Complete Poems of Michelangelo


New translations by Joseph Tusiani of Michelangelo’s little-known but highly memorable verse.

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The Complete Poems of Michelangelo

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New translations by Joseph Tusiani of Michelangelo’s little-known but highly memorable verse.

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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
Daniel Kunitz
[A]dmirably translated...Happily, Nims' eforsts 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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Product Details

Read an Excerpt

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.

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Table of Contents

I. The Long Beginning (1475-1532)
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, through 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 would 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 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 love on; seems to me
57. If I'm more alive because love burns and chars me
II. 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 eve, 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 have, 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, guiles, 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, on 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
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