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The Complete Poems of Michelangelo

The Complete Poems of Michelangelo

by Michelangelo, John Frederick Nims

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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


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

Editorial Reviews

Offers lively English translations of the entire body of the original Renaissance man's poetry, in which he expressed what was too personal to display in sculpture and painting. His poetry reveals an artist of passion, a man energized by love affairs, a disgruntled homeowner, and a spiritual seeker. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Daniel Kunitz
Admirably translated…Happily, John Nims' efforts do not break free of their parent poems. Like strong-gened offspring, they have inherited the nobler and distinctive features of their progenitors.
Times Literary Supplement

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University of Chicago Press
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The Complete Poems of Michelangelo

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2003

University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-226-08033-1

Chapter One


A goiter it seems I got from this backward craning
like the cats get there in Lombardy, or wherever
-bad water, they say, from lapping their fetid river.
My belly, tugged under my chin, 's all out of whack.
Beard points like a finger at heaven. Near the back
of my neck, skull scrapes where a hunchback's lump would be.
I'm pigeon-breasted, a harpy! Face dribbled-see?-
like a Byzantine floor, mosaic. From all this straining
my guts and my hambones tangle, pretty near.
Thank God I can swivel my butt about for ballast.
Feet are out of sight; they just scuffle around, erratic.
Up front my hide's tight elastic; in the rear
it's slack and droopy, except where crimps have callused.
I'm bent like a bow, half-round, type Asiatic.
Not odd that what's on my mind,
when expressed, comes out weird, jumbled. Don't berate;
no gun with its barrel screwy can shoot straight.
Giovanni, come agitate
for my pride, my poor dead art! I don't belong!
Who's a painter? Me? No way! They've got me wrong.


What file's incessant bite
left this old hide so shrunken, frayed away,
my poor sick soul? When is it due, the day
thatsloughs it off, and heaven receives you, where
in primal joy and light
you lived, unvexed by the perilous flesh you wear?
Though I change hide and hair
with little life ahead,
no way to change behavior long engrained,
cramping me all the more as years go by.
I'm envious, Love, I swear
(why hide it?) of the dead,
a panicky muddle-head,
my soul in terror of its sensual tie.
Lord, as the last hours fly,
stretch out in mercy your two arms; make me
less what I've been, more what you'd have me be.


I'm packaged in here like the pulp in fruit
compacted by its peel. In lonely gloom,
a genii in a jar. Dumped destitute.
No room for flying high. I'm in a tomb
where mad Arachne and her creepy crew
keep jittering up and down, a spooky loom.
My entryway's a jakes for giants, who
gorge on gut-loosening grapes or suffer flux.
No other comfort station seems to do.
Urine! How well I know it-drippy duct
compelling me awake too early, when
dawn plays at peekaboo, then yonder-yuck!-
dead cats, cesspool and privy slosh, pigpen
guck-gifts for me, flung hit-or-miss?
Can't trudge to a proper dunghill, gentlemen?
Soul gets some help from body though in this:
if guts, unclogged, could ventilate their smell
no bread and cheese would keep it in duress,
while round it now catarrh and mucus jell.
Congestion blocks the postern down in back.
With all the phlegm, top exit's blocked as well.
Gut-sprung and graveled, spavined, out of whack,
done in by drudgery's what I am. I pay
innkeeper Death for a fleabag, grub and sack.
My pleasure: gloomy moping. Old and gray,
discomfort's my repose. Who'd choose it so,
God keep him in the dumps day after day.
The bogeyman, that's me, at a twelfth-night show.
The setting's right, a stable. Disrepair's
conspicuous near fine mansions in a row.
No flames of love within my heart, a bare
cold hearthstone deep in ash. Chill drafts prevail.
Clipped are the wings that rode celestial air.
Skull hums like a hornet in a wooden pail;
gunnysack skin totes bones and jute around;
bladder's a pouch of gravel, edged like shale.
My eyes: mauve pigment pestled till it's ground;
teeth: oboe-keys that, when I puff out air,
whistle it through or else begrudge the sound.
My face says, "Boo!" It's scary. Rags I wear
rout-without bow and arrow-flocks of crows
from fresh-sown furrows even when weather's fair.
One ear's all spider fuzz. I've tremolos
in the one an all-night vocal cricket chooses.
Can't sleep for my raucous snuffling, mouth and nose.
Amor, flower-quilted grottos, all the Muses,
for these I scribbled reams-now scraps to tot
up tabs, wrap fish, scrub toilets, or worse uses.
The puppets once I postured, cocky lot,
size up my here and now: I'm like the one
who, having swum wide ocean, drowned in snot.
My cherished art, my season in the sun,
name, fame, acclaim-that cant I made a run for,
left me in servitude, poor, old, alone.
O death, relieve me soon. Or soon I'm done for.


Excerpted from The Complete Poems of Michelangelo

Copyright © 2003
by University of Chicago.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

John Frederick Nims (1913-1999) was the author of eight books of poetry, including Knowledge of the Evening, which was nominated for a National Book Award. Among his many translations is The Poems of Saint John of the Cross, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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