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On the Painting of the Sistine Chapel
Michaelangelo Buanarotti

To Giovanni Da Pistoja
I’ve grown a goiter by dwelling in this den—
            As cats from stagnant streams in Lombardy,
            Or in what other land they hap to be—
            Which drives the belly close beneath the chin:
My beard turns up to heaven: my nape falls in,
            Fixed on my spine: my breast-bone visibly
            Grows like a harp: a rich embroidery
            Bedews my face from brush-drops thick and thin.
My loins into my paunch like levers grind:
            My buttock like a crupper bears my weight;
            My feet unguided wander to and fro;
In front my skin grows loose and long; behind,
            By bending it becomes more taut and strait;
            Crosswise I strain me like a Syrian bow:
                        Whence false and quaint, I know,
            Must be the fruit of squinting brain and eye; 
            For ill can aim the gun that bends awry.
                        Come then, Giovanni, try
            To succor my dead pictures and my fame;
            Since foul I far and painting is my shame.

Translation by John Addington Symonds.
This poem is in the public domain.


Michaelangelo Buanarotti (1475 - 1564) was an Italian artist, considered by many to be one of the most gifted ever, though he dismissed his many admirers by saying, "If you knew how much work went into it, you wouldn't call it genius." Known primarily as an architect, sculptor, and painter, Michelangelo was also a poet, but he shrugged off that accomplishment, too, calling his writing "foolish." He made no attempt to have any of his more than 300 poems published, simply sharing them with family and friends. Most of Michaelangelo's poetry was composed late in his life; his passion for beauty and spiritual things is readily apparent in the text and topics.


Post New Comment:
A treat to read this poem.
Posted 03/13/2014 11:28 AM
I'd like to have known Michaelango. What an interesting artist of many things!!
Posted 03/13/2014 10:00 AM
Ross Kightly:
Some might say the translation is a bit clunky but the poem is characteristically great. The guts of the man, undoubted, and the reasons for his self-doubt become clear if one has a good look at Giotto's decoration of the Scrovegni Chapel in Padova!
Posted 03/13/2014 04:07 AM

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