James and Mary Ford, eds. Every Day in the Year. 1902.

March 6

Michael Angelo Buonarotti

By Christopher Pearse Cranch (1813–1892)

(Died March 6, 1475)

THIS is the rugged face

Of him who won a place

Above all kings and lords;

Whose various skill and power

Left Italy a dower

No numbers can compute, no tongue translate in words.

Patient to train and school

His genius to the rule

Art’s sternest laws required;

Yet, by no custom chained,

His daring hand disdained

The academic forms by tamer souls admired.

In his interior light

Awoke those shapes of might,

Once known, that never die;

Forms of Titanic birth,

The elder brood of earth,

That fill the mind more grandly than they charm the eye.

Yet when the master chose,

Ideal graces rose

Like flowers on gnarléd boughs;

For he was nursed and fed

At Beauty’s fountain-head,

And to the goddess pledged his earliest, warmest vows.

Entranced in thoughts whose vast

Imaginations passed

Into his facile hand,

By adverse fate unfoiled,

Through long, long years he toiled;

Undimed the eyes that saw, unworn the brain that planned.

A soul the Church’s bars,

The State’s disastrous wars

Kept closer to his youth.

Though rough the winds and sharp,

They could not bend or warp

His soul’s ideal forms of beauty and of truth.

Like some cathedral spire

That takes the earliest fire

Of morn, he towered sublime

O’er names and fames of mark

Whose lights to his were dark;

Facing the east, he caught a glow beyond his time.

Whether he drew, or sung,

Or wrought in stone, or hung

The Pantheon in the air;

Whether he gave to Rome

Her Sistine walls or dome,

Or laid the ponderous beams, or lightly wound the stair;

Whether he planned defence

On Tuscan battlements,

Fired with the patriot’s zeal,

Where San Miniato’s glow

Smiled down upon the foe,

Till Treason won the gates that mocked the invader’s steel;

Whether in lonely nights

With Poesy’s delights

He cheered his solitude;

In sculptured sonnets wrought

His firm and graceful thought,

Like marble altars in some dark and mystic wood,—

Still, proudly poised, he stepped

The way his vision swept,

And scorned the narrower view.

He touched with glory all

That pope or cardinal,

With lower aims than his, allotted him to do.

A heaven of larger zone—

Not theirs, but his—was thrown

O’er old and wonted themes.

The fires within his soul

Shone like an aureole

Around the prophets old and sibyls of his dreams.

Thus self-contained and bold,

His glowing thoughts he told

On canvas or on stone,

He needed not to seek

His themes from Jew or Greek;

His soul enlarged their forms, his style was all his own.

Ennobled by his hand,

Florence and Rome shall stand

Stamped with the signet-ring

He wore, where kings obeyed

The laws the artists made.

Art was his world, and he was Art’s anointed king.

So stood this Angelo

Four hundred years ago;

So grandly still he stands,

Mid lesser worlds of Art,

Colossal and apart,

Like Memnon breathing songs across the desert sands.