Verse > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow > Complete Poetical Works
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
Michael Angelo: A Fragment
Part First.
I. Monologue: The Last Judgment
MICHAEL ANGELO’S Studio. He is at work on the cartoon of the Last Judgment.

WHY did the Pope and his ten Cardinals
Come here to lay this heavy task upon me?
Were not the paintings on the Sistine ceiling
Enough for them? They saw the Hebrew leader
Waiting, and clutching his tempestuous beard,        5
But heeded not. The bones of Julius
Shook in their sepulchre. I heard the sound;
They only heard the sound of their own voices.
Are there no other artists here in Rome
To do this work, that they must needs seek me?        10
Fra Bastian, my Fra Bastian, might have done it,
But he is lost to art. The Papal Seals,
Like leaden weights upon a dead man’s eyes,
Press down his lids; and so the burden falls
On Michael Angelo, Chief Architect        15
And Painter of the Apostolic Palace.
That is the title they cajole me with,
To make me do their work and leave my own;
But having once begun, I turn not back.
Blow, ye bright angels, on your golden trumpets        20
To the four corners of the earth, and wake
The dead to judgment! Ye recording angels,
Open your books and read! Ye dead, awake!
Rise from your graves, drowsy and drugged with death,
As men who suddenly aroused from sleep        25
Look round amazed, and know not where they are!
In happy hours, when the imagination
Wakes like a wind at midnight, and the soul
Trembles in all its leaves, it is a joy
To be uplifted on its wings, and listen        30
To the prophetic voices in the air
That call us onward. Then the work we do
Is a delight, and the obedient hand
Never grows weary. But how different is it
In the disconsolate, discouraged hours,        35
When all the wisdom of the world appears
As trivial as the gossip of a nurse
In a sick-room, and all our work seems useless.
What is it guides my hand, what thoughts possess me,
That I have drawn her face among the angels,        40
Where she will be hereafter? O sweet dreams,
That through the vacant chambers of my heart
Walk in the silence, as familiar phantoms
Frequent an ancient house, what will ye with me?
’T is said that Emperors write their names in green        45
When under age, but when of age in purple.
So Love, the greatest Emperor of them all,
Writes his in green at first, but afterwards
In the imperial purple of our blood.
First love or last love,—which of these two passions        50
Is more omnipotent? Which is more fair,
The star of morning, or the evening star?
The sunrise or the sunset of the heart?
The hour when we look forth to the unknown,
And the advancing day consumes the shadows,        55
Or that when all the landscape of our lives
Lies stretched behind us, and familiar places
Gleam in the distance, and sweet memories
Rise like a tender haze, and magnify
The objects we behold, that soon must vanish?        60
What matters it to me, whose countenance
Is like Laocoön’s, full of pain? whose forehead
Is a ploughed harvest-field, where three-score years
Have sown in sorrow and have reaped in anguish?
To me, the artisan, to whom all women        65
Have been as if they were not, or at most
A sudden rush of pigeons in the air,
A flutter of wings, a sound, and then a silence?
I am too old for love; I am too old
To flatter and delude myself with visions        70
Of never-ending friendship with fair women,
Imaginations, fantasies, illusions,
In which the things that cannot be take shape,
And seem to be, and for the moment are.
Convent bells ring.
Distant and near and low and loud the bells,        75
Dominican, Benedictine, and Franciscan,
Jangle and wrangle in their airy towers,
Discordant as the brotherhoods themselves
In their dim cloisters. The descending sun
Seems to caress the city that he loves,        80
And crowns it with the aureole of a saint.
I will go forth and breathe the air awhile.

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