Verse > Anthologies > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. > Poems of Places > Italy
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed.  Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Italy: Vols. XI–XIII.  1876–79.
Rome, Churches of
Michael Angelo Buonarotti
Christopher Pearse Cranch (1813–1892)
Read at a Celebration of the Four Hundredth Anniversary of His Birth

          THIS is the rugged face
          Of him who won a place
            Above all kings and lords;
          Whose various skill and power
          Left Italy a dower        5
No numbers can compute, no tongue translate in words.
          Patient to train and school
          His genius to the rule
            Art’s sternest laws required;
          Yet, by no custom chained,        10
          His daring hand disdained
The academic forms by tamer souls admired.
          In his interior light
          Awoke those shapes of might,
            Once known, that never die;        15
          Forms of Titanic birth,
          The elder brood of earth,
That fill the mind more grandly than they charm the eye.
          Yet when the master chose,
          Ideal graces rose        20
            Like flowers on gnarléd boughs;
          For he was nursed and fed
          At Beauty’s fountain-head,
And to the goddess pledged his earliest, warmest vows.
          Entranced in thoughts whose vast        25
          Imaginations passed
            Into his facile hand,
          By adverse fate unfoiled,
          Through long, long years he toiled;
Undimmed the eyes that saw, unworn the brain that planned.        30
          A soul the Church’s bars,
          The State’s disastrous wars
            Kept closer to his youth.
          Though rough the winds and sharp,
          They could not bend or warp        35
His soul’s ideal forms of beauty and of truth.
          Like some cathedral spire
          That takes the earliest fire
            Of morn, he towered sublime
          O’er names and fanes of mark        40
          Whose lights to his were dark;
Facing the east, he caught a glow beyond his time.
          Whether he drew, or sung,
          Or wrought in stone, or hung
            The Pantheon in the air;        45
          Whether he gave to Rome
          Her Sistine walls or dome,
Or laid the ponderous beams, or lightly wound the stair;
          Whether he planned defence
          On Tuscan battlements,        50
            Fired with the patriot’s zeal,
          Where San Miniato’s glow
          Smiled down upon the foe,
Till Treason won the gates that mocked the invader’s steel;
          Whether in lonely nights        55
          With Poesy’s delights
            He cheered his solitude;
          In sculptured sonnets wrought
          His firm and graceful thought,
Like marble altars in some dark and mystic wood,—        60
          Still, proudly poised, he stepped
          The way his vision swept,
            And scorned the narrower view.
          He touched with glory all
          That pope or cardinal,        65
With lower aims than his, allotted him to do.
          A heaven of larger zone—
          Not theirs, but his—was thrown
            O’er old and wonted themes.
          The fires within his soul        70
          Shone like an aureole
Around the prophets old and sibyls of his dreams.
          Thus self-contained and bold,
          His glowing thoughts he told
            On canvas or on stone,        75
          He needed not to seek
          His themes from Jew or Greek;
His soul enlarged their forms, his style was all his own.
          Ennobled by his hand,
          Florence and Rome shall stand        80
            Stamped with the signet-ring
          He wore, where kings obeyed
          The laws the artists made.
Art was his world, and he was Art’s anointed king.
          So stood this Angelo        85
          Four hundred years ago;
            So grandly still he stands,
          Mid lesser worlds of art,
          Colossal and apart,
Like Memnon breathing songs across the desert sands.        90

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