Statues       

 
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.