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SIX SONNETS OF MICHELANGELO

Translated by John Addington Symonds
Set by John Mitchell (1941-), op.72 (1989)

1. From Heaven His Spirit Came

From heaven his spirit came, and robed in clay,
The realms of justice and mercy trod.
Then rose a living man to gaze on God,
That he might make the truth as clear as day.
But for that pure star, that brightened with his ray
The undeserving nest where I was born,
None but his maker can due guerdon pay.
I speak of Dante whose high work remains Unknown
Who rose a living man to gaze on God,
That he might make the truth as clear as day.
Were I but he!  Born for like lingering pains,
Against his exile coupled with his good
Id gladly change the worlds best heritage.


2. A Heart of Flaming Sulphur

A heart of flaming sulphur, flesh of tow,
Bones of dry wood, a soul without a guide
To curb the fiery will, the ruffling pride
Of fierce desires that from the passions flow;
A sightless mind that weak and lame doth go 
Mid snare and pitfalls scattered far and wide
What wonder if the first chance brand
Applied to fuel massed like this should make it glow?
Add beauteous art, which brought with us from heaven,
Will conquer nature; so divine a power
Belongs to him who strives with every nerve.
If I was made for art, from childhood given
A prey for burning beauty to devour,
I blame the mistress I was born to serve.


3. Blest Spirit

Blest spirit who with loving tenderness
Quickenest my heart, so old and near to die,
Who mid thy joys on me dost bend an eye
Though many nobler men around thee press!
As thou wert erewhile my sight to bless,
So to console my mind thou now dost fly;
Hope therefore stills the pangs of memory,
Which, coupled with desire, my soul distress.
So finding grace in thee to plead for me
He who now writes to thee does give thee thanks
Not worthy is my art to send to thee,
In return for thy kind thoughts;
And thy fair spirits living fantasies.
And thy fair spirits living fantasies.


4. He Who Ordained

He who ordained, when first the world began,
Time, that was not before creations hour, 
Divided it, and gave the suns high power
To rule the one, the moon the other:
Thence fate and changeful chance and fortunes ban
Did in one moment down on mortals showr
Dividing them, and took the suns high power
And left the moon darkened alone:
To me they portioned darkness for a dower;
Dark hath my lot been since I was a man.
Myself am ever mine own counterfeit;
And as the night grows still more dim and dun,
So still more misdoing must I rue:
Meanwhile this solace to my soul is sweet,
That my black night doth make more clear the sun
Which at your birth was given to wait on you.


5. Choice Soul

Choice soul, in which, as in a glass we see,
In thy pure form and delicate,
What beauties heaven and nature can create,
The paragon of all their works to be!
Fair soul, in whom love, pity, piety,
Have found a home as from thy outward state
We clearly read, and are so rare and great
That they adorn none other like to thee!
And love for thee holds my captivity;
Beauty binds my soul to thine own
Thy gentle eyes of mercy wake my hope
What law, what destiny, what cruelty denies
That death should spare perfection so complete?
Choice soul in thee as in a glass we see
Beauty bind my soul to thine own.


6. When Divine Art

When divine Art conceives a form or face,
She bids the craftsman for his first essay
To shape a simple model in mere clay:
This is the earliest birth of Arts embrace.
From the live marble in its own space,
His mallet brings into the light of day
A thing so beautiful that who can say
When time shall conquer that immortal grace?
Thus my own model I was born to be
The model of the nobler human self,
Whereto schooled by your pity, lady,
I shall grow each overplus, each deficiency
You will make good. What penance then is due
For my fierce heat, chastened and taught by you?

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