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The Complete Poems of Michelangelo

There is no artist more celebrated than Michelangelo. Yet the magnificence of his achievements as a visual artist often overshadow his devotion to poetry. Michelangelo used poetry to express what was too personal to display in sculpture or painting. John Frederick Nims has brought the entire body of Michelangelo’s verse, from the artist’s ardent twenties to his anguished and turbulent eighties, to life in English in this unprecedented collection. The result is a tantalizing glimpse into a most fascinating mind.

"Wonderful. . . . Nims gives us Michelangelo whole: the polymorphous love sonneteer, the political allegorist, and the solitary singer of madrigals."—Kirkus Reviews

"A splendid, fresh and eloquent translation. . . . Nims, an eminent poet and among the best translators of our time, conveys the full meaning and message of Michelangelo’s love sonnets and religious poems in fluently rhymed, metrical forms."—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"The best so far. . . . Nims is best at capturing the sound and sense of Michelangelo’s poetic vocabulary."—Choice

"Surely the most compelling translations of Michelangelo currently available in English."—Ronald L. Martinez, Washington Times

Read three poems.

208 pages | 3 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 1998


Table of Contents



1. A man who's happy many a year, one hour
2. Brow burning, in cool gloom, as sundown shears
3. I was happy, with fate favoring, to abide
4. How joyfully it shows, the garland there
5. A goiter it seems I got from this backward craning
6. If any of those old proverbs, lord, make sense
7. Who's this that draws me forcibly to you?
8. O God, O God, O God, how can I be
9. He Who made all there is, made every part
10. Chalices hammered into sword and helmet!
11. How much less torment to breathe out my soul
12. How could I, since it's so
13. Fame keeps the epitaphs where they lie
14. The Day and the Night speak
15. Seeing I'm yours, I rouse me from afar
16. From one all loveliness and all allure
17. Rancorous heart, cruel, pitiless, though showing
18. Though shouldered from the road I chose when young
19. Fine lass or lady, they
20. Sweeter your face than grapes are, stewed to mush
21. Once born, death's our destination
22. What's to become of me? What's this you're doing
23. I was, for years and years now, wounded, killed
24. I made my eyes an entryway for poison
25. When with a clanking chain a master locks
26. Uproot a plant-there's no way it can seal
27. Flee from this Love you lovers; flee the flame!
28. Because there's never a time I'm not enchanted
29. All rage, all misery, all show of strength
30. From eyes of my beloved one, come burning
31. Love in your eyes? No; life and death are there
32. I live for sinning, for the self that dies
33. Were it true that, besides my own, another's arms
34. Where my love lives is nowhere in my heart
35. The eyelid, shadowing, doesn't interfere
36. My lover stole my heart, just over there
37. In me there's only death; my life's in you
38. He who beguiles both time and death together
39. For a wound from the searing arrows Love lets fly
40. When blithely Love would lift me up to heaven
41. O noble soul, in whom, as mirrored, show
42. Pray tell me, Love, if what my eyes can see
43. My reason, out of sorts with me, deplores
44. When to that beauty that I saw before
45. It well may be, so vehement my sighing
46. If my rough hammer shapes the obdurate stone
47. When the occasioner of my many a sigh
48. Just as a flame, by wind and weather flailed
49. Your beauty, Love, stuns mortal reckonings
50. What's to become of her, long years from now
51. Alas! Alas! for the way I've been betrayed
52. Were one allowed to kill himself right here
53. Who rides by night on horseback, come the day
54. I do believe, if you were made of stone
55. Though quite expensive, look, I've bought you this
56. My death is what I live on; seems to me
57. If I'm more alive because love burns and chars me

THREE LOVES (1532-1547)

58. If longings for the immortal, which exalt
59. If pure devotion, passion without stain
60. You know, my lord, that I too know you know
61. If, when it caught my eye first, I'd been bolder
62. Only with fire can men at forge and flue
63. So fond is fire of the frigid stone it waits
64. If fire can melt down steel and shatter flint
65. Just when I'm lost in adoration of you
66. Maybe, so I'd look kindly on souls in need
67. A new and more commendable delight
68. Then there's this giant-tall! So tall he can't
69. Nature knows what it's doing: one cruel as you
70. O cruel star, or say instead, cruel will
71. I have your letter, thank you, as received
72. If, through our eyes, the heart's seen in the face
73. Now that I'm banned and routed from the fire
74. I weep, I burn-burn up!-my heart thereby
75. Too much! the way he flaunts himself around
76. Whether or not the light I long for, sent
77. Supposing the passionate fire your eyes enkindle
78. From grief I cherished to a rueful laugh
79. Blissful spirit, thanks to whom new passion
80. I really believed, that first great day when, awed
81. In everything I see, the meaning's plain
82. Not even, in dreams sent soaring, can I imagine
83. What in your handsome face I see, my lord
84. From ink, from pen in hand we see outflow
85. Having, my friend, your letter here in hand
86. Already burdened with a heavy heart
87. I wish I'd want what I don't want, Lord, at all
88. By a face of fiery cold, I'm set aflame
89. Through your fine eyes I see such mellow light
90. I'm dearer to me, much more, than ever I was
91. So I can best endure
92. Although time presses hard and prods us on
93. Should the senses' rapturous burning override
94. Kindly to others, to itself unkind
95. Give back to my eyes their flow, O spring, O river
96. With all my heart I love you; if not so
97. With heart of sulphur, flesh of tinder too
98. Why ease the tension of this wild desire
99. What a chance I had! I should havet while I could
100. When heaven confirmed your brilliance, most of all
101. The night prevails where Phoebus-that's our sun
102. O night, comforting night, dark though you are
103. Every shut .. in room or space, every covered one
104. The One Who made, and from utter nothing too
105. My gaze saw no mere mortal on the day
106. From heaven it ventured forth, there must return
107. Drawn to each lovely thing, my doting eyes
108. No rest here for the wicked, as folk say
109. Not always so prized and cherished by us all
110. I'm here to say you've given earth your all
111. My lady, if it's true
112. For a safe haven, for escape at last
113. No slightest chance on earth her heavenly eyes
114. Easily you confound
115. Wiles, guilest smiles, gold and pearls, her gala ways
116. I wouldn't if I could, Love, check the urge
117. If right desire takes wing
118. Although my heart had often been aflame
119. From the first whimper to the expiring sigh
120. Time now good .. byes were said
121. Just as you cannot not be lovely here
122. If fire, so quick to char
123. The more it seems I agonize, the more
124. My lady is so impetuous, devil ... may ... care
125. Such wealth of promise lies
126. If the soul, in truth, from body once set free
127. Not death so much, but its terror rescues me
128. The fear of death! Who'd shove
129. By light more brilliant of a star more bright
130. No doubt much peril lies
131. From beneath two arching brows
132. Whenever my past unrolls before these eyes
133. Life's final hours: brought there by many a year
134. o blessed souls, who high in heaven delight
135. With much of time and life gone, all the more
136. Flooded, the soul pours out
137. If, to rejoice, you crave our tears and woe
138. Humbly I bow my shoulders, bear the yoke
139. In lovelier and crueller flesh than yours
140. If the soul returns, that last
141. If I'm to believe my eyes now, your response
142. I think it may be, so
143. Life's quick and brief; the more my days fly by
144. At times I project ahead
145. If she rejoices in my tears, and you
146. Looks thrown away on others
147. Please tell me, Love, if that lady had a soul
148. I'd feel the more secure
149. I'll surely be thought a dullard in talent, art
150. Great mercy, my lady, as likely as great pain
151. Nothing the best of artists can conceive
152. As by subtracting, my lady, one creates
153. A mould's not alone in this
154. My lady, you raise me so
155. Your kindness to me, and the ways of fate
156. That whole way up to your brilliant diadem
157. Your merciful, sweet care
158. It seems, Love, out you've flung
159. To be less unworthy, my exalted lady
160. If obligated by so great a favor
161. What file's incessant bite
162. Now on the left foot shuffling, now the right
163. Hating myself, the more I run away
164. For a reliable guide in my vocation
165. If we constrain the eyes' easy response
166. My lady, these eyes see vividly-far, near
167. From where you triumphed in me, Love, right here
168. Because there's half of me which, heaven-born
169. Impassioned as I am
170. Great beauty scattering its brilliant flame
171. Among the memory of all lovely things
172. She's made her mind up, the
173. If a joyous heart makes beautiful the face
174. From what these eyes, my lady, see of you
175. So, Love, it hasn't healed, not even the least
176. No need at all for your angel loveliness
177. Bright in our minds, but in the dark earth stranded
178. Her beauty's alive in heaven! I believe her
179. If his bright eyes are closed and laid to rest
180. My fervent prayer, if any pity me
181. "So tell me, Death, why not possess some face
182. Death didn't wish to lay Cecchino low
183. Such brightness, under earth now, put to shame
184. My name meant "Arms." But little help to me
185. Born, died. Now bedded by the churchyard wall
186. Noway he who undid me can restore
187. Inside, his soul could not be outside too
188. If nature now deferred to death, dejected
189. Closed now his shining eyes, that dazzled so
190. Here I'm thought dead. Alive, I comforted
191. Souls rise alive from the body's sad last bed
192. If true (and it is) that with body's final breath
193. His beautiful eyes! I hardly saw them, only
194. Too early fallen asleep here, I'm alive
195. 'If two hours' dying steals a hundred years
196. O lucky me, to look upon me dead!
197. My flesh turned earth, my bones turned naked shame
198. If it could be, to revive my life once more
199. Who grieve now at my grave, in vain they pray
200. Cold stone, none knows but you, my gaol forever
201. From clutch of clock and calendar now fled
202. One of the Bracci, I. Now, as you see
203. A Bracci born. From birth, born wailing
204. I'm dearer dead than ever I was, before
205. If death has buried here, hardly in leaf
206. From heaven my beauty, flawless and divine
207. I'm death's forever, who, that one forlorn
208. Gone under now, the sun you loved to greet
209. Why fallen so soon asleep? Not hard to tell
210. Peace, life-he found them in my open eyes
211. If, while I lived, a someone, eyes on me
212. No other handsome face such power possessed
213. Young Braccio's buried here. To mend a lack
214. His life gave yours rich reason for thanksgiving
215. Ashes to ashest spirit to the sky
216. Within this tomb our handsome Braccio's laid
217. If Braccio's beauty, phoenix-like, could be
218. The sun of Braccio's under earth. The sun
219. A Braccit, I. Alive because I'm dead
220. Cecchino here has laid his body low
221. Braccio lies here. No less a tomb could show
222. Death stretched an arm, stole fruit not ripened yet
223. Mere mortal once. Divine, thought born to be
224. Death shut those eyes, him too it shut below
225. A Bracci once. The soul in me withdrew
226. The soul lives on, I know it, lying here
227. Braccio retrieves from earth the mortal scrim
228. Earth lends us flesh, heaven lends the soul, the two
229. Be sure, my eyes, you know
230. To see that your famous beauty still endures
231. Too late for Love to set my heart aflame
232. No differently the guilty wretch hangs back
233. If, vulnerable from early youth, a heart
234. It's not enought if it doesn't come from you
235. A man within a woman-no I'd say
236. If by its heaven-sent power the mind conceives
237. To one of taste both flawless and robust
238. On earth, it's no unworthy soul that nurses
239. My lady, how comes it about-what all can see
240. This face, says art, alone
241. Through many a year and many a vain assay
242. As, working in hard stone to make the face
243. Whenever remembrance of the one I love
244. If sorrow makes one beautiful (it's said)
245. "Say the face I'm speaking of now, hers I mean
246. You revel in my torments, only you
247. To sleep, even more be made of stone: how these
248. Straight down from heaven, and in the flesh, he came
249. "Your beauty an angel's, Lady, you were meant
250. All there's to say of him, no way of saying
251. There's pleasure in great favors done, but hidden
252. Since I'm too obligated
253. Had I, when young, been leery of the glow
254. Though bent with age, to me
255. Your lovely eyes, now bent
256. Suppose a lady has no other graces
257. Why only at long last, why next to never
258. Although it's amply true your human face
259. No question but, when my desire's aflame
260. Not true that it's always grim with mortal sin
261. Love long delayed comes kindly, by fortune's favor
262. If a god, Love, can't you do
263. A woman's beauty, new
264. As I've carried in my heart this many a year
265. So it wouldn't need to retrieve the total sum
266. What wonder that-seeing how, beside your fire

~ III ~

267. I'm packaged in here like the pulp in fruit
268. Because age steals away
269. Now armed with biting ice, now tongues of fire
270. You give me only what you're glutted with
271. I fed on you, and with you, many a year
272. Bring back the day the reins hung slack and free
273. Though always one and the same, the one same who
274. Oh let me see You everywhere I go!
275. Enclosed and hidden in a monstrous stone
276. Whatever the eye finds lovely, in a flash
277. Though you with line and color excel, securing
278. If leaves arent, what you're wanting
279. Power of a lovely face impels me where?
280. Confused, with itself at odds, soul fails to find
281. Time was my fire burned high, yes, even on Ice
282. In such servility I and all so boring!
283. The springtime, fresh and green, can never guess
284. If, in Your name, some image comes to mind
285. So now it's over, my day's long voyage, through
286. My infinite thoughtsf so many gone awry
287. Day in, day out, from childhood long ago
288. The world and all its fables long ago
289. There's nothing lower on earth, of less account
290. Rid of this nagging nattering cadaver
291. I think, indeed know wellt some crushing sin
292. How very sweet indeed the prayers I'd say
293. Burdened with years and crapulous with sin
294. It leaves me plunged in gloom and pain-yet dear
295. Assured of death, of its timing, thought not so
296. If our very thirst for longer life bids fair
297. Though years and years in dour allurement lapped
298. With no less joy than grief and consternation
299. For the sugar, for the mule, those candles too
300. By merit of grace, the cross, and all we've suffered
301. My eyes are saddened by so much they see
302. One way remains to loose me yet, dear Lord

The Text of the Poems
Translating Poetry

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