Verse > Henry Wadsworth Longfellow > Complete Poetical Works
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882).  Complete Poetical Works.  1893.
Michael Angelo: A Fragment
Part First.
IV. Borgo delle Vergine at Naples

DO not go yet.
                The night is far advanced;
I fear to stay too late, and weary you
With these discussions.

                    I have much to say.
I speak to you, Valdesso, with that frankness        5
Which is the greatest privilege of friendship,—
Speak as I hardly would to my confessor,
Such is my confidence in you.

                            Dear Countess,
If loyalty to friendship be a claim
Upon your confidence, then I may claim it.        10
Then sit again, and listen unto things
That nearer are to me than life itself.
In all things I am happy to obey you,
And happiest then when you command me most.
Laying aside all useless rhetoric,
That is superfluous between us two,
I come at once unto the point, and say,
You know my outward life, my rank and fortune;
Countess of Fondi, Duchess of Trajetto,
A widow rich and flattered, for whose hand        20
In marriage princes ask, and ask it only
To be rejected. All the world can offer
Lies at my feet. If I remind you of it
It is not in the way of idle boasting,
But only to the better understanding        25
Of what comes after.

                    God hath given you also
Beauty and intellect; and the signal grace
To lead a spotless life amid temptations
That others yield to.

                    But the inward life,—
That you know not; ’t is known but to myself,        30
And is to me a mystery and a pain:
A soul disquieted and ill at ease,
A mind perplexed with doubts and apprehensions,
A heart dissatisfied with all around me,
And with myself, so that sometimes I weep,        35
Discouraged and disgusted with the world.
Whene’er we cross a river at a ford,
If we would pass in safety, we must keep
Our eyes fixed steadfast on the shore beyond,
For if we cast them on the flowing stream,        40
The head swims with it; so if we would cross
The running flood of things here in the world,
Our souls must not look down, but fix their sight
On the firm land beyond.

                        I comprehend you.
You think I am too worldly; that my head        45
Swims with the giddying whirl of life about me.
Is that your meaning?

                    Yes; your meditations
Are more of this world and its vanities
Than of the world to come.

                        Between the two
I am confused.

                Yet have I seen you listen
Enraptured when Fra Bernardino preached
Of faith and hope and charity.

                            I listen,
But only as to music without meaning.
It moves me for the moment, and I think
How beautiful it is to be a saint,        55
As dear Vittoria is; but I am weak
And wayward, and I soon fall back again
To my old ways, so very easily.
There are too many week-days for one Sunday.
Then take the Sunday with you through the week,
And sweeten with it all the other days.
In part I do so; for to put a stop
To idle tongues, what men might say of me
If I lived all alone here in my palace,
And not from a vocation that I feel        65
For the monastic life, I now am living
With Sister Caterina at the convent
Of Santa Chiara, and I come here only
On certain days, for my affairs, or visits
Of ceremony, or to be with friends.        70
For I confess, to live among my friends
Is Paradise to me; my Purgatory
Is living among people I dislike.
And so I pass my life in these two worlds,
This palace and the convent.

                            It was then
The fear of man, and not the love of God,
That led you to this step. Why will you not
Renounce the world, and give your heart to God, 1

                    If God so commands it,
Wherefore hath He not made me capable
Of doing for Him what I wish to do        80
As easily as I could offer Him
This jewel from my hand, this gown I wear,
Or aught else that is mine?

                        The hindrance lies
In that original sin, by which all fell.
Ah me, I cannot bring my troubled mind
To wish well to that Adam, our first parent,
Who by his sin lost Paradise for us,
And brought such ills upon us.

                            We ourselves
When we commit a sin, lose Paradise,
As much as he did. Let us think of this,        90
And how we may regain it.

                        Teach me, then,
To harmonize the discord of my life,
And stop the painful jangle of these wires.
That is a task impossible, until
You tune your heart-strings to a higher key        95
Than earthly melodies.

                    How shall I do it?
Point out to me the way of this perfection,
And I will follow you; for you have made
My soul enamored with it, and I cannot
Rest satisfied until I find it out.        100
But lead me privately, so that the world
Hear not my steps; I would not give occasion
For talk among the people.

                            Now at last
I understand you fully. Then, what need
Is there for us to beat about the bush?        105
I know what you desire of me.

                        What rudeness!
If you already know it, why not tell me?
Because I rather wait for you to ask it
With your own lips.

                Do me the kindness, then,
To speak without reserve; and with all frankness,        110
If you divine the truth, will I confess it.
I am content.

                Then speak.

                        You would be free
From the vexatious thoughts that come and go
Through your imagination, and would have me
Point out some royal road and lady-like        115
Which you may walk in, and not wound your feet.
You would attain to the divine perfection,
And yet not turn your back upon the world;
You would possess humility within,
But not reveal it in your outward actions;        120
You would have patience, but without the rude
Occasions that require its exercise;
You would despise the world, but in such fashion
The world should not despise you in return;
Would clothe the soul with all the Christian graces,        125
Yet not despoil the body of its gauds;
Would feed the soul with spiritual food,
Yet not deprive the body of its feasts;
Would seem angelic in the sight of God,
Yet not too saint-like in the eyes of men;        130
In short, would lead a holy Christian life
In such a way that even your nearest friend
Would not detect therein one circumstance
To show a change from what it was before.
Have I divined your secret?

                        You have drawn
The portrait of my inner self as truly
As the most skilful painter ever painted
A human face.

                This warrants me in saying
You think you can win heaven by compromise,
And not by verdict.

                    You have often told me
That a bad compromise was better even
Than a good verdict.

                    Yes, in suits at law;
Not in religion. With the human soul
There is no compromise. By faith alone
Can man be justified.

                    Hush, dear Valdesso;
That is a heresy. Do not, I pray you,
Proclaim it from the house-top, but preserve it
As something precious, hidden in your heart,
As I, who half believe and tremble at it.
I must proclaim the truth.

Why must you? You imperil both yourself
And friends by your imprudence. Pray, be patient.
You have occasion now to show that virtue
Which you lay stress upon. Let us return
To our lost pathway. Show me by what steps        155
I shall walk in it.
[Convent bells are heard.

                Hark! the convent bells
Are ringing; it is midnight; I must leave you.
And yet I linger. Pardon me, dear Countess,
Since you to-night have made me your confessor,
If I so far may venture, I will warn you        160
Upon one point.

            What is it? Speak, I pray you,
For I have no concealments in my conduct;
All is as open as the light of day.
What is it you would warn me of?

                        Your friendship
With Cardinal Ippolito.

                            What is there
To cause suspicion or alarm in that,
More than in friendships that I entertain
With you and others? I ne’er sat with him
Alone at night, as I am sitting now
With you, Valdesso.

                    Pardon me; the portrait
That Fra Bastiano painted was for him.
Is that quite prudent?

                    That is the same question
Vittoria put to me, when I last saw her.
I make you the same answer. That was not
A pledge of love, but of pure gratitude.        175
Recall the adventure of that dreadful night
When Barbarossa with two thousand Moors
Landed upon the coast, and in the darkness
Attacked my castle. Then, without delay,
The Cardinal came hurrying down from Rome        180
To rescue and protect me. Was it wrong
That in an hour like that I did not weigh
Too nicely this or that, but granted him
A boon that pleased him, and that flattered me?
Only beware lest, in disguise of friendship,
Another corsair, worse than Barbarossa,
Steal in and seize the castle, not by storm
But strategy. And now I take my leave.
Farewell; but ere you go, look forth and see
How night hath hushed the clamor and the stir        190
Of the tumultuous streets. The cloudless moon
Roofs the whole city as with tiles of silver;
The dim, mysterious sea in silence sleeps,
And straight into the air Vesuvius lifts
His plume of smoke. How beautiful it is!
[Voices in the street.
Poisoned at Itri.

                Poisoned? Who is poisoned?
The Cardinal Ippolito, my master.
Call it malaria. It was very sudden.    [Julia swoons.
Note 1. For some unexplained reason, the sentence has been left incomplete; apparently the omission was not more than a half line. [back]

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