Terza rima (from Théophile Gautier)

Terza rima

from Théophile Gautier

When Michelangelo had finished the Sistine Chapel,
and climbed, sublimely radiant,
down from the scaffold, into the Latin city,

he could lower neither eyes nor arms;
his feet no longer knew how to walk on earth;
in the skies, he had forgotten about the world.

Three long months he maintained this severe attitude;
he might have been taken for an angel in ecstasy before
the sacred golden triangle, in the moment of the mystery.

Brother, that is why poets so often
trip over every step on the world’s way;
with eyes fixed upon the sky they walk on dreaming;

the angels, shaking their blond hair,
bow down and stretch out arms to them,
wanting to kiss them with their rosebud mouths.

They walk without aim and take a thousand false steps;
they bump into passers-by, are crushed by wheels,
or fall into potholes they failed to see.

What are the passers-by, the rocks and the mud to them?
they are searching in the day for their nightly dream,
and the fire of wanting makes their cheek turn crimson.

They understand not a thing of earthly tedium,
and when they have finished their Sistine Chapel,
they emerge resplendent from their dark retreats.

A noble reflection of their divine labour
clings to their person and gilds their brow,
and the heaven they saw can be guessed at from their eyes.

Nights will follow days in long succession,
before their eyes and arms can be lowered,
and their feet, for the longest time, will stand unsteady.

All our palaces darken and decline beneath them;
their soul flies back to the dome, where their work is shining,
and it is only their bodies that are left to us.

Our day to them appears more sombre than night;
their eye always seeks out the blue sky of fresco,
and the painting left behind torments and follows them.

Like Buonarotti, the titanic painter,
they can no longer see except things seen from above,
and the marble sky their forehead almost touches.

Sublime blindness! Magnificent defect!

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