Verse > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow > Complete Poetical Works
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
Michael Angelo: A Fragment
Part First.
III. Cardinal Ippolito
SCENE I.—A richly furnished apartment in the Palace of CARDINAL IPPOLITO. Night.

JACOPO NARDI, an old man, alone.

I AM bewildered. These Numidian slaves,
In strange attire; these endless antechambers;
This lighted hall, with all its golden splendors,
Pictures, and statues! Can this be the dwelling
Of a disciple of that lowly Man        5
Who had not where to lay his head? These statues
Are not of Saints; nor is this a Madonna,
This lovely face, that with such tender eyes
Looks down upon me from the painted canvas.
My heart begins to fail me. What can he        10
Who lives in boundless luxury at Rome
Care for the imperilled liberties of Florence,
Her people, her Republic? Ah, the rich
Feel not the pangs of banishment. All doors
Are open to them, and all hands extended.        15
The poor alone are outcasts; they who risked
All they possessed for liberty, and lost;
And wander through the world without a friend,
Sick, comfortless, distressed, unknown, uncared for.
SCENE II.—JACOPO NARDI; CARDINAL IPPOLITO, in Spanish cloak and slouched hat.

I pray you pardon me if I have kept you
Waiting so long alone.

                    I wait to see
The Cardinal.

                I am the Cardinal;
And you?

                Jacopo Nardi.

                        You are welcome.
I was expecting you. Philippo Strozzi
Had told me of your coming.

                            ’T was his son
That brought me to your door.

                    Pray you, be seated.
You seem astonished at the garb I wear,
But at my time of life, and with my habits,
The petticoats of a Cardinal would be—
Troublesome; I could neither ride nor walk,        30
Nor do a thousand things, if I were dressed
Like an old dowager. It were putting wine
Young as the young Astyanax into goblets
As old as Priam.

                    Oh, your Eminence
Knows best what you should wear.

                        Dear Messer Nardi,
You are no stranger to me. I have read
Your excellent translation of the books
Of Titus Livius, the historian
Of Rome, and model of all historians
That shall come after him. It does you honor;        40
But greater honor still the love you bear
To Florence, our dear country, and whose annals
I hope your hand will write, in happier days
Than we now see.

                Your Eminence will pardon
The lateness of the hour.

                    The hours I count not
As a sun-dial; but am like a clock,
That tells the time as well by night as day.
So, no excuse. I know what brings you here.
You come to speak of Florence.

                            And her woes.
The duke, my cousin, the black Alessandro,
Whose mother was a Moorish slave, that fed
The sheep upon Lorenzo’s farm, still lives
And reigns.

                Alas, that such a scourge
Should fall on such a city!

                            When he dies,
The Wild Boar in the gardens of Lorenzo,        55
The beast obscene, should be the monument
Of this bad man.

                He walks the streets at night
With revellers, insulting honest men.
No house is sacred from his lusts. The convents
Are turned by him to brothels, and the honor        60
Of woman and all ancient pious customs
Are quite forgotten now. The offices
Of the Priori and Gonfalonieri
Have been abolished. All the magistrates
Are now his creatures. Liberty is dead.        65
The very memory of all honest living
Is wiped away, and even our Tuscan tongue
Corrupted to a Lombard dialect.
And, worst of all, his impious hand has broken
The Martinella,—our great battle bell,        70
That, sounding through three centuries, has led
The Florentines to victory,—lest its voice
Should waken in their soul some memory
Of far-off times of glory.

                            What a change
Ten little years have made! We all remember        75
Those better days, when Niccolà Capponi,
The Gonfaloniere, from the windows
Of the Old Palace, with the blast of trumpets,
Proclaimed to the inhabitants that Christ
Was chosen King of Florence; and already        80
Christ is dethroned, and slain; and in his stead
Reigns Lucifer! Alas, alas, for Florence!
Lilies with lilies, said Savonarola;
Florence and France! But I say Florence only,
Or only with the Emperor’s hand to help us        85
In sweeping out the rubbish.

                            Little hope
Of help is there from him. He has betrothed
His daughter Margaret to this shameless Duke.
What hope have we from such an Emperor?
Baccio Valori and Philippo Strozzi,
Once the Duke’s friends and intimates, are with us,
And Cardinals Salvati and Ridolfi.
We shall soon see, then, as Valori says,
Whether the Duke can best spare honest men,
Or honest men the Duke.

                    We have determined
To send ambassadors to Spain, and lay
Our griefs before the Emperor, though I fear
More than I hope.

                    The Emperor is busy
With this new war against the Algerines,
And has no time to listen to complaints        100
From our ambassadors; nor will I trust them,
But go myself. All is in readiness
For my departure, and to-morrow morning
I shall go down to Itri, where I meet
Dante da Castiglione and some others,        105
Republicans and fugitives from Florence,
And then take ship at Gaëta, and go
To join the Emperor in his new crusade
Against the Turk. I shall have time enough
And opportunity to plead our cause.        110
NARDI, rising.
It is an inspiration, and I hail it
As of good omen. May the power that sends it
Bless our beloved country, and restore
Its banished citizens. The soul of Florence
Is now outside its gates. What lies within        115
Is but a corpse, corrupted and corrupting.
Heaven help us all. I will not tarry longer,
For you have need of rest. Good-night.


Fra Bastiano, how your portly presence
Contrasts with that of the spare Florentine        120
Who has just left me!

                    As we passed each other,
I saw that he was weeping.

                            Poor old man!
Who is he?

                Jacopo Nardi. A brave soul;
One of the Fuorusciti, and the best
And noblest of them all; but he has made me        125
Sad with his sadness. As I look on you
My heart grows lighter. I behold a man
Who lives in an ideal world, apart
From all the rude collisions of our life,
In a calm atmosphere.

                            Your Eminence
Is surely jesting. If you knew the life
Of artists as I know it, you might think
Far otherwise.

                But wherefore should I jest?
The world of art is an ideal world,—
The world I love, and that I fain would live in;        135
So speak to me of artists and of art,
Of all the painters, sculptors, and musicians
That now illustrate Rome.

                        Of the musicians,
I know but Goudimel, the brave maestro
And chapel-master of his Holiness,        140
Who trains the Papal choir.

                    In church, this morning,
I listened to a mass of Goudimel,
Divinely chanted. In the Incarnatus,
In lieu of Latin words, the tenor sang
With infinite tenderness, in plain Italian,        145
A Neapolitan love-song.

                            You amaze me.
Was it a wanton song?

                        Not a divine one.
I am not over-scrupulous, as you know,
In word or deed, yet such a song as that,
Sung by the tenor of the Papal choir,        150
And in a Papal mass, seemed out of place;
There ’s something wrong in it.

                There ’s something wrong
In everything. We cannot make the world
Go right. ’T is not my business to reform
The Papal choir.

                Nor mine, thank Heaven!
Then tell me of the artists.

                            Naming one
I name them all; for there is only one:
His name is Messer Michael Angelo.
All art and artists of the present day
Centre in him.

            You count yourself as nothing?
Or less than nothing, since I am at best
Only a portrait-painter; one who draws
With greater or less skill, as best he may,
The features of a face.

                    And you have had
The honor, nay, the glory, of portraying        165
Julia Gonzaga! Do you count as nothing
A privilege like that? See there the portrait
Rebuking you with its divine expression.
Are you not penitent? He whose skilful hand
Painted that lovely picture has not right        170
To vilipend the art of portrait-painting.
But what of Michael Angelo?

                            But lately
Strolling together down the crowded Corso,
We stopped, well pleased, to see your Eminence
Pass on an Arab steed, a noble creature,        175
Which Michael Angelo, who is a lover
Of all things beautiful, and especially
When they are Arab horses, much admired,
And could not praise enough.

IPPOLITO, to an attendant.
                        Hassan, to-morrow,
When I am gone, but not till I am gone,—        180
Be careful about that,—take Barbarossa
To Messer Michael Angelo the sculptor,
Who lives there at Macello dei Corvi,
Near to the Capitol; and take besides
Some ten mule-loads of provender, and say        185
Your master sends them to him as a present.
A princely gift. Though Michael Angelo
Refuses presents from his Holiness,
Yours he will not refuse.

                    You think him like
Thymœtes, who received the wooden horse        190
Into the walls of Troy. That book of Virgil
Have I translated in Italian verse,
And shall, some day, when we have leisure for it,
Be pleased to read you. When I speak of Troy
I am reminded of another town        195
And of a lovelier Helen, our dear Countess
Julia Gonzaga. You remember, surely,
The adventure with the corsair Barbarossa,
And all that followed?

                A most strange adventure;
A tale as marvellous and full of wonder        200
As any in Boccaccio or Sacchetti;
Almost incredible!

                    Were I a painter
I should not want a better theme than that:
The lovely lady fleeing through the night
In wild disorder; and the brigands’ camp        205
With the red fire-light on their swarthy faces.
Could you not paint it for me?

                            No, not I.
It is not in my line.

                    Then you shall paint
The portrait of the corsair, when we bring him
A prisoner chained to Naples; for I feel        210
Something like admiration for a man
Who dared this strange adventure.

                            I will do it.
But catch the corsair first.

                        You may begin
To-morrow with the sword. Hassan, come hither;
Bring me the Turkish scimitar that hangs        215
Beneath the picture yonder. Now unsheathe it.
’T is a Damascus blade; you see the inscription
In Arabic: La Allah! illa Allah!
There is no God but God.

                        How beautiful
In fashion and in finish! It is perfect.        220
The Arsenal of Venice cannot boast
A finer sword.

                You like it? It is yours.
You do not mean it.

                    I am not a Spaniard,
To say that it is yours and not to mean it.
I have at Itri a whole armory        225
Full of such weapons. When you paint the portrait
Of Barbarossa, it will be of use.
You have not been rewarded as you should be
For painting the Gonzaga. Throw this bauble
Into the scale, and make the balance equal.        230
Till then suspend it in your studio;
You artists like such trifles.

                            I will keep it
In memory of the donor. Many thanks.
Fra Bastian, I am growing tired of Rome,
The old dead city, with the old dead people;        235
Priests everywhere, like shadows on a wall,
And morning, noon, and night the ceaseless sound
Of convent bells. I must be gone from here;
Though Ovid somewhere says that Rome is worthy
To be the dwelling-place of all the Gods,        240
I must be gone from here. To-morrow morning
I start for Itri, and go thence by sea
To join the Emperor, who is making war
Upon the Algerines; perhaps to sink
Some Turkish galleys, and bring back in chains        245
The famous corsair. Thus would I avenge
The beautiful Gonzaga.

                        An achievement
Worthy of Charlemagne, or of Orlando.
Berni and Ariosto both shall add
A canto to their poems, and describe you        250
As Furioso and Innamorato.
Now I must say good-night.

                        You must not go;
First you shall sup with me. My seneschal,
Giovan Andrea dal Borgo a San Sepolcro,—
I like to give the whole sonorous name,        255
It sounds so like a verse of the Æneid,—
Has brought me eels fresh from the Lake of Fondi,
And Lucrine oysters cradled in their shells;
These, with red Fondi wine, the Cæcuban
That Horace speaks of, under a hundred keys        260
Kept safe, until the heir of Posthumus
Shall stain the pavement with it, make a feast
Fit for Lucullus, or Fra Bastian even;
So we will go to supper, and be merry.
Beware! Remember that Bolsena’s eels
And Vernage wine once killed a Pope of Rome!
’T was a French Pope; and then so long ago;
Who knows?—perhaps the story is not true.

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.