I wonder what the models thought
When, standing naked in the light,
They watched the sculptors draw them out
Of minor beauty, recreate
Them with a grace beyond their own.
Perhaps that youth, with head inclined
Towards infant Dionysus, leaned
Too far, and, straightening, swung around,
So that Praxiteles complained
Because he had not held the pose.
Then, with his purple chiton on,
He had to bear the sight of one
Who seemed himself, yet nobler, shown
In marble as he might have been
Had he but always chosen well.
While wandering back through Athens, did
He stop beside a fountain-head,
And, staring in the water, chide
Himself on what he saw, and, sad,
Resolve he would be godlike too?
Perhaps that other youth, who grinned
At Michaelangelo’s command:
‘Be always David!’ whistling shunned
Such nudity of life and stoned
His fellow youths in scarlet hose.
But afterwards? On seeing how
They cried around him: ‘Beato!’
Did he, perturbed in soul, renew
The songs that shepherd king let fly
At the Goliath of self-will?
How strange for him, when old, to look
There at himself in marble, take
The compliments, half smiling like
The king he had become, and mock
Himself lightly: ‘The stance is good.’
Those models seem to me wise men,
Who, troubled by themselves in stone,
Discovered then their true design:
And so their lives, I think, outspan
Time by a beauty worked within.
That tall Praxitelean youth
Is, with his sculptor, safe beneath
The tree whose fruit is gold, and both
Are works of art, who found their worth
On leaving many-statued Greece.
And he, whose Greek yet Gothic grace
Confronts an age of ugliness,
Together with that master whose
Unworldly spirit made him prize
Himself sings lauds in Paradise.