Verse > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow > Complete Poetical Works
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
Michael Angelo: A Fragment
Part Third.
VII. 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,        5
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,        10
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,        15
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        20
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,        25
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.        30
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.        35
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.        40
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?—        45
Good-evening, holy father.

                        God be with you.
Pardon a stranger if he interrupt
Your meditations.

                    It was but a dream.—
The old, old dream, that never will come true;
The dream that all my life I have been dreaming,        50
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        55
Lose half their value. Tell me of your dream.
The yearning of my heart, my sole desire,
That like the sheaf of Joseph stands upright,
While all the others bend and bow to it;
The passion that torments me, and that breathes        60
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 merely names. I think of it
As the Celestial City, paved with gold,        65
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.        70
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?

                            His Holiness.
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        80
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?

                        The Cardinals,
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        90
In all their pomp, or, at the Epiphany,
The feast of the Santissimo Bambino
At Ara Cœli. But I shall not see them.
These pompous ceremonies of the Church
Are but an empty show to him who knows        95
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        105
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.        110
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.
MONK, rising.
It is the convent bell; it rings for vespers.
Let us go in; we both will pray for peace.        115

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