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eclipse

Michelangelo sonnets

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Seven Sonnets and a Canzone by Michelangelo
Translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I
The Artist

Nothing the greatest can conceive
That every marble block doth not confine
Within itself: and only its design
The hand that follows intellect can achieve.
The ill I flee, the good that I believe,
In thee, fair lady, lofty and divine,
Thus hidden lie; and so that death be mine,
Art, of desired success, doth me bereave.
Love is not guilty, then, nor thy fair face,
Nor fortune, cruelty, nor great disdain,
Of my disgrace, nor chance nor destiny,
If in they heart both death and love find place
At the same time, and if my humble brain,
Burning, can nothing draw but death from thee.

II
Fire

Not without fire can any workman mould
The iron to his preconceived design,
Nor can the artist without fire refine
And purify from all its dross the gold;
Nor can revive the phoenix, we are told,
Except by fire. Hence, if such death be mine,
I hope to rise again with the divine,
Whom death augments, and time cannot make old.
O sweet, sweet death! O fortunate fire that burns
Within me still to renovate my days,
Though I am almost numbered with the dead!
If by its nature unto heaven returns
This element, me, kindled in its blaze,
Will it bear upward when my life is fled.

III
Youth and Age

O give me back the days when loose and free
To my blind passion were the curb and rein,
O give me back the angelic face again,
With which all virtue buried seems to be!
O give my panting footsteps back to me,
That are in age so slow and fraught with pain,
And fire and moisture in the heart and brain.
If thou wouldst have be burn and weep for thee!
If it be true thou livest alone, Amor,
On the sweet-bitter tears of human hearts,
In an old man thou canst not wake desire;
Souls that have almost reached the other shore
Of a diviner love should feel the darts,
And be as tinder to a holier fire.

IV
Old Age

The course of my long life hath reached at last,
In fragile bark o'er a tempestuous sea,
The common harbor, where must rendered be
Account of all the actions of the past.
The impassioned phantasy, that, vague and vast,
Made art an idol and a king to me,
Was an illusion, and but vanity
Were the desires that lured me and harassed.
The dreams of love, that were so sweet of yore,
What are they now, when two deaths may be mine, -
One sure, and one forecasting its alarms?
Painting and sculpture satisfy no more
The soul now turning to the Love Divine,
That oped, to embrace us, on the cross its arms.

V
To Vittoria Colonna

Lady, how can it chance - yet this we see
In long experience - that will longer last
A living image carved from quarries vast
than its own maker, who dies presently?
Cause yieldeth to effect if this so be,
And even Nature is by Art surpassed;
This know I, who to Art have given the past,
But see that Time is breaking faith with me.
Perhaps on both of us long life can I
Either in color or in stone bestow,
By now portraying each in look and mien;
So that a thousand years after we die,
How fair thou wast, and I how full of woe,
And wherefore I so loved thee, may be seen.

VI
To Vittoria Colonna

When the prime mover of my many sighs
Heaven took through death from out her earthly place,
Nature, that never made so fair a face,
Remained ashamed, and tears were in all eyes.
O fate, unheeding my impassioned cries!
O hopes fallacious! O thou spirit of grace,
Where art thou now? Earth holds in its embrace
Thy lovely limbs, thy holy thoughts the skies.
Vainly did cruel death attempt to stay
The rumor of thy virtuous renown,
That Lethe's waters could not wash away!
A thousand leaves, since he hath stricken thee down,
Speak of thee, nor to thee could Heaven convey,
Except through death, a refuge and a crown.

VII
Dante

What should be said of him cannot be said;
By too great splendor is his name attended;
To blame is easier those who him offended,
Than reach the faintest glory round him shed.
This man descended to the doomed and dead
For our instruction; then to God ascended;
Heaven opened wide to him its portals splendid,
Who from his country's, closed against him, fled.
Ungrateful land! To its own prejudice
Nurse of his fortunes; and this showeth well
That the most perfect most of grief shall see.
Among a thousand proofs let one suffice,
That as his exile hath no parallel,
Ne'er walked the earth a greater man than he.

VIII
Canzone

Ah me! ah me! when thinking of the years,
The vanished years, alas, I do not find
Among them all one day that was my own!
Fallacious hopes, desires of the unknown,
Lamenting, loving, burning, and in tears,
(For human passions all have stirred my mind,)
Have held me, now I feel and know, confined
Both from the true and good still far away.
I perish day by day;
The sunshine fails, the shadows grow more dreary,
And I am near to fall, infirm and weary.

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