Part 29 out of 32
VITTORIA COLONNA, seated in an armchair; JULIA GONZAGA, standing
It grieves me that I find you still so weak
No, not suffering; only dying.
Death is the chillness that precedes the dawn;
We shudder for a moment, then awake
In the broad sunshine of the other life.
I am a shadow, merely, and these hands,
These cheeks, these eyes, these tresses that my husband
Once thought so beautiful, and I was proud of
Because he thought them so, are faded quite,--
All beauty gone from them.
Ah, no, not that.
Paler you are, but not less beautiful.
Hand me the mirror. I would fain behold
What change comes o'er our features when we die.
Thank you. And now sit down beside me here
How glad I am that you have come to-day,
Above all other days, and at the hour
When most I need you!
Do you ever need me?
Always, and most of all to-day and now.
Do you remember, Julia, when we walked,
One afternoon, upon the castle terrace
At Ischia, on the day before you left me?
Well I remember; but it seems to me
Something unreal, that has never been,--
Something that I have read of in a book,
Or heard of some one else.
Ten years and more
Have passed since then; and many things have happened
In those ten years, and many friends have died:
Marco Flaminio, whom we all admired
And loved as our Catullus; dear Valldesso,
The noble champion of free thought and speech;
And Cardinal Ippolito, your friend.
Oh, do not speak of him! His sudden death
O'ercomes me now, as it o'ercame me then.
Let me forget it; for my memory
Serves me too often as an unkind friend,
And I remember things I would forget,
While I forget the things I would remember.
Forgive me; I will speak of him no more,
The good Fra Bernardino has departed,
Has fled from Italy, and crossed the Alps,
Fearing Caraffa's wrath, because he taught
That He who made us all without our help
Could also save us without aid of ours.
Renee of France, the Duchess of Ferrara,
That Lily of the Loire, is bowed by winds
That blow from Rome; Olympia Morata
Banished from court because of this new doctrine.
Therefore be cautious. Keep your secret thought
Locked in your breast.
I will be very prudent
But speak no more, I pray; it wearies you.
Yes, I am very weary. Read to me.
Most willingly. What shall I read?
Triumph of Death. The book lies on the table;
Beside the casket there. Read where you find
The leaf turned down. 'T was there I left off reading.
"Not as a flame that by some force is spent,
But one that of itself consumeth quite,
Departed hence in peace the soul content,
In fashion of a soft and lucent light
Whose nutriment by slow gradation goes,
Keeping until the end its lustre bright.
Not pale, but whiter than the sheet of snows
That without wind on some fair hill-top lies,
Her weary body seemed to find repose.
Like a sweet slumber in her lovely eyes,
When now the spirit was no longer there,
Was what is dying called by the unwise.
E'en Death itself in her fair face seemed fair"--
Is it of Laura that he here is speaking?--
She doth not answer, yet is not asleep;
Her eyes are full of light and fixed on something
Above her in the air. I can see naught
Except the painted angels on the ceiling.
Vittoria! speak! What is it? Answer me!--
She only smiles, and stretches out her hands.
[The mirror falls and breaks.
Not disobedient to the heavenly vision!
Pescara! my Pescara! [Dies.
Her body sinks together,--she is dead!
[Kneels and hides her face in Vittoria's lap.
Enter MICHAEL ANGELO.
Hush! make no noise.
How is she?
Then she is dead!
Alas! yes, she is dead!
Even death itself in her fair face seems fair.
How wonderful! The light upon her face
Shines from the windows of another world.
Saint only have such faces. Holy Angels!
Bear her like sainted Catherine to her rest!
[Kisses Vittoria's hand.
Macello de' Corvi. A room in MICHAEL ANGELO'S house. MICHAEL
ANGELO, standing before a model of St. Peter's.
Better than thou I cannot, Brunelleschi,
And less than thou I will not! If the thought
Could, like a windlass, lift the ponderous stones
And swing them to their places; if a breath
Could blow this rounded dome into the air,
As if it were a bubble, and these statues
Spring at a signal to their sacred stations,
As sentinels mount guard upon a wall.
Then were my task completed. Now, alas!
Naught am I but a Saint Sebaldus, holding
Upon his hand the model of a church,
As German artists paint him; and what years,
What weary years, must drag themselves along,
Ere this be turned to stone! What hindrances
Must block the way; what idle interferences
Of Cardinals and Canons of St. Peter's,
Who nothing know of art beyond the color
Of cloaks and stockings, nor of any building
Save that of their own fortunes! And what then?
I must then the short-coming of my means
Piece out by stepping forward, as the Spartan
Was told to add a step to his short sword.
And is Fra Bastian dead? Is all that light
Gone out, that sunshine darkened; all that music
And merriment, that used to make our lives
Less melancholy, swallowed up in silence
Like madrigals sung in the street at night
By passing revellers? It is strange indeed
That he should die before me. 'T is against
The laws of nature that the young should die,
And the old live; unless it be that some
Have long been dead who think themselves alive,
Because not buried. Well, what matters it,
Since now that greater light, that was my sun,
Is set, and all is darkness, all is darkness!
Death's lightnings strike to right and left of me,
And, like a ruined wall, the world around me
Crumbles away, and I am left alone.
I have no friends, and want none. My own thoughts
Are now my sole companions,--thoughts of her,
That like a benediction from the skies
Come to me in my solitude and soothe me.
When men are old, the incessant thought of Death
Follows them like their shadow; sits with them
At every meal; sleeps with them when they sleep;
And when they wake already is awake,
And standing by their bedside. Then, what folly
It is in us to make an enemy
Of this importunate follower, not a friend!
To me a friend, and not an enemy,
Has he become since all my friends are dead.
VIGNA DI PAPA GIULIO
POPE JULIUS III. seated by the Fountain of Acqua Vergine,
surrounded by Cardinals.
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;
And I can make a dozen Cardinals,
But cannot make one Michael Angelo.
Your Holiness, we are not set against him;
We but deplore his incapacity.
He is too old.
You, Cardinal Salviati,
Are an old man. Are you incapable?
'T is the old ox that draws the straightest furrow.
Your Holiness remembers he was charged
With the repairs upon St. Mary's bridge;
Made cofferdams, and heaped up load on load
Of timber and travertine; and yet for years
The bridge remained unfinished, till we gave it
To Baccio Bigio.
Always Baccio Bigio!
Is there no other architect on earth?
Was it not he that sometime had in charge
The harbor of Ancona.
Ay, the same.
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
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.
He does not build; he but demolishes
The labors of Bramante and San Gallo.
Only to build more grandly.
But time passes:
Year after year goes by, and yet the work
Is not completed. Michael Angelo
Is a great sculptor, but no architect.
His plans are faulty.
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.
The same: MICHAEL ANGELO.
Come forward, dear Maestro! In these gardens
All ceremonies of our court are banished.
Sit down beside me here.
MICHAEL ANGELO, sitting down.
Your Holiness commiserates old age
And its infirmities!
Say its privileges.
Art I respect. The building of this palace
And laying out 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
To be at peace. The tumult of the city
Scarce reaches here.
How beautiful it is,
And quiet almost as a hermitage!
We live as hermits here; and from these heights
O'erlook all Rome and see the yellow Tiber
Cleaving in twain the city, like a sword,
As far below there as St. Mary's bridge.
What think you of that bridge?
I would advise
Your Holiness not to cross it, or not often
It is not safe.
It was repaired of late.
Some morning you will look for it in vain;
It will be gone. The current of the river
Is undermining it.
But you repaired it.
I strengthened all its piers, and paved its road
With travertine. He who came after me
Removed the stone, and sold it, and filled in
The space with gravel.
And Cardinal Marcello, do you listen?
This is your famous Nanni Baccio Bigio.
MICHAEL ANGELO, aside.
There is some mystery here. These Cardinals
Stand lowering at me with unfriendly eyes.
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,
You doubtless can explain.
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.
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?
Of the commissioners; and they complain
Of insufficient light in the Three Chapels.
Your Holiness, the insufficient light
Is somewhere else, and not in the Three Chapels.
Who are the deputies that make complaint?
The Cardinals Salviati and Marcello,
MICHAEL ANGELO, rising.
With permission, Monsignori,
What is it ye complain of?
You have departed from Bramante's plan,
And from San Gallo's.
Since the ancient time
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,
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
Could find them out. It was San Gallo, then,
That left the church in darkness, and not I.
Excuse me; but in each of the Three Chapels
Is but a single window.
Perhaps you do not know that in the vaulting
Above there are to go three other windows.
How should we know? You never told us of it.
I neither am obliged, nor will I be,
To tell your Eminence or any other
What I intend or ought to do. Your office
Is to provide the means, and see that thieves
Do not lay hands upon them. The designs
Must all be left to me.
You do forget yourself, to speak thus rudely
In presence of his Holiness, and to us
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
The labor of these hands, and what of life
Remains to me. My father Buonarotti
Was Podesta of Chiusi and Caprese.
I am not used to have men speak to me
As if I were a mason, hired to build
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!
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
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.
While I am living.
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?
That is in
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
Ah, were to do a thing
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; ay, they may be counted
Upon the fingers of this hand. Your place
Is at St. Peter's.
I have had my dream,
And cannot carry out my great conception,
And put it into act.
Then who can do it?
You would but leave it to some Baccio Bigio
To mangle and deface.
Rather than that
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,
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.
Exasperate me, but the funest conclusions
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;
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.
Go; and my benediction be upon you.
[Michael Angelo goes out.
My Cardinals, this Michael Angelo
Must not be dealt with as a common mason.
He comes of noble blood, and for his crest
Bear two bull's horns; and he has given us proof
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
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.
A street in Rome. BINDO ALTOVITI, standing at the door of his
MICHAEL ANGELO, passing.
Good-morning, Messer Michael Angelo!
Good-morning, Messer Bindo Altoviti!
What brings you forth so early?
The same reason
That keeps you standing sentinel at your door,--
The air of this delicious summer morning.
What news have you from Florence?
The same old tale of violence and wrong.
Since the disastrous day at Monte Murlo,
When in procession, through San Gallo's gate,
Bareheaded, clothed in rags, on sorry steeds,
Philippo Strozzi and the good Valori
Were led as prisoners down the streets of Florence,
Amid the shouts of an ungrateful people,
Hope is no more, and liberty no more.
Duke Cosimo, the tyrant, reigns supreme.
Florence is dead: her houses are but tombs;
Silence and solitude are in her streets.
Ah yes; and often I repeat the words
You wrote upon your statue of the Night,
There in the Sacristy of San Lorenzo:
"Grateful to me is sleep; to be of stone
More grateful, while the wrong and shame endure;
To see not, feel not, is a benediction;
Therefore awake me not; oh, speak in whispers."
Ah, Messer Bindo, the calamities,
The fallen fortunes, and the desolation
Of Florence are to me a tragedy
Deeper than words, and darker than despair.
I, who have worshipped freedom from my cradle,
Have loved her with the passion of a lover,
And clothed her with all lovely attributes
That the imagination can conceive,
Or the heart conjure up, now see her dead,
And trodden in the dust beneath the feet
Of an adventurer! It is a grief
Too great for me to bear in my old age.
I say no news from Florence: I am wrong,
For Benvenuto writes that he is coming
To be my guest in Rome.
Those are good tidings.
He hath been many years away from us.
Pray you, come in.
I have not time to stay,
And yet I will. I see from here your house
Is filled with works of art. That bust in bronze
Is of yourself. Tell me, who is the master
That works in such an admirable way,
And with such power and feeling?
Ah? Benvenuto? 'T is a masterpiece!
It pleases me as much, and even more,
Than the antiques about it; and yet they
Are of the best one sees. But you have placed it
By far too high. The light comes from below,
And injures the expression. Were these windows
Above and not beneath it, then indeed
It would maintain its own among these works
Of the old masters, noble as they are.
I will go in and study it more closely.
I always prophesied that Benvenuto,
With all his follies and fantastic ways,
Would show his genius in some work of art
That would amaze the world, and be a challenge
Unto all other artists of his time.
[They go in.
IN THE COLISEUM
MICHAEL ANGELO and TOMASO DE CAVALIERI
What have you here alone, Messer Michele?
I come to learn.
You are already master,
And teach all other men.
Nay, I know nothing;
Not even my own ignorance, as some
Philosopher hath said. I am a schoolboy
Who hath not learned his lesson, and who stands
Ashamed and silent in the awful presence
Of the great master of antiquity
Who built these walls cyclopean.
His name was, I remember. His reward
Was to be thrown alive to the wild beasts
Here where we now are standing.
But you are greater than Gaudentius was,
And your work nobler.
Silence, I beseech you.
Tradition says that fifteen thousand men
Were toiling for ten years incessantly
Upon this amphitheatre.
How wonderful it is! The queen of flowers,
The marble rose of Rome! Its petals torn
By wind and rain of thrice five hundred years;
Its mossy sheath half rent away, and sold
To ornament our palaces and churches,
Or to be trodden under feet of man
Upon the Tiber's bank; yet what remains
Still opening its fair bosom to the sun,
And to the constellations that at night
Hang poised above it like a swarm of bees.
The rose of Rome, but not of Paradise;
Not the white rose our Tuscan poet saw,
With saints for petals. When this rose was perfect
Its hundred thousand petals were not Saints,
But senators in their Thessalian caps,
And all the roaring populace of Rome;
And even an Empress and the Vestal Virgins,
Who came to see the gladiators die,
Could not give sweetness to a rose like this.
I spake not of its uses, but its beauty.
The sand beneath our feet is saturate
With blood of martyrs; and these rifted stones
Are awful witnesses against a people
Whose pleasure was the pain of dying men.
Tomaso Cavalieri, on my word,
You should have been a preacher, not a painter!
Think you that I approve such cruelties,
Because I marvel at the architects
Who built these walls, and curved these noble arches?
Oh, I am put to shame, when I consider
How mean our work is, when compared with theirs!
Look at these walls about us and above us!
They have been shaken by earthquake; have been made
A fortress, and been battered by long sieges;
The iron clamps, that held the stones together,
Have been wrenched from them; but they stand erect
And firm, as if they had been hewn and hollowed
Out of the solid rock, and were a part
Of the foundations of the world itself.
Your work, I say again, is nobler work,
In so far as its end and aim are nobler;
And this is but a ruin, like the rest.
Its vaulted passages are made the caverns
Of robbers, and are haunted by the ghosts
Of murdered men.
A thousand wild flowers bloom
From every chink, and the birds build their nests
Among the ruined arches, and suggest
New thoughts of beauty to the architect,
Now let us climb the broken stairs that lead
Into the corridors above, and study
The marvel and the mystery of that art
In which I am a pupil, not a master.
All things must have an end; the world itself
Must have an end, as in a dream I saw it.
There came a great hand out of heaven, and touched
The earth, and stopped it in its course. The seas
Leaped, a vast cataract, into the abyss;
The forests and the fields slid off, and floated
Like wooded islands in the air. The dead
Were hurled forth from their sepulchres; the living
Were mingled with them, and themselves were dead,--
All being dead; and the fair, shining cities
Dropped out like jewels from a broken crown.
Naught but the core of the great globe remained,
A skeleton of stone. And over it
The wrack of matter drifted like a cloud,
And then recoiled upon itself, and fell
Back on the empty world, that with the weight
Reeled, staggered, righted, and then headlong plunged
Into the darkness, as a ship, when struck
By a great sea, throws off the waves at first
On either side, then settles and goes down
Into the dark abyss, with her dead crew.
But the earth does not move.
Who knows? who knowst?
There are great truths that pitch their shining tents
Outside our walls, and though but dimly seen
In the gray dawn, they will be manifest
When the light widens into perfect day.
A certain man, Copernicus by name,
Sometime professor here in Rome, has whispered
It is the earth, and not the sun, that moves.
What I beheld was only in a dream,
Yet dreams sometimes anticipate events,
Being unsubstantial images of things
As yet unseen.
MACELLO DE' CORVI
MICHAEL ANGELO, BENVENUTO CELLINI.
So, Benvenuto, you return once more
To the Eternal City. 'T is the centre
To which all gravitates. One finds no rest
Elsewhere than here. There may be other cities
That please us for a while, but Rome alone
Completely satisfies. It becomes to all
A second native land by predilection,
And not by accident of birth alone.
I am but just arrived, and am now lodging
With Bindo Altoviti. I have been
To kiss the feet of our most Holy Father,
And now am come in haste to kiss the hands
Of my miraculous Master.
And to find him
Grown very old.
You know that precious stones
Never grow old.
Half sunk beneath the horizon,
And yet not gone. Twelve years are a long while.
Tell me of France.
It were too long a tale
To tell you all. Suffice in brief to say
The King received me well, and loved me well;
Gave me the annual pension that before me
Our Leonardo had, nor more nor less,
And for my residence the Tour de Nesle,
Upon the river-side.
A princely lodging.
What in return I did now matters not,
For there are other things, of greater moment,
I wish to speak of. First of all, the letter
You wrote me, not long since, about my bust
Of Bindo Altoviti, here in Rome. You said,
"My Benvenuto, I for many years
Have known you as the greatest of all goldsmiths,
And now I know you as no less a sculptor."
Ah, generous Master! How shall I e'er thank you
For such kind language?
By believing it.
I saw the bust at Messer Bindo's house,
And thought it worthy of the ancient masters,
And said so. That is all.
It is too much;
And I should stand abashed here in your presence,
Had I done nothing worthier of your praise
Than Bindo's bust.
What have you done that's better?
When I left Rome for Paris, you remember
I promised you that if I went a goldsmith
I would return a sculptor. I have kept
The promise I then made.
I recognized the latent genius in you,
But feared your vices.
I have turned them all
To virtues. My impatient, wayward nature,
That made me quick in quarrel, now has served me
Where meekness could not, and where patience could not,
As you shall hear now. I have cast in bronze
A statue of Perseus, holding thus aloft
In his left hand the head of the Medusa,
And in his right the sword that severed it;
His right foot planted on the lifeless corse;
His face superb and pitiful, with eyes
Down-looking on the victim of his vengeance.
I see it as it should be.
As it will be
When it is placed upon the Ducal Square,
Half-way between your David and the Judith
Rival of them both!
But ah, what infinite trouble have I had
With Bandinello, and that stupid beast,
The major-domo of Duke Cosimo,
Francesco Ricci, and their wretched agent
Gorini, who came crawling round about me
Like a black spider, with his whining voice
That sounded like the buzz of a mosquito!
Oh, I have wept in utter desperation,
And wished a thousand times I had not left
My Tour do Nesle, nor e'er returned to Florence,
Or thought of Perseus. What malignant falsehoods
They told the Grand Duke, to impede my work,
And make me desperate!
The nimble lie
Is like the second-hand upon a clock;
We see it fly; while the hour-hand of truth
Seems to stand still, and yet it moves unseen,
And wins at last, for the clock will not strike
Till it has reached the goal.
Stood me in stead, and helped me to o'ercome
The hindrances that envy and ill-will
Put in my way.
When anything is done
People see not the patient doing of it,
Nor think how great would be the loss to man
If it had not been done. As in a building
Stone rests on stone, and wanting the foundation
All would be wanting, so in human life
Each action rests on the foregone event,
That made it possible, but is forgotten
And buried in the earth.
Who never yet spake well of anything,
Speaks well of this; and yet he told the Duke
That, though I cast small figures well enough,
I never could cast this.
But you have done it,
And proved Ser Bandinello a false prophet.
That is the wisest way.
And ah, that casting
What a wild scene it was, as late at night,
A night of wind and rain, we heaped the furnace
With pine of Serristori, till the flames
Caught in the rafters over us, and threatened
To send the burning roof upon our heads;
And from the garden side the wind and rain
Poured in upon us, and half quenched our fires.
I was beside myself with desperation.
A shudder came upon me, then a fever;
I thought that I was dying, and was forced
To leave the work-shop, and to throw myself
Upon my bed, as one who has no hope.
And as I lay there, a deformed old man
Appeared before me, and with dismal voice,
Like one who doth exhort a criminal
Led forth to death, exclaimed, "Poor Benvenuto,
Thy work is spoiled! There is no remedy!"
Then, with a cry so loud it might have reached
The heaven of fire, I bounded to my feet,
And rushed back to my workmen. They all stood
Bewildered and desponding; and I looked
Into the furnace, and beheld the mass
Half molten only, and in my despair
I fed the fire with oak, whose terrible heat
Soon made the sluggish metal shine and sparkle.
Then followed a bright flash, and an explosion,
As if a thunderbolt had fallen among us.
The covering of the furnace had been rent
Asunder, and the bronze was flowing over;
So that I straightway opened all the sluices
To fill the mould. The metal ran like lava,
Sluggish and heavy; and I sent my workmen
To ransack the whole house, and bring together
My pewter plates and pans, two hundred of them,
And cast them one by one into the furnace
To liquefy the mass, and in a moment
The mould was filled! I fell upon my knees
And thanked the Lord; and then we ate and drank
And went to bed, all hearty and contented.
It was two hours before the break of day.
My fever was quite gone.
A strange adventure,
That could have happened to no man alive
But you, my Benvenuto.
As my workmen said
To major-domo Ricci afterward,
When he inquired of them: "'T was not a man,
But an express great devil."
And the statue?
Perfect in every part, save the right foot
Of Perseus, as I had foretold the Duke.
There was just bronze enough to fill the mould;
Not a drop over, not a drop too little.
I looked upon it as a miracle
Wrought by the hand of God.
And now I see
How you have turned your vices into virtues.
But wherefore do I prate of this? I came
To speak of other things. Duke Cosimo
Through me invites you to return to Florence,
And offers you great honors, even to make you
One of the Forty-Eight, his Senators.
His Senators! That is enough. Since Florence
Was changed by Clement Seventh from a Republic
Into a Dukedom, I no longer wish
To be a Florentine. That dream is ended.
The Grand Duke Cosimo now reigns supreme;
All liberty is dead. Ah, woe is me!
I hoped to see my country rise to heights
Of happiness and freedom yet unreached
By other nations, but the climbing wave
Pauses, lets go its hold, and slides again
Back to the common level, with a hoarse
Death rattle in its throat. I am too old
To hope for better days. I will stay here
And die in Rome. The very weeds, that grow
Among the broken fragments of her ruins,
Are sweeter to me than the garden flowers
Of other cities; and the desolate ring
Of the Campagna round about her walls
Fairer than all the villas that encircle
The towns of Tuscany.
But your old friends!
All dead by violence. Baccio Valori
Has been beheaded; Guicciardini poisoned;
Philippo Strozzi strangled in his prison.
Is Florence then a place for honest men
To flourish in? What is there to prevent
My sharing the same fate?
Why this: if all
Your friends are dead, so are your enemies.
Is Aretino dead?
He lives in Venice,
And not in Florence.
'T is the same to me
This wretched mountebank, whom flatterers
Call the Divine, as if to make the word
Unpleasant in the mouths of those who speak it
And in the ears of those who hear it, sends me
A letter written for the public eye,
And with such subtle and infernal malice,
I wonder at his wickedness. 'T is he
Is the express great devil, and not you.
Some years ago he told me how to paint
The scenes of the Last Judgment.
Well, now he writes to me that, as a Christian,
He is ashamed of the unbounded freedom
With which I represent it.
He says I show mankind that I am wanting
In piety and religion, in proportion
As I profess perfection in my art.
Profess perfection? Why, 't is only men
Like Bugiardini who are satisfied
With what they do. I never am content,
But always see the labors of my hand
Fall short of my conception.
The malice of this creature. He would taint you
With heresy, and in a time like this!
'T is infamous!
I represent the angels
Without their heavenly glory, and the saints
Without a trace of earthly modesty.
Veiled their Diana with some drapery,
And when they represented Venus naked
They made her by her modest attitude,
Appear half clothed. But I, who am a Christian,
Do so subordinate belief to art
That I have made the very violation
Of modesty in martyrs and in virgins
A spectacle at which all men would gaze
With half-averted eyes even in a brothel.
He is at home there, and he ought to know
What men avert their eyes from in such places;
From the Last Judgment chiefly, I imagine.
But divine Providence will never leave
The boldness of my marvellous work unpunished;
And the more marvellous it is, the more
'T is sure to prove the ruin of my fame!
And finally, if in this composition
I had pursued the instructions that he gave me
Concerning heaven and hell and paradise,
In that same letter, known to all the world,
Nature would not be forced, as she is now,
To feel ashamed that she invested me
With such great talent; that I stand myself
A very idol in the world of art.
He taunts me also with the Mausoleum
Of Julius, still unfinished, for the reason
That men persuaded the inane old man
It was of evil augury to build
His tomb while he was living; and he speaks
Of heaps of gold this Pope bequeathed to me,
And calls it robbery;--that is what he says.
What prompted such a letter?
He is a clever writer, and he likes
To draw his pen, and flourish it in the face
Of every honest man, as swordsmen do
Their rapiers on occasion, but to show
How skilfully they do it. Had you followed
The advice he gave, or even thanked him for it,
You would have seen another style of fence.
'T is but his wounded vanity, and the wish
To see his name in print. So give it not
A moment's thought; it soon will be forgotten.
I will not think of it, but let it pass
For a rude speech thrown at me in the street,
As boys threw stones at Dante.
And what answer
Shall I take back to Grand Duke Cosimo?
He does not ask your labor or your service;
Only your presence in the city of Florence,
With such advice upon his work in hand
As he may ask, and you may choose to give.
You have my answer. Nothing he can offer
Shall tempt me to leave Rome. My work is here,
And only here, the building of St. Peter's.
What other things I hitherto have done
Have fallen from me, are no longer mine;
I have passed on beyond them, and have left them
As milestones on the way. What lies before me,
That is still mine, and while it is unfinished
No one shall draw me from it, or persuade me,
By promises of ease, or wealth, or honor,
Till I behold the finished dome uprise
Complete, as now I see it in my thought.
And will you paint no more?
'T is well.
Sculpture is more divine, and more like Nature,
That fashions all her works in high relief,
And that is sculpture. This vast ball, the Earth,
Was moulded out of clay, and baked in fire;
Men, women, and all animals that breathe
Are statues, and not paintings. Even the plants,
The flowers, the fruits, the grasses, were first sculptured,
And colored later. Painting is a lie,
A shadow merely.
Truly, as you say,
Sculpture is more than painting. It is greater
To raise the dead to life than to create
Phantoms that seem to live. The most majestic
Of the three sister arts is that which builds;
The eldest of them all, to whom the others
Are but the hand-maids and the servitors,
Being but imitation, not creation.
Henceforth I dedicate myself to her.
And no more from the marble hew those forms
That fill us all with wonder?
Will there be room for in my work. Their station
Already is assigned them in my mind.
But things move slowly. There are hindrances,
Want of material, want of means, delays
And interruptions, endless interference
Of Cardinal Commissioners, and disputes
And jealousies of artists, that annoy me.
But twill persevere until the work
Is wholly finished, or till I sink down
Surprised by death, that unexpected guest,
Who waits for no man's leisure, but steps in,
Unasked and unannounced, to put a stop
To all our occupations and designs.
And then perhaps I may go back to Florence;
This is my answer to Duke Cosimo.
MICHAEL ANGELO'S STUDIO
MICHAEL ANGELO and URBINO.
MICHAEL ANGELO, pausing in his work.
Urbino, thou and I are both old men.
My strength begins to fail me.
That is impossible. Do I not see you
Attack the marble blocks with the same fury
As twenty years ago?
'T is an old habit.
I must have learned it early from my nurse
At Setignano, the stone-mason's wife;
For the first sounds I heard were of the chisel
chipping away the stone.
At every stroke
You strike fire with your chisel.
The marble is too hard.
It is a block
That Topolino sent you from Carrara.
He is a judge of marble.
With it he sent me something of his making,--
A Mercury, with long body and short legs,
As if by any possibility
A messenger of the gods could have short legs.
It was no more like Mercury than you are,
But rather like those little plaster figures
That peddlers hawk about the villages
As images of saints. But luckily
For Topolino, there are many people
Who see no difference between what is best
And what is only good, or not even good;
So that poor artists stand in their esteem
On the same level with the best, or higher.
How Eccellenza laughed!
All men are not born artists, nor will labor
E'er make them artists.
No, no more
Than Emperors, or Popes, or Cardinals.
One must be chosen for it. I have been
Your color-grinder six and twenty years,
And am not yet an artist.
Some have eyes
That see not; but in every block of marble
I see a statue,--see it as distinctly
As if it stood before me shaped and perfect
In attitude and action. I have only
To hew away the stone walls that imprison
The lovely apparition, and reveal it
To other eyes as mine already see it.
But I grow old and weak. What wilt thou do
When I am dead, Urbino?
I must then serve another master.
Bitter is servitude at best. Already
So many years hast thou been serving me;
But rather as a friend than as a servant.
We have grown old together. Dost thou think
So meanly of this Michael Angelo
As to imagine he would let thee serve,
When he is free from service? Take this purse,
Two thousand crowns in gold.
Two thousand crowns!
Ay, it will make thee rich. Thou shalt not die
A beggar in a hospital.
I cannot have them with me on the journey
That I am undertaking. The last garment
That men will make for me will have no pockets.
URBINO, kissing the hand of MICHAEL ANGELO.
My generous master!
Not a word more. Go now to bed, old man.
Thou hast served Michael Angelo. Remember,
Henceforward thou shalt serve no other master.
THE OAKS OF MONTE LUCA
MICHAEL ANGELO, alone in the woods.
How still it is among these ancient oaks!
Surges and undulations of the air
Uplift the leafy boughs, and let them fall
With scarce a sound. Such sylvan quietudes
Become old age. These huge centennial oaks,
That may have heard in infancy the trumpets
Of Barbarossa's cavalry, deride
Man's brief existence, that with all his strength
He cannot stretch beyond the hundredth year.
This little acorn, turbaned like the Turk,
Which with my foot I spurn, may be an oak
Hereafter, feeding with its bitter mast
The fierce wild boar, and tossing in its arms
The cradled nests of birds, when all the men
That now inhabit this vast universe,
They and their children, and their children's children,
Shall be but dust and mould, and nothing more.
Through openings in the trees I see below me
The valley of Clitumnus, with its farms
And snow-white oxen grazing in the shade
Of the tall poplars on the river's brink.
O Nature, gentle mother, tender nurse!
I who have never loved thee as I ought,
But wasted all my years immured in cities,
And breathed the stifling atmosphere of streets,
Now come to thee for refuge. Here is peace.
Yonder I see the little hermitages
Dotting the mountain side with points of light,
And here St. Julian's convent, like a nest
Of curlews, clinging to some windy cliff.
Beyond the broad, illimitable plain
Down sinks the sun, red as Apollo's quoit,
That, by the envious Zephyr blown aside,
Struck Hyacinthus dead, and stained the earth
With his young blood, that blossomed into flowers.
And now, instead of these fair deities
Dread demons haunt the earth; hermits inhabit
The leafy homes of sylvan Hamadryads;
And jovial friars, rotund and rubicund,
Replace the old Silenus with his ass.
Here underneath these venerable oaks,
Wrinkled and brown and gnarled like them with age,
A brother of the monastery sits,
Lost in his meditations. What may be
The questions that perplex, the hopes that cheer him?
Good-evening, holy father.
God be with you.
Pardon a stranger if he interrupt
It was but a dream,--
The old, old dream, that never will come true;
The dream that all my life I have been dreaming,
And yet is still a dream.
All men have dreams:
I have had mine; but none of them came true;
They were but vanity. Sometimes I think
The happiness of man lies in pursuing,
Not in possessing; for the things possessed
Lose half their value. Tell me of your dream.
The yearning of my heart, my sole desire,
That like the sheaf of Joseph stands up right,
While all the others bend and bow to it;
The passion that torments me, and that breathes
New meaning into the dead forms of prayer,
Is that with mortal eyes I may behold
The Eternal City.
There is but one;
The rest are merely names. I think of it
As the Celestial City, paved with gold,
And sentinelled with angels.
Would it were.
I have just fled from it. It is beleaguered
By Spanish troops, led by the Duke of Alva.
But still for me 't is the Celestial City,
And I would see it once before I die.
Each one must bear his cross.
Were it a cross
That had been laid upon me, I could bear it,
Or fall with it. It is a crucifix;
I am nailed hand and foot, and I am dying!
What would you see in Rome?
Him that was once the Cardinal Caraffa?
You would but see a man of fourscore years,
With sunken eyes, burning like carbuncles,
Who sits at table with his friends for hours,
Cursing the Spaniards as a race of Jews
And miscreant Moors. And with what soldiery
Think you he now defends the Eternal City?
With legions of bright angels.
So he calls them;
And yet in fact these bright angelic legions
Are only German Lutherans.
MONK, crossing himself.
Heaven protect us?
What further would you see?
Going in their gilt coaches to High Mass.
Men do not go to Paradise in coaches.
The catacombs, the convents, and the churches;
The ceremonies of the Holy Week
In all their pomp, or, at the Epiphany,
The Feast of the Santissima Bambino
At Ara Coeli. But I shall not see them.
These pompous ceremonies of the Church
Are but an empty show to him who knows
The actors in them. Stay here in your convent,
For he who goes to Rome may see too much.
What would you further?
I would see the painting
of the Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel.
The smoke of incense and of altar candles
Has blackened it already.
Woe is me!
Then I would hear Allegri's Miserere,
Sung by the Papal choir.
A dismal dirge!
I am an old, old man, and I have lived
In Rome for thirty years and more, and know
The jarring of the wheels of that great world,
Its jealousies, its discords, and its strife.
Therefore I say to you, remain content
Here in your convent, here among your woods,
Where only there is peace. Go not to Rome.
There was of old a monk of Wittenberg
Who went to Rome; you may have heard of him;
His name was Luther; and you know what followed.
[The convent bell rings.
It is the convent bell; it rings for vespers.
Let us go in; we both will pray for peace.
THE DEAD CHRIST.
MICHAEL ANGELO'S studio. MICHAEL ANGELO, with a light, working
upon the Dead Christ. Midnight.
O Death, why is it I cannot portray
Thy form and features? Do I stand too near thee?
Or dost thou hold my hand, and draw me back,
As being thy disciple, not thy master?
Let him who knows not what old age is like
Have patience till it comes, and he will know.
I once had skill to fashion Life and Death
And Sleep, which is the counterfeit of Death;
And I remember what Giovanni Strozzi
Wrote underneath my statue of the Night
In San Lorenzo, ah, so long ago!
Grateful to me is sleep! More grateful now
Than it was then; for all my friends are dead;
And she is dead, the noblest of them all.
I saw her face, when the great sculptor Death,
Whom men should call Divine, had at a blow
Stricken her into marble; and I kissed
Her cold white hand. What was it held me back
From kissing her fair forehead, and those lips,
Those dead, dumb lips? Grateful to me is sleep!
Enter GIORGIO VASARI.
Good-evening, or good-morning, for I know not
Which of the two it is.
How came you in?
Why, by the door, as all men do.
Must have forgotten to bolt it.
Am I a spirit, or so like a spirit,
That I could slip through bolted door or window?
As I was passing down the street, I saw
A glimmer of light, and heard the well-known chink
Of chisel upon marble. So I entered,
To see what keeps you from your bed so late.
MICHAEL ANGELO, coming forward with the lamp.
You have been revelling with your boon companions,
Giorgio Vasari, and you come to me
At an untimely hour.
The Pope hath sent me.
His Holiness desires to see again
The drawing you once showed him of the dome
Of the Basilica.
We will look for it.
What is the marble group that glimmers there
Nothing, and yet everything,--
As one may take it. It is my own tomb,
That I am building.
Do not hide it from me.
By our long friendship and the love I bear you,
Refuse me not!
MICHAEL ANGELO, letting fall the lamp.
Life hath become to me
An empty theatre,--its lights extinguished,
The music silent, and the actors gone;
And I alone sit musing on the scenes
That once have been. I am so old that Death
Oft plucks me by the cloak, to come with him
And some day, like this lamp, shall I fall down,
And my last spark of life will be extinguished.
Ah me! ah me! what darkness of despair!
So near to death, and yet so far from God!
As treasures that men seek,
Deep-buried in sea-sands,
Vanish if they but speak,
And elude their eager hands,
So ye escape and slip,
O songs, and fade away,
When the word is on my lip
To interpret what ye say.
Were it not better, then,
To let the treasures rest
Hid from the eyes of men,
Locked in their iron chest?
I have but marked the place,
But half the secret told,
That, following this slight trace,
Others may find the gold.
FROM THE SPANISH
COPLAS DE MANRIQUE.
O let the soul her slumbers break,
Let thought be quickened, and awake;
Awake to see
How soon this life is past and gone,
And death comes softly stealing on,
Swiftly our pleasures glide away,
Our hearts recall the distant day
With many sighs;
The moments that are speeding fast
We heed not, but the past,--the past,
More highly prize.
Onward its course the present keeps,
Onward the constant current sweeps,
Till life is done;
And, did we judge of time aright,
The past and future in their flight
Would be as one.
Let no one fondly dream again,
That Hope and all her shadowy train
Will not decay;
Fleeting as were the dreams of old,
Remembered like a tale that's told,
They pass away.
Our lives are rivers, gliding free
To that unfathomed, boundless sea,
The silent grave!
Thither all earthly pomp and boast
Roll, to be swallowed up and lost
In one dark wave.
Thither the mighty torrents stray,
Thither the brook pursues its way,
And tinkling rill,
There all are equal; side by side
The poor man and the son of pride
Lie calm and still.
I will not here invoke the throng
Of orators and sons of song,
The deathless few;
Fiction entices and deceives,
And, sprinkled o'er her fragrant leaves,
Lies poisonous dew.
To One alone my thoughts arise,
The Eternal Truth, the Good and Wise,
To Him I cry,
Who shared on earth our common lot,
But the world comprehended not
This world is but the rugged road
Which leads us to the bright abode
Of peace above;
So let us choose that narrow way,
Which leads no traveller's foot astray
From realms of love,
Our cradle is the starting-place,
Life is the running of the race,
We reach the goal
When, in the mansions of the blest,
Death leaves to its eternal rest
The weary soul.
Did we but use it as we ought,
This world would school each wandering thought
To its high state.
Faith wings the soul beyond the sky,
Up to that better world on high,
For which we wait.
Yes, the glad messenger of love,
To guide us to our home above,
The Saviour came;
Born amid mortal cares and fears.
He suffered in this vale of tears
A death of shame.
Behold of what delusive worth
The bubbles we pursue on earth,
The shapes we chase,
Amid a world of treachery!
They vanish ere death shuts the eye,
And leave no trace.
Time steals them from us, chances strange,
Disastrous accident, and change,
That come to all;
Even in the most exalted state,
Relentless sweeps the stroke of fate;
The strongest fall.
Tell me, the charms that lovers seek
In the clear eye and blushing cheek,
The hues that play
O'er rosy lip and brow of snow,
When hoary age approaches slow,
Ah; where are they?
The cunning skill, the curious arts,
The glorious strength that youth imparts
In life's first stage;
These shall become a heavy weight,
When Time swings wide his outward gate
To weary age.
The noble blood of Gothic name,
Heroes emblazoned high to fame,
In long array;
How, in the onward course of time,
The landmarks of that race sublime
Were swept away!
Some, the degraded slaves of lust,
Prostrate and trampled in the dust,
Shall rise no more;
Others, by guilt and crime, maintain
The scutcheon, that without a stain,
Their fathers bore.
Wealth and the high estate of pride,
With what untimely speed they glide,
How soon depart!
Bid not the shadowy phantoms stay,
The vassals of a mistress they,
Of fickle heart.
These gifts in Fortune's hands are found;
Her swift revolving wheel turns round,
And they are gone!
No rest the inconstant goddess knows,
But changing, and without repose,
Still hurries on.
Even could the hand of avarice save
Its gilded baubles till the grave
Reclaimed its prey,
Let none on such poor hopes rely;
Life, like an empty dream, flits by,
And where are they?
Earthly desires and sensual lust
Are passions springing from the dust,
They fade and die;
But in the life beyond the tomb,
They seal the immortal spirits doom
The pleasures and delights, which mask
In treacherous smiles life's serious task,
What are they, all,
But the fleet coursers of the chase,
And death an ambush in the race,
Wherein we fall?
No foe, no dangerous pass, we heed,
Brook no delay, but onward speed
With loosened rein;
And, when the fatal snare is near,
We strive to check our mad career,
But strive in vain.
Could we new charms to age impart,
And fashion with a cunning art
The human face,
As we can clothe the soul with light,
And make the glorious spirit bright
With heavenly grace,
How busily each passing hour
Should we exert that magic power,
What ardor show,
To deck the sensual slave of sin,
Yet leave the freeborn soul within,
In weeds of woe!
Monarchs, the powerful and the strong,
Famous in history and in song
Of olden time,
Saw, by the stern decrees of fate,
Their kingdoms lost, and desolate
Their race sublime.
Who is the champion? who the strong?
Pontiff and priest, and sceptred throng?
On these shall fall
As heavily the hand of Death,
As when it stays the shepherd's breath
Beside his stall.
I speak not of the Trojan name,
Neither its glory nor its shame
Has met our eyes;
Nor of Rome's great and glorious dead,
Though we have heard so oft, and read,
Little avails it now to know
Of ages passed so long ago,
Nor how they rolled;
Our theme shall be of yesterday,
Which to oblivion sweeps away,
Like day's of old.
Where is the King, Don Juan? Where
Each royal prince and noble heir
Of Aragon ?
Where are the courtly gallantries?
The deeds of love and high emprise,
In battle done?
Tourney and joust, that charmed the eye,
And scarf, and gorgeous panoply,
And nodding plume,
What were they but a pageant scene?
What but the garlands, gay and green,
That deck the tomb?
Where are the high-born dames, and where
Their gay attire, and jewelled hair,
And odors sweet?
Where are the gentle knights, that came
To kneel, and breathe love's ardent flame,
Low at their feet?
Where is the song of Troubadour?
Where are the lute and gay tambour
They loved of yore?
Where is the mazy dance of old,
The flowing robes, inwrought with gold,
The dancers wore?
And he who next the sceptre swayed,
Henry, whose royal court displayed
Such power and pride;
O, in what winning smiles arrayed,
The world its various pleasures laid
His throne beside!
But O how false and full of guile
That world, which wore so soft a smile
But to betray!
She, that had been his friend before,
Now from the fated monarch tore
Her charms away.