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Michelangelo

Italian Artist

1475-1564


SELECTED SONNETS ON ART & THE ARTIST

Narrated by Ralph Cosham

Download mp3 file: Selected Sonnets on Art & the Artist

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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.

ON THE PAINTING OF THE SISTINE CHAPEL

I've grown a goitre by dwelling in this den—
As cats from stagnant streams in Lombardy,
Or in what other land they hap to be—
Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:
My beard turns up to heaven; my nape falls in,
Fixed on my spine: my breast-bone visibly
Grows like a harp: a rich embroidery
Bedews my face from brush-drops thick and thin.
My loins into my paunch like levers grind:
My buttock like a crupper bears my weight;
My feet unguided wander to and fro;
In front my skin grows loose and long; behind,
By bending it becomes more taut and strait;
Crosswise I strain me like a Syrian bow:
Whence false and quaint, I know,
Must be the fruit of squinting brain and eye;
For ill can aim the gun that bends awry.
Come then, Giovanni, try
To succour my dead pictures and my fame;
Since foul I fare and painting is my shame

THE MODEL AND THE STATUE

When divine Art conceives a form and face,
She bids the craftsman for his first essay
To shape a simple model in mere clay:
This is the earliest birth of Art's embrace.
From the live marble in the second place
His mallet brings into the light of day
A thing so beautiful that who can say
When time shall conquer that immortal grace?
Thus my own model I was born to be—
The model of that nobler self, whereto
Schooled by your pity, lady, I shall grow.
Each overplus and each deficiency
You will make good. What penance then is due
For my fierce heat, chastened and taught by you?

SECOND READING: THE MODEL AND THE STATUE

When that which is divine in us doth try
To shape a face, both brain and hand unite
To give, from a mere model frail and slight,
Life to the stone by Art's free energy.
Thus too before the painter dares to ply
Paint-brush or canvas, he is wont to write
Sketches on scraps of paper, and invite
Wise minds to judge his figured history.
So, born a model rude and mean to be
Of my poor self, I gain a nobler birth,
Lady, from you, you fountain of all worth!
Each overplus and each deficiency
You will make good. What penance then is due
For my fierce heat, chastened and taught by you?

THE LOVER AND THE SCULPTOR

The best of artists hath no thought to show
Which the rough stone in its superfluous shell
Doth not include: to break the marble spell
Is all the hand that serves the brain can do.
The ill I shun, the good I seek, even so
In thee, fair lady, proud, ineffable,
Lies hidden: but the art I wield so well
Works adverse to my wish, and lays me low.
Therefore not love, nor thy transcendent face,
Nor cruelty, nor fortune, nor disdain,
Cause my mischance, nor fate, nor destiny;
Since in thy heart thou carriest death and grace
Enclosed together, and my worthless brain
Can draw forth only death to feed on me.

LOVE AND ART

As pen and ink alike serve him who sings
In high or low or intermediate style;
As the same stone hath shapes both rich and vile
To match the fancies that each master brings;
So, my loved lord, within thy bosom springs
Pride mixed with meekness and kind thoughts that smile:
Whence I draw nought, my sad self to beguile,
But what my face shows—dark imaginings.
He who for seed sows sorrow, tears, and sighs,
(The dews that fall from heaven, though pure and clear,
From different germs take divers qualities)
Must needs reap grief and garner weeping eyes;
And he who looks on beauty with sad cheer,
Gains doubtful hope and certain miseries.

THE ARTIST AND HIS WORK

How can that be, lady, which all men learn
By long experience? Shapes that seem alive,
Wrought in hard mountain marble, will survive
Their maker, whom the years to dust return!
Thus to effect cause yields. Art hath her turn,
And triumphs over Nature. I, who strive
With Sculpture, know this well; her wonders live
In spite of time and death, those tyrants stern.
So I can give long life to both of us
In either way, by colour or by stone,
Making the semblance of thy face and mine.
Centuries hence when both are buried, thus
Thy beauty and my sadness shall be shown,
And men shall say, 'For her 'twas wise to pine.'

BEAUTY AND THE ARTIST

A heart of flaming sulphur, flesh of tow,
Bones of dry wood, a soul without a guide
To curb the fiery will, the ruffling pride
Of fierce desires that from the passions flow;
A sightless mind that weak and lame doth go
Mid snares and pitfalls scattered far and wide;—
What wonder if the first chance brand applied
To fuel massed like this should make it glow?
Add beauteous art, which, brought with us from heaven,
Will conquer nature;—so divine a power
Belongs to him who strives with every nerve.
If I was made for art, from childhood given
A prey for burning beauty to devour,
I blame the mistress I was born to serve.

FLESH AND SPIRIT

Well may these eyes of mine both near and far
Behold the beams that from thy beauty flow;
But, lady, feet must halt where sight may go:
We see, but cannot climb to clasp a star.
The pure ethereal soul surmounts that bar
Of flesh, and soars to where thy splendours glow,
Free through the eyes; while prisoned here below,
Though fired with fervent love, our bodies are.
Clogged with mortality and wingless, we
Cannot pursue an angel in her flight:
Only to gaze exhausts our utmost might.
Yet, if but heaven like earth incline to thee,
Let my whole body be one eye to see,
That not one part of me may miss thy sight!

THE DOOM OF BEAUTY

Choice soul, in whom, as in a glass, we see,
Mirrored in thy pure form and delicate,
What beauties heaven and nature can create,
The paragon of all their works to be!
Fair soul, in whom love, pity, piety,
Have found a home, as from thy outward state
We clearly read, and are so rare and great
That they adorn none other like to thee!
Love takes me captive; beauty binds my soul;
Pity and mercy with their gentle eyes
Wake in my heart a hope that cannot cheat.
What law, what destiny, what fell control,
What cruelty, or late or soon, denies
That death should spare perfection so complete?

A HEART OF FLAMING SULPHUR

A heart of flaming sulphur, flesh of tow,
Bones of dry wood, a soul without a guide
To curb the fiery will, the ruffling pride
Of fierce desires that from the passions flow;
A sightless mind that weak and lame doth go
Mid snare and pitfalls scattered far and wide
What wonder if the first chance brand
Applied to fuel massed like this should make it glow?
Add beauteous art, which brought with us from heaven,
Will conquer nature; so divine a power
Belongs to him who strives with every nerve.
If I was made for art, from childhood given
A prey for burning beauty to devour,
I blame the mistress I was born to serve.

BLEST SPIRIT

Blest spirit who with loving tenderness
Quickenest my heart, so old and near to die,
Who 'mid thy joys on me dost bend an eye
Though many nobler men around thee press!
As thou wert erewhile my sight to bless,
So to console my mind thou now dost fly;
Hope therefore stills the pangs of memory,
Which, coupled with desire, my soul distress.
So finding grace in thee to plead for me
He who now writes to thee does give thee thanks
Not worthy is my art to send to thee,
In return for thy kind thoughts;
And thy fair spirit's living fantasies.
And thy fair spirit's living fantasies.

CHOICE SOUL

Choice soul, in which, as in a glass we see,
In thy pure form and delicate,
What beauties heaven and nature can create,
The paragon of all their works to be!
Fair soul, in whom love, pity, piety,
Have found a home as from thy outward state
We clearly read, and are so rare and great
That they adorn none other like to thee!
And love for thee holds my captivity;
Beauty binds my soul to thine own
Thy gentle eyes of mercy wake my hope
What law, what destiny, what cruelty denies
That death should spare perfection so complete?
Choice soul in thee as in a glass we see
Beauty bind my soul to thine own.

WHEN DIVINE ART

When divine Art conceives a form or face,
She bids the craftsman for his first essay
To shape a simple model in mere clay:
This is the earliest birth of Art's embrace.
From the live marble in its own space,
His mallet brings into the light of day
A thing so beautiful that who can say
When time shall conquer that immortal grace?
Thus my own model I was born to be
The model of the nobler human self,
Whereto schooled by your pity, lady,
I shall grow each overplus, each deficiency
You will make good. What penance then is due
For my fierce heat, chastened and taught by you?

More information about Michelangelo from Wikipedia

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