Michelangelo: Sonnet V

THIS is one of the few poems by Michelangelo for which we know an approximate date. He wrote it to Giovanni da Pistoia when he was painting the Sistine Chapel. It is an “extended” sonnet with six extra lines. Translation by Elizabeth Hall.

IN this hard toil I’ve such a goiter grown,
Like cats that water drink in Lombardy,
(Or wheresoever else the place may be)
That chin and belly meet perforce in one.

My beard doth point to heaven, my scalp its place
Upon my shoulder finds; my chest, you’ll say,
A harpy’s is, my paintbrush all the day
Doth drop a rich mosaic on my face.

My loins have entered my paunch within,
My nether end my balance doth supply,
My feet unseen move to and fro in vain.

In front to utmost length is stretched my skin
And wrinkled up in folds behind, while I
Am bent as bowmen bend a bow in Spain.

No longer true or sane,
The judgment now doth from the mind proceed,
For ’tis ill shooting through a twisted reed.

Then thou, my picture dead,
Defend it, Giovan, and my honour–why?
The place is wrong, and no painter I.

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