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ON AN UNFINISHED STATUE BY MICHAEL ANGELO, by                 Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography
First Line: What beauteous form beneath a marble veil
Last Line: With barren husks and harvesting of dreams.
Subject(s): Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564); Statues

What beauteous form beneath a marble veil
Awaited in this block the Master's hand?
Could not the magic of his art avail
To unseal that beauty's tomb and bid it stand?

Alas! the torpid and unwilling mass
Misknew the sweetness of the mind's control,
And the quick shifting of the winds, alas!
Denied a body to that flickering soul.

Fair homeless spirit, harbinger of bliss,
It wooed dead matter that they both might live,
But dreamful earth still slumbered through the kiss
And missed the blessing heaven stooped to give,

As when Endymion, locked in dullard sleep,
Endured the gaze of Dian, till she turned
Stung with immortal wrath and doomed to weep
Her maiden passion ignorantly spurned.

How should the vision stay to guide the hand,
How should the holy thought and ardour stay,
When the false deeps of all the soul are sand
And the loose rivets of the spirit clay?

What chisel shaking in the pulse of lust
Shall find the perfect line, immortal, pure?
What fancy blown by every random gust
Shall mount the breathless heavens and endure?

Vain was the trance through which a thrill of joy
Passed for the nonce, when a vague hand, unled,
Half shaped the image of this lovely boy
And caught the angel's garment as he fled.

Leave, leave, distracted hand, the baffling stone,
And on that clay, thy fickle heart, begin.
Mould first some steadfast virtue of thine own
Out of the sodden sbustance of thy sin.

They who wrought wonders by the Nile of old,
Bequeathing their immortal part to us,
Cast their own spirit first into the mould
And were themselves the rock they fashioned thus.

Ever their docile and unwearied eye
Traced the same ancient pageant to the grave,
And awe made rich their spirit's husbandry
With the perpetual refluence of its wave,

Till 'twixt the desert and the constant Nile
Sphinx, pyramid, and awful temple grew,
And the vast gods, self-knowing learned to smile
Beneath the sky's unalterable blue.

Long, long ere first the rapt Arcadian swain
Heard Pan's wild music pulsing through the grove,
His people's shepherds held paternal reign
Beneath the large benignity of Jove.

Long mused the Delphic sibyl in her cave
Ere mid his laurels she beheld the god,
And beauty rose a virgin from the wave
In lands the foot of Heracles had trod.

Athena reared her consecrated wall,
Poseidon laid its rocky basement sure,
When Theseus had the monstrous race in thrall
And made the worship of his people pure.

Long had the stripling stood in silence, veiled,
Hearing the heroes' legend o'er and o'er,
Long in the keen palaestra striven, nor quailed
To tame the body to the task it bore,

Ere soul and body, shaped by patient art,
Walked linked with the gods, like friend with friend,
And reason, mirrored in the sage's heart,
Beheld her purpose and confessed her end.

Mould, then, thyself and let the marble be.
Look not to frailty for immortal themes,
Nor mock the travail of mortality
With barren husks and harvesting of dreams.

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