Michelangelo: The Agony

My haunches are grinding into my guts,
my poor ass strains to work as a counterweight,
every gesture I make is blind and aimless.

Think your job is hard? The quote above is from a translation of a poem by Michelangelo, written by the artist as he was working on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Michelangelo was a true Renaissance Man: he was a painter, sculptor, poet, and architect. As this poem shows however, it wasn’t always easy to create such masterpieces.

This translation is by American poet Gail Mazur. Both amusing and depressing, it’s is a wonderful reminder that art isn’t easy – even for the greats.

Michelangelo: To Giovanni da Pistoia
“When the Author Was Painting the Vault of the Sistine Chapel”
—1509

I’ve already grown a goiter from this torture,
hunched up here like a cat in Lombardy
(or anywhere else where the stagnant water’s poison).
My stomach’s squashed under my chin, my beard’s
pointing at heaven, my brain’s crushed in a casket,
my breast twists like a harpy’s. My brush,
above me all the time, dribbles paint
so my face makes a fine floor for droppings!

My haunches are grinding into my guts,
my poor ass strains to work as a counterweight,
every gesture I make is blind and aimless.
My skin hangs loose below me, my spine’s
all knotted from folding over itself.
I’m bent taut as a Syrian bow.

Because I’m stuck like this, my thoughts
are crazy, perfidious tripe:
anyone shoots badly through a crooked blowpipe.

My painting is dead.
Defend it for me, Giovanni, protect my honor.
I am not in the right place—I am not a painter.

Thanks to Slate Magazine for sharing this with the world!

*****

Darcy Zacharias, CC ’10

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