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From An Anthology of Italian Poems 13th-19th Century selected and translated by Lorna de’ Lucchi, Alfred A. Knopf, New York; 1922; pp. 126-132, 353.

[For purists, the Italian text of the poems follows the English translation.]


Notes and translation by Lorna de’ Lucchi


Biographical Note

MICHELANGELO BUONARROTI, born at Caprese; pre-eminent as a sculptor, but also painter, architect, military engineer and poet; has left, to justify his title to all these, works of imperishable renown; entered the household of Lorenzo de’ Medici, where he met with all the eminent men of his day. In 1503 he went to Rome to work on the mausoleum of Pope Julius II.; 1529 Governor of the Florence fortifications; in his sixtieth year painted the Last Judgment in the Sixtine Chapel; designed the Laurentian Library and the Medici tombs in Florence with their wonderful figures of Day and Night, Dawn and Twilight; appointed architect of St. Peter’s in 1547; died in Rome, and is buried in Santa Croce. He wrote sonnets, madrigals, stanze and letters, many of which he addressed to Vittoria Colonna, whom he venerated; Art was the business and passion of his life, poetry its relaxation. His writings are characterized by a splendid virility; they seem rough-hewn out of enduring rock.




Sonnet I

THE master-craftsman hath no thought in mind
That one sole marble block may not contain
Within itself, but this we only find
When the hand serves the impulse of the brain;
The good I seek, the harm from which I fly,
Lady, divinely proud and fair, even so
Are hid in thee, and therefore I must die
Because my art is impotent to show
   My heart’s desire; hence love I cannot blame,
Nor beauty in thee, nor thy scorn, nor ill
Fortune, nor good for this my pain, since life
Within thy heart thou bearest at the same
Moment as death, and yet my little skill
Revealeth death alone for all its strife.


Sonnet II

PASSION that springeth from great loveliness
Not always need be counted deadly sin,
If it doth melt the heart with tenderness
And let a ray celestial pierce within.
Love wakeneth, thrilleth, lendeth us his wing
For lofty flight, so tempering our vain fires
That they are likened to that primal ring
Whence the sad soul unto his God aspires.
   The love of which I speak doth seek the sky,
Surpassing woman’s love; the wise, strong heart
Is with no other flame save this aglow.
One love draws to the earth and one on high;
One in the soul, one in the sense hath part;
This last doth aim at what is base and low.

Sonnet III

MAYBE my soul fell from its high estate,
Alone, without a counsellor or guide
To make me pitiful toward the fate
Of others and not scornful in my pride.
Beneath what banner may I strive aright
And triumph save ’neath Thine which hath my love?
I fear to perish in the clam’rous fight,
Do Thou from me Thy saving strength remove.
   O may Thy body, blood and cross, Thy last
End and its bitterness bear sin away
In which I and my fathers first drew breath!
Upon Thy mercy all my hopes are cast,
Forgive my sorry trespasses, I pray,
Who am so far from God, so near to death.

Sonnet IV

DOWN from the Heavens in his mortal state
He sank both one and other Hell to know,
Then rose again his God to contemplate,
And truth divine vouchsafe to us below.
O wondrous star, who by his radiancy
Made light within the nest which gave me birth;
O Thou alone, Who fashionedst him, canst be
His recompense, not this so guilty earth!
   Dante’s great works and his surpassing love
Were hidden from a thankless people’s face,
Whose favours shower on all save those of worth;
Yet gladly I his destiny would prove,
And for cruel exile with his virtue’s grace
Renounce the greatest happiness on earth.

Sonnet V

NO tongue can fittingly extol his fame,
His splendour is too dazzling for men’s eyes;
Easier it were his enemies to blame
Than to lift our poor homage to his skies.
Descended into the abodes of sin
For our instruction, he arose again;
The doors of Heaven flew wide to let him in,
Though on the doors of home he knocked in vain.
   Ungrateful country, when you wrought him ill
You wronged yourself, and now is it made clear
That to the perfect happeneth deepest dole!
Among a thousand truths this triumphs still:
No exile was less merited, and here
On earth ne’er tarried a sublimer soul.

Sonnet VI

“O BLESSED ones up in the sky,
Refreshed by tears we shed in vain,
Yonder doth love still rule for pain,
Or hath death willed it otherwise?”
   Here where eternal quiet lies
Our love is purged of bitterness,
Of envy and despairful tears!”
Then living were my worst distress,
   Since earthly love is prey to fears.
If friend of lovers Heaven appears
To whom this graceless world deals scorn,
What is in store for me, love-lorn?
Long life? Nay, direful thought, few years
Are many to who serve in tears!


SLUMBER is sweet, but it were sweeter still
To turn to stone while shame and sorrow last,
Nor see, nor hear, and so be freed from ill;
Ah, wake me not! Whisper as you go past!


Sonetto I

NON ha l’ ottimo artista alcun concetto
che un marmo solo in sé non circonscriva
col suo soverchio; e solo a quello arriva
la man che obbedisce all’ intelletto.
Il mal ch’ io fuggo, e ’l ben ch’ io mi prometto,
in te, donna leggiadra, altera e diva,
tal si nasconde; e perch’ io più non viva
contraria ho l’ arte al disïato effetto.
   Amor dunque non ha, nè tua beltate,
o fortuna, o durezza, o gran disdegno,
del mio mal colpa, o mio destino o sorte;
se dentro del tuo cor morte e pietate
porti in un tempo, e che ’l mio basso ingegno
non sappia, ardendo, trarne altro che morte.


Sonetto II

NON è sempre di colpe aspra e mortale
d’ una immensa bellezza un fero ardore,
se poi si lascia liquefatto il core,
che ’n breve il pénetri un divino strale.
Amore isveglia e desta e impenna l’ ale.
né l’ alto vol prescrive al van furore;
qual primo grado, ch’ al suo creatore,
di quel non sazia, l’ alma ascende e sale.
   L’ amore di quel ch’ io parlo in aspira;
donna è dissimil troppo; e mal conviensi
arder di quella al cor saggio e virile.
L’ un tira al cielo, e l’ altro in terra tira;
nell’ alma l’un, l’ algro abita ne’ sensi,
e l’ arco tira a cose basse e vile.

Sonetto III

FORSE perchè d’ altrui pietà mi vegna,
perchè dell’ altrui colpe più non rida
nel mio proprio valor, senz’ altra guida
caduta è l’ alma che fu già si degna.
Nè so qual militar sott’ altra insegna,
non che da vincer, da campar più fida;
e che al tumulto dell’ avverse strida
non pera, ove ’l poter tuo non sostegna.
   O carne, o sangue, o legno, o deglia strema,
giusto per vo’ si facci mio peccato,
di ch’ i’ pur nacqui, e tal fu ’padre mio.
Tu sol se’ buon; la Tua pietà suprema
soccorra al mio preditto iniquo stato;
sì presso a morte, e sì lontan da Dio.


Sonetto IV

DAL ciel discese, e col mortal suo, poi
che visto ebbe l’ inferno giusto e ’l pio,
ritornò vivo a contemplare Dio,
per dar di tutto il vero lume a noi;
lucente stella, che co’ raggi suoi
fe’ chiaro, a torto, el nido ove nacqu’ io;
nè sare’ ’l premio tutto ’l mondo rio:
tu sol, che la creasti, esser quel puoi.
   Di Dante dico, che mal conosciute
fur l’ opre sue da quel popolo ingrato,
che solo a’ iusti manca di salute.
Fuss’ io pur lui! ch’ a tal fortuna nato,
per l’ aspro esilio suo, con la virtute
dare’ del mondo il più felice stato.

Sonetto V

QUANTO dirne si de’ non si pué dire.
chè troppo agli orbi il suo splendor s’ accese;
biasmar si può più ’l popol che l’ offese,
ch’ al suo men pregio ogni maggior salire.
Questo discese a’ merti del fallire,
per l’ util nostro, e poi a Dio ascese:
e le porte che ’l ciel non gli contese,
la patria chiuse al suo giusto desire
   Ingrata, dico, e della sua fortuna
a suo danno nutrice; ond’ è ben segno
ch’ a’ più perfetti abbonda di più guai.
Fra mille altre ragion sol ha quest’ una:
se par non ebbe il suo esilio indegno,
simil uom nè maggior non nacque mai.


Sonetto VI

“BEATI, voi che su nel ciel godete
le lacrime che ’l mondo non ristora,
favvi amor guerra ancora,
o pur, per morte, liberi ne siete?”
   “La nostra eterna quïete,
fuor d’ ogni tempo, è priva
d’ invidia e d’ angosciosi pianti.”
   Dunche a mal pro ch’ i’ viva
convien, come vedete,
per amare e servire in dolor tanti.
Se ’l cielo è degli amanti
amico, e ’l mondo ingrato
amando, a che son nato?
a viver molto? e questo mi spaventa:
chè ’l poco è troppo a chi ben serve e stenta.


CARO m’ è ’l sonno, più l’ esser di sasso,
mentre che ’l danno el la vergogna dura:
non veder, non sentir, m’ è ventura;
però non mi destar, deh! parla basso.


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