Verse > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow > Complete Poetical Works
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
 
Michael Angelo: A Fragment
Part Second.
IV. Fra Sebastiano del Piombo
 
SCENE I.—MICHAEL ANGELO; FRA SEBASTIANO DEL PIOMBO.

MICHAEL ANGELO, not turning round.
Who is it?

FRA SEBASTIANO.
            Wait, for I am out of breath
In climbing your steep stairs.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                        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.        5
Your idle and luxurious way of living
Will one day take your breath away entirely,
And you will never find it.

FRA SEBASTIANO.
                        Well, what then?
That would be better, in my apprehension,
Than falling from a scaffold.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                        That was nothing.
        10
It did not kill me; only lamed me slightly;
I am quite well again.

FRA SEBASTIANO.
                    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?

MICHAEL ANGELO.
            From this window I can look
        15
On many gardens; o’er the city roofs
See the Campagna and the Alban hills:
And all are mine.

FRA SEBASTIANO.
                Can you sit down in them,
On summer afternoons, and play the lute,
Or sing, or sleep the time away?

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                            I never
        20
Sleep in the day-time; scarcely sleep at night;
I have not time. Did you meet Benvenuto
As you came up the stair?

FRA SEBASTIANO.
                        He ran against me
On the first landing, going at full speed;
Dressed like the Spanish captain in a play,        25
With his long rapier and his short red cloak.
Why hurry through the world at such a pace?
Life will not be too long.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                        It is his nature,—
A restless spirit, that consumes itself
With useless agitations. He o’erleaps        30
The goal he aims at. Patience is a plant
That grows not in all gardens. You are made
Of quite another clay.

FRA SEBASTIANO.
                    And thank God for it.
And now, being somewhat rested, I will tell you
Why I have climbed these formidable stairs.        35
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.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                        Not I, indeed.
I know too well what artists’ suppers are.        40
You must excuse me.

FRA SEBASTIANO.
                    I will not excuse you.
You need repose from your incessant work;
Some recreation, some bright hours of pleasure.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
To me, what you and other men call pleasure.
Is only pain. Work is my recreation,        45
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        50
I cannot go.

FRA SEBASTIANO.
                    Berni, perhaps, will read
A canto of the Orlando Innamorato.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
That is another reason for not going.
If aught is tedious and intolerable,
It is a poet reading his own verses.        55
 
FRA SEBASTIANO.
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.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
If it were now the Improvisatore,
Luigi Pulci, whom I used to hear        60
With Benvenuto, in the streets of Florence,
I might be tempted. I was younger then,
And singing in the open air was pleasant.
 
FRA SEBASTIANO.
There is a Frenchman here, named Rabelais,
Once a Franciscan friar, and now a doctor,        65
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        70
At every page; a jovial boon-companion
And lover of much wine. He too is coming.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
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.        75
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?

FRA SEBASTIANO.
                        And the dullest;
And only to be read in episodes.        80
His day is past. Petrarca is our poet.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
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,        85
As lap-dogs do their bells.

FRA SEBASTIANO.
                        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        90
Murmuring flee along the verdant herbage.”
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
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        95
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?
        100
“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.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                    What is it, then?
 
FRA SEBASTIANO.
Vituperation; gall that might have spirted
        105
From Aretino’s pen.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                    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        110
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 transpired,
And he was present, and from observation        115
Informed me how the picture should be painted.
 
FRA SEBASTIANO.
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,        120
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.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
His praises were ironical. He knows
        125
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!
 
FRA SEBASTIANO.
My portrait of Vittoria Colonna.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
It makes her look as she will look hereafter,
        130
When she becomes a saint!

FRA SEBASTIANO.
                        A noble woman!
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
Ah, these old hands can fashion fairer shapes
In marble, and can paint diviner pictures,
Since I have known her.

FRA SEBASTIANO.
                And you like this picture;
And yet it is in oils, which you detest.        135
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
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,        140
Or for such leisurely and idle people
As you are, Fra Bastiano. Nature paints not
In oils, but frescoes the great dome of heaven
With sunsets, and the lovely forms of clouds
And flying vapors.

FRA SEBASTIANO.
                And how soon they fade!
        145
Behold you 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.        150
Yet that is nature.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                    She is always right.
The picture that approaches sculpture nearest
Is the best picture.

FRA SEBASTIANO.
                    Leonardo thinks
The open air too bright. We ought to paint
As if the sun were shining through a mist.        155
’T is easier done in oil than in distemper.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
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.        160
 
FRA SEBASTIANO.
So say Petrarca and the ancient proverb.
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
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.
 
FRA SEBASTIANO.
Why should I paint? Why should I toil and sweat,
        165
Who now am rich enough to live at ease,
And take my pleasure?

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                    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,        170
Which every night was empty, left behind
Hardly enough to pay his funeral.
 
FRA SEBASTIANO.
I care for banquets, not for funerals,
As did his Holiness. I have forbidden
All tapers at my burial, and procession        175
Of priests and friars and monks; and have provided
The cost thereof be given to the poor!
 
MICHAEL ANGELO.
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,        180
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        185
Survive, and keep his name and memory green.
 
FRA SEBASTIANO.
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        190
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.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                        O blasphemer!
Not without reason do the people call you        195
Sebastian del Piombo, for the lead
Of all the Papal bulls is heavy upon you,
And wraps you like a shroud.

FRA SEBASTIANO.
                            Misericordia!
Sharp is the vinegar of sweet wine, and sharp
The words you speak, because the heart within you        200
Is sweet unto the core.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                    How changed you are
From the Sebastiano I once knew,
When poor, laborious, emulous to excel,
You strove in rivalry with Baldassare
And Raphael Sanzio.

FRA SEBASTIANO.
                        Raphael is dead;
        205
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.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                    Raphael is not dead;
He doth but sleep; for how can he be dead        210
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        215
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        220
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.

FRA SEBASTIANO.
                    We at least are friends;
        225
So come with me.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                    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.        230
 
FRA SEBASTIANO.
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.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
                Good-night, my Fra Bastiano.
        235
 
SCENE II.—MICHAEL ANGELO, returning to his work.

MICHAEL ANGELO.
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,        240
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        245
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.
 
 
CONTENTS · BIBLIOGRAPHIC RECORD
  PREVIOUSNEXT  
 
Loading
Click here to shop the Bartleby Bookstore.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2014 Bartleby.com · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors