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    Michelangelo by Rhys Carpenter Essay

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    IStern and grim-visaged, gaunt, and dark of gaze,Time crouches in the outer-world of nightAmid the shifting and entangled mazeOf dusk and star-shine and half-lightless light,And with strong fingers moulds the unformed clay,Ruling the refluence of night and dayWith shape of sun and satellite. All men he fashions and all living things,All aspiration and all great desire,The might of conquerors, the strength of kings,The universal forces, good or dire,The star dust blown through windy heights of space,The glimmer from the utmost bounds of place,The thunderous comet flight of fire. One dream he holds forever in his eyesAnd vainly strives to fashion with his hands,A wonder world of storm unclouded skiesAnd mystically Spring encompassed lands,A vision of all men become as Gods,Unbroken with despair, unbowed by rods,Freed of all tyrants’ subtle bands.

    Ever his hands are set within the clayTo mould therein some flawless masterpiece,Some image strong and perfect for alway ;Yet ever, when creative fingers ceaseTheir toil at length and Time beholds the deed,He knows it faulty, as a rotted reedWhereon no lips shall ever play. Therefore all things are shattered by Time’s will,And dust, made clay, crumbles again to dust,And nought endures forever, good or ill,Not joy nor pain, not love nor bitter lust,But all things pass and are forgotten all,Like brown and sear frost-stricken leaves that fallBefore the winter wind’s first gust. Yet is not all in vain, for oftenwhileBeneath the hands of Time some soul more fairFulfils existence without taint or guileAnd sets his feet upon the upward Stair. These are the artists of the world, whose breathBlows on the spark of shifting life and deathUntil the beacon fires upflare. So wrought the hands of Time and fashioned OneAnd bade him live and move among mankindAnd gave him sight of star and moon and sunAnd cognizance of passion strong and blind,Of visions high and fearless, and of dreamsMore strange and fair than glimpse of sunless streamsOr phantom voices of the wind. Gazing upon this child of his dim brainTime saw him toiling on the earth belowThrough pain to splendid hope, through hope to pain,Beheld strange wonders from his dreaming grow,Beheld men marvel at him when they saw,Fearless and naked, without stain or flaw,The works of Michelangelo.

    IIWe gaze on life as one who holds a glassAcross whose surface hasten restless gleams,Where dim processionals half hidden passThrough lands where no full-flooded daylight streams. We know not what we see nor by what breathThe mirror’s face is clouded as with death;All is but as a world of dreams. We are engirt with mystery; our wayIs fraught with shadow: from amazed eyesWe watch life’s ocean with its flux and swayAnd of its hidden depths have no surmise. All men alike are brought forth frail and weak,With limbs that fail them, lips that cannot speak,And strength that serves tut sorry wise,Yet each man moveth into solitudeAnd none shall know what thoughts his hands obey,Nor with what might his visions are imbued,Nor on what height his feet tread out their way. Imperishable thought, immortal willTheir unknown course foreorder and fulfilAnd no man sees what path they stray. How shall we know, then, with what ardor’s heatLived, grew and labored Michelangelo,Upon what upward hills he set his feet,How thought and dreamed ? Alas, how shall we know ?For he that stoopeth at the deep stream’s brinkMay only from the idle surface drinkAnd knoweth not the hidden flow.

    And with what thoughts did he at table sitWithin the house of that de MediciAmong whose praises foremost it is writThat he foreknew the sculptor that should be;How strove he with the visions that assailedHis growing power, how triumphed and how failed,How prospered in his artistry?Waste places and great silence, barren hills,Storm winds that rage through black chaotic deep,Caverns unsunned, and seas which no light fills,Gloom-darkened mountain-tops where never creepThe day’s wan glimmerings, the might of fire,Strange dreams of conquest and unknown desire,Dark underworlds where Titans sleep,These are the musings of colossal minds,The touchstones of a true and noblest worth;No lesser men may know what vision bindsArt’s brows nor with what thoughts she moves on earth ;Men only see the children of her handsAnd know not in what dream-encircled landsThese were conceived and given birth. In such a world moved MichelangeloWith thoughts enpeopled by gigantic formsAnd ceaseless phantoms that must come and go,Hurled hitherward and thither by fierce storms;And nought too harsh or hard there was on earthOf all things unto which the sun gives birthOr with conceptive sunlight warms. IIIGhiberti, Donatello dead,There came to Florence one who stroveTo hew his life where these had led;(But lo, his eager spirit cloveA way that loosed all portal bars,A path that brought him to the starsAnd into heaven’s fierce light updrove. )With faultless eyes he viewed his fellows’ taskAnd with sure skill and strong, unwavering handSet fault aright if ever these might ask;Men say that his own master’s labors, scannedBy his stern eye, were forced to yield some flawWhich his firm brush could better, since it sawA fairer line at its command. Florence, unwilling, gave him unto BorneTo rear and cherish.

    There he strove and wroughtAnd with strong footsteps ever higher upclombTill from the sun unearthly flame he caught. There Borne approached with wondering, awe-struck faceHis fair Madonna with her virgin graceAbove the dead Christ sorrow fraught. Before the might of manhood, to him cameArt with her girdle, whereon hung the keysWherewith his hands should open doors of FameAnd enter to those hidden mysteriesWhereof no man may tell save he whose soulIs set unwearied toward that far-off goalWhich lightens on the utmost seas:In Florence old a mass of marble stood,Huge and unwieldy, which no hand might tame,Wherefrom no skill of art’s full multitudeCould fashion ought of beauty, till there cameThis Florentine who held no task too highAnd from this shapeless stone wrought symmetryAnd beauty and immortal fame. Within the Sistine Chapel, set apart,From all companionship, he strove and wrought,Searching the utmost depths and heights of artAnd seeking that which no man’s hand had sought ;Vast mysteries of man created into pain,The agony of evil, the world’s bane,Man’s happiness that came to naught.

    And when the years had sunken and his lifeTurned downwards toward the waters of the West,In that same chapel he wrought out the strifeOf good and evil, and the last behest,The last stern judgment, which none might forfend,The final outcome, the Titanic End,The inexpressible expressed. IVHow shall a poet play the subtle reed?How shall a painter weave the web of songWith words for woof? How shall the dreamer leadGreat armies into battle? From what thongShall warrior loose the shaft of wisdom’s bow?Yet unto praise of MichelangeloNot one, but many arts belong. His hands that cut new wonders out of stoneCould paint the Sistine’s triumph and could setThought’s imagery within the subtle toneOf rhyme and rhythms such as none forget;And he who built St. Peter’s dome was heWho guarded his loved city’s libertyAnd in war’s grimmest council met.

    Great visions were indwellers of his mind,Eternal passions which transcend the years,The laughter and the grief of humankind,The exaltation and the bitter tears,The love that strikes the stars beneath its feet,Delight, for whom all utmost praise is sweet,Despair, thorn-girdled, and black fears. False lights beguiled him never, in the dayHe saw the sun and knew no lesser beam,Within the night glittered the stars alwayWith steadfast and unalterable gleam. What need to follow marsh-lights of the earth?Across the heaven’s immeasurable girthThe vast eternal starways stream. No lanterns of the deep, unlighted fen,No faithless lure across the floorless sedgeLed him within the kingdom of lost menWhere rules the Marsh-king. At the pool’s black edgeHe stood unmoved and watched the shifting lightThat strove to draw him down to endless nightIn depths where no man’s net may dredge. False passions held him not, nor stain of lust;He knew not envy and he kept unknownThe sight of them who ceaselessly upthrustHate’s Gorgon head, turning the world to stone.

    He lived in silence, seeking no man’s praise,And none might turn him from his changeless ways,He wrought unresting, and alone. All Italy was darkened when he diedAnd Florence was a city without light;All men laid from them jealousy and prideTo praise this man departed from their sight ;And ever one unto another said,” The last great sculptor of the world is dead,The last great soul hath taken flight. “VBeyond all worlds within the thought of man,Time sits before his ceaseless task and turnsThe stars that, too, endure but for a span,The light that but for some short cycle burns. His hands destroy all things, his hands createAll things but to destruction: not in hateBut sorrow, each new toil he spurns. St. Peter’s dome shall one day be no more,The ceilings of the Sistine Chapel fadeAnd all its splendor with dim mould run o’erAnd all its lights be darkened into shade,The David shall be stricken and the tombOf San Lorenzo visited with gloom,Marble and dust be equal made;And men of some strange other race than oursShall wander in the alien hills of Borne,And where St.

    Peter’s was shall blossom flowersTo hide the ruins of a shattered dome;Then fame of Michelangelo shall beAs far-off clamor of an unknown sea,As whisper of the wind-swept foam.Peace ! peace ! against immutable decreeStrive not in idle battle, for thy swordShall shiver into shards, and DestinyO’errun the world plain with her phantom horde.What knowledge hast thou of the Faultless Plan,What vision of the purposes of man,That thou shouldst turn against thy lord?Thou canst not say unto what final end,What triumph or what sorrowful despair,Thine own life moves and thy poor efforts tend,Or whether thine own deeds are false or fair.And if of this man’s toil no stone remain,Canst thou yet say that he has wrought in vainWith visions woven out of air?For genius is not as the lightless spheresThat move forever round one central sunIn changeless motion through unchanging yearsAnd must alway return whence they begun,But as some splendid flame-enveloped starDrawn inward from dusk outer-worlds afar,Whose coming is foreseen of none :And if the sun grow cold and earths that moveForever in one steadfast orbit’s reignBe lost in shadow, shalt thou therefor proveNo limit to the shadowland’s domain,Or say there is no space transcending space?Nay; set no mournful issue to thy race;Genius has never been in vain ;Through thronging pathways where dull planets turnIt moves upon the fierce wings of its flightTill full against the sun its passions burn,Then wheels and thunders outward into night,Beyond the furthest planetary spheres,Beyond the cycles of the changing years,Into unfurrowed fields of light.Rhys Carpenter.

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