogance of my Last Judgment,
In such familiar tone that one would say
The great event already had occurred,
And he was present, and from observation
Informed me how the picture should be painted.
What unassuming, unobtrusive men
These critics are! Now, to have Aretino
Aiming his shafts at you brings back to mind
The Gascon archers in the square of Milan,
Shooting their arrows at Duke Sforza's statue,
By Leonardo, and the foolish rabble
Of envious Florentines, that at your David
Threw stones at night. But Aretino praised you.
His praises were ironical. He knows
How to use words as weapons, and to wound
While seeming to defend. But look, Bastiano,
See how the setting sun lights up that picture!
My portrait of Vittoria Colonna.
It makes her look as she will look hereafter,
When she becomes a saint!
A noble woman!
Ah, these old hands can fashion fairer shapes
In marble, and can paint diviner pictures,
Since I have known her.
And you like this picture.
And yet it is in oil; which you detest.
When that barbarian Jan Van Eyck discovered
The use of oil in painting, he degraded
His art into a handicraft, and made it
Sign-painting, merely, for a country inn
Or wayside wine-shop. 'T is an art for women,
Or for such leisurely and idle people
As you, Fra Bastiano. Nature paints not
In oils, but frescoes the great dome of heaven
With sunset; and the lovely forms of clouds
And flying vapors.
And how soon they fade!
Behold yon line of roofs and belfries painted
Upon the golden background of the sky,
Like a Byzantine picture, or a portrait
Of Cimabue. See how hard the outline,
Sharp-cut and clear, not rounded into shadow.
Yet that is nature.
She is always right.
The picture that approaches sculpture nearest
Is the best picture.
The open air too bright. We ought to paint
As if the sun were shining through a mist.
'T is easier done in oil than in distemper.
Do not revive again the old dispute;
I have an excellent memory for forgetting,
But I still feel the hurt. Wounds are not healed
By the unbending of the bow that made them.
So say Petrarca and the ancient proverb.
But that is past. Now I am angry with you,
Not that you paint in oils, but that grown fat
And indolent, you do not paint at all.
Why should I paint? Why should I toil and sweat,
Who now am rich enough to live at ease,
And take my pleasure?
When Pope Leo died,
He who had been so lavish of the wealth
His predecessors left him, who received
A basket of gold-pieces every morning,
Which every night was empty, left behind
Hardly enough to pay his funeral.
I care for banquets, not for funerals,
As did his Holiness. I have forbidden
All tapers at my burial, and procession
Of priests and friars and monks; and have provided
The cost thereof be given to the poor!
You have done wisely, but of that I speak not.
Ghiberti left behind him wealth and children;
But who to-day would know that he had lived,
If he had never made those gates of bronze
In the old Baptistery,--those gates of bronze,
Worthy to be the gates of Paradise.
His wealth is scattered to the winds; his children
Are long since dead; but those celestial gates
Survive, and keep his name and memory green.
But why should I fatigue myself? I think
That all things it is possible to paint
Have been already painted; and if not,
Why, there are painters in the world at present
Who can accomplish more in two short months
Than I could in two years; so it is well
That some one is contented to do nothing,
And leave the field to others.
Not without reason do the people call you
Sebastian del Piombo, for the lead
Of all the Papal bulls is heavy upon you,
And wraps you like a shroud.
Sharp is the vinegar of sweet wine, and sharp
The words you speak, because the heart within you
Is sweet unto the core.
How changed you are
From the Sebastiano I once knew,
When poor, laborious, emulous to excel,
You strove in rivalry with Badassare
And Raphael Sanzio.
Raphael is dead;
He is but dust and ashes in his grave,
While I am living and enjoying life,
And so am victor. One live Pope is worth
A dozen dead ones.
Raphael is not dead;
He doth but sleep; for how can he be dead
Who lives immortal in the hearts of men?
He only drank the precious wine of youth,
The outbreak of the grapes, before the vintage
Was trodden to bitterness by the feet of men.
The gods have given him sleep. We never were
Nor could be foes, although our followers,
Who are distorted shadows of ourselves,
Have striven to make us so; but each one worked
Unconsciously upon the other's thought;
Both giving and receiving. He perchance
Caught strength from me, and I some greater sweetness
And tenderness from his more gentle nature.
I have but words of praise and admiration
For his great genius; and the world is fairer
That he lived in it.
We at least are friends;
So come with me.
No, no; I am best pleased
When I'm not asked to banquets. I have reached
A time of life when daily walks are shortened,
And even the houses of our dearest friends,
That used to be so near, seem far away.
Then we must sup without you. We shall laugh
At those who toil for fame, and make their lives
A tedious martyrdom, that they may live
A little longer in the mouths of men!
And so, good-night.
Good-night, my Fra Bastiano.
[Returning to his work.
How will men speak of me when I am gone,
When all this colorless, sad life is ended,
And I am dust? They will remember only
The wrinkled forehead, the marred countenance,
The rudeness of my speech, and my rough manners,
And never dream that underneath them all
There was a woman's heart of tenderness.
They will not know the secret of my life,
Locked up in silence, or but vaguely hinted
In uncouth rhymes, that may perchance survive
Some little space in memories of men!
Each one performs his life-work, and then leaves it;
Those that come after him will estimate
His influence on the age in which he lived.
TITIAN'S studio. A painting of Danae with a curtain before it.
MICHAEL ANGELO, and GIORGIO VASARI.
So you have left at last your still lagoons,
Your City of Silence floating in the sea,
And come to us in Rome.
I come to learn,
But I have come too late. I should have seen
Rome in my youth, when all my mind was open
To new impressions. Our Vasari here
Leads me about, a blind man, groping darkly
Among the marvels of the past. I touch them,
But do not see them.
There are things in Rome
That one might walk bare-footed here from Venice
But to see once, and then to die content.
I must confess that these majestic ruins
Oppress me with their gloom. I feel as one
Who in the twilight stumbles among tombs,
And cannot read the inscriptions carved upon them.
I felt so once; but I have grown familiar
With desolation, and it has become
No more a pain to me, but a delight.
I could not live here. I must have the sea,
And the sea-mist, with sunshine interwoven
Like cloth of gold; must have beneath my windows
The laughter of the waves, and at my door
Their pattering footsteps, or I am not happy.
Then tell me of your city in the sea,
Paved with red basalt of the Paduan hills.
Tell me of art in Venice. Three great names,
Giorgione, Titian, and the Tintoretto,
Illustrate your Venetian school, and send
A challenge to the world. The first is dead,
But Tintoretto lives.
And paints with fires
Sudden and splendid, as the lightning paints
The cloudy vault of heaven.
Does he still keep
Above his door the arrogant inscription
That once was painted there,--"The color of Titian,
With the design of Michael Angelo"?
Indeed, I know not. 'T was a foolish boast,
And does no harm to any but himself.
Perhaps he has grown wiser.
When you two
Are gone, who is there that remains behind
To seize the pencil falling from your fingers?
Oh there are many hands upraised already
To clutch at such a prize, which hardly wait
For death to loose your grasp,--a hundred of them;
Schiavone, Bonifazio, Campagnola,
Moretto, and Moroni; who can count them,
Or measure their ambition?
When we are gone
The generation that comes after us
Will have far other thoughts than ours. Our ruins
Will serve to build their palaces or tombs.
They will possess the world that we think ours,
And fashion it far otherwise.
Your son Orazio and your nephew Marco
Mentioned with honor.
Ay, brave lads, brave lads.
But time will show. There is a youth in Venice,
One Paul Cagliari, called the Veronese,
Still a mere stripling, but of such rare promise
That we must guard our laurels, or may lose them.
These are good tidings; for I sometimes fear
That, when we die, with us all art will die.
'T is but a fancy. Nature will provide
Others to take our places. I rejoice
To see the young spring forward in the race,
Eager as we were, and as full of hope
And the sublime audacity of youth.
Men die and are forgotten. The great world
Goes on the same. Among the myriads
Of men that live, or have lived, or shall live
What is a single life, or thine or mime,
That we should think all nature would stand still
If we were gone? We must make room for others.
And now, Maestro, pray unveil your picture
Of Danae, of which I hear such praise.
TITIAN, drawing hack the curtain.
What think you?
That Acrisius did well
To lock such beauty in a brazen tower
And hide it from all eyes.
The model truly
And more, that you were present,
And saw the showery Jove from high Olympus
Descend in all his splendor.
From your lips
Such words are full of sweetness.
You have caught
These golden hues from your Venetian sunsets.
Or from sunshine through a shower
On the lagoons, or the broad Adriatic.
Nature reveals herself in all our arts.
The pavements and the palaces of cities
Hint at the nature of the neighboring hills.
Red lavas from the Euganean quarries
Of Padua pave your streets; your palaces
Are the white stones of Istria, and gleam
Reflected in your waters and your pictures.
And thus the works of every artist show
Something of his surroundings and his habits.
The uttermost that can be reached by color
Is here accomplished. Warmth and light and softness
Mingle together. Never yet was flesh
Painted by hand of artist, dead or living,
With such divine perfection.
I am grateful
For so much praise from you, who are a master;
While mostly those who praise and those who blame
Know nothing of the matter, so that mainly
Their censure sounds like praise, their praise like censure.
Wonderful! wonderful! The charm of color
Fascinates me the more that in myself
The gift is wanting. I am not a painter.
Messer Michele, all the arts are yours,
Not one alone; and therefore I may venture
To put a question to you.
Well, speak on.
Two nephews of the Cardinal Farnese
Have made me umpire in dispute between them
Which is the greater of the sister arts,
Painting or sculpture. Solve for me the doubt.
Sculpture and painting have a common goal,
And whosoever would attain to it,
Whichever path he take, will find that goal
Equally hard to reach.
No doubt, no doubt;
But you evade the question.
When I stand
In presence of this picture, I concede
That painting has attained its uttermost;
But in the presence of my sculptured figures
I feel that my conception soars beyond
All limit I have reached.
You still evade me.
Giorgio Vasari, I have often said
That I account that painting as the best
Which most resembles sculpture. Here before us
We have the proof. Behold those rounded limbs!
How from the canvas they detach themselves,
Till they deceive the eye, and one would say,
It is a statue with a screen behind it!
Signori, pardon me; but all such questions
Seem to me idle.
Idle as the wind.
And now, Maestro, I will say once more
How admirable I esteem your work,
And leave you, without further interruption.
Your friendly visit hath much honored me.
MICHAEL ANGELO to GIORGIO, going out.
If the Venetian painters knew
But half as much of drawing as of color,
They would indeed work miracles in art,
And the world see what it hath never seen.