Michelangelo to an Unknown        

Most Serene Prince, My Lord:

                                      You ask about

My art. Which does Your Most Illustrious Lordship

Mean? I work at many, all with love.

To speak of poetry would please us most.

But I have greater fame in sculpture. This,

I suppose, is where your letter seeks

An answer.

                   To make an image is to be like God.

I have no sons, which is a way of not

Resembling Him. My figures still may catch

An instant glory, shine with beauties seen

As subject to His thought of man, but they,

Undowered with a soul, are only toys

To lighten life, which is, for Princes even,

A weight of heaviness that makes my stone

No more than feathers. I have painted for the Lord

Pope scenes of Adam’s fall. There you may read

The cause of our great want of happiness.

I think, too late now, that I should have shown

Our Saviour dying in another roundel.

For He is all my hope, and is, Great Prince,

Your own. In youth I did not think of Him,

But of myself as victor. Age is His

Most sovereign grace. May Your Serenity

Live long!

                   As to my way of work, I pray

God and His Mother first to guide my hand,

Then look to nothing but proportion in

Each part. The rest is done by light. I know

My statues have some semblance to the Greek,

And yet they lack their calm. It is the war.

No, not, My Lord, the war which you have fought,

And won, they tell me, with increase of land.

It is the war that batters me between

This world and that which is to come. I see

Beauty around me everywhere, yet stop

At art and do not reach the Artist. Pray

For me, who have been given greatness to

Make others great. Like you, I am a Prince

Not for myself but to bestow God’s goodness

On those who see my work. Yet I have failed.

It troubles me at night and I write poems

To save my soul. The Cardinals laugh at me.

‘You will be canonized,’ they say, ‘one day.’

By artists, yes: not by Our Holy Lord

The Pope, and only he can make a saint.

He loves me - but not to distraction. ‘You

Are a sinner like Ourself,’ is how

He greets me when I come to him for money

To pay for marble which I have not carved.

We should be saints, Great Prince, yourself and I,

These laughing Cardinals and Our Holy Lord.

But no, we are like slaves in marble. I

Have carved some which your agent here could see.

But you have heard enough of these sad things.

It becomes Your Serenity to govern

With mercy and justice: they will bring you home.

Myself, I shall continue in my art.

Christ on the Cross is all I think of now.

Humbly, My Lord, I wish you peace. Farewell.