Tuesday, July 27, 2004

July 27, Tuesday

I worked on a translation of one of Michelangelo's sonnets this morning. It is somewhat free in form and meter, and clauses and expressions have been liberally rephrased to communicate my feeling for the sense of the poem.

I wish to want, Lord, what I want not:
between the fire and my icy heart
a veil deflects the heat, and my pen,
unsuited to the work, makes this page a liar.

I love you, talking, then complain that love
won't touch my heart; and in my ignorance
I shut the door to Grace that would settle
in my heart and drive out ruthless pride.

Shred the veil, Lord! Crush the wall
whose hardness blocks your light's sun,
lost in the world. Bestow the promised light
upon your bride; O, let my heart burn freed
from doubt. Let me feel only You.

Here is the original in Italian:
Vorrei voler, Signor, quel ch'io non voglio:
tra 'l foco e 'l cor di ghiaccia un vel s'asconde
che 'l foco ammorza, onde non corrisponde
la penna all'opre, e fa bugiardo 'l foglio.
I' t'amo con la lingua, e poi mi doglio
c'amor non giunge al cor; né so ben onde
apra l'uscio alla grazia che s'infonde
nel cor, che scacci ogni spietato orgoglio.
Squarcia 'l vel tu, Signor, rompi quel muro
che con la suo durezza ne ritarda
il sol della tuo luce, al mondo spenta!
Manda 'l preditto lume a.nnoi venturo,
alla tuo bella sposa, acciò ch'io arda
il cor senz'alcun dubbio, e te sol senta.

In the Medici Chapel today I noticed the drawings on the wall for the first time. I have heard about some kind of rediscovered drawings on a wall that are supposed to have been done by Michelangelo, but I don't know if they are these, or anything else about them. One of them looks like a light-hearted, humorous self-portrait sketch. How beautiful it is to stand in this incredible place, surrounded by the greatness of his great works, the emotion of this space, the achievement of it, and yet to have this personal moment, this little bit of humanity. What are we without our smallness, our limitations and weaknesses? We never want to accept them, but they are the most convincing qualities, the secret ingredients in the life of the soul, the keys that unlock the depths of experience.

I think Michelangelo was a mystic. He must have known Plato's symposium. Maybe like Plato he saw Love as the fundamental nature of the undivided universe. I remember that Castiglione's final chapter in The Book of the Courtier was surprisingly mystical, so this kind of thinking must have been floating around with the neoplatonic influence. In any case, to me the Medici Chapel evokes transcendence of form and duality in a heaven of the undivided absolute. It evokes the pure experience of Being liberated from vitiating opposites.

But I would say that.


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