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MICHELANGELO: Modern English Translations

Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) is considered by many experts to be the greatest artist and sculptor of all time. These are modern English translations of his poems and epigrams by Michael R. Burch. If you like these translations you are welcome to share them for noncommercial purposes, but please be sure to credit the original poet and the translator. You can do that by copying the credit line along with the poem. For explanations of how he translates and why he calls his results "loose translations" and "interpretations" please click here: Michael R. Burch Translation Methods and Credits to Other Translators

Michelangelo Epigram Translations
loose translations/interpretations by Michael R. Burch

I saw the angel in the marble and freed him.
I hewed away the coarse walls imprisoning the lovely apparition.
Each stone contains a statue; it is the sculptor’s task to release it.
The danger is not aiming too high and missing, but aiming too low and hitting the mark.
Our greatness is only bounded by our horizons.
Be at peace, for God did not create us to abandon us.
God grant that I always desire more than my capabilities.
My soul’s staircase to heaven is earth’s loveliness.
I live and love by God’s peculiar light.
Trifles create perfection, yet perfection is no trifle.
Genius is infinitely patient, and infinitely painstaking.
I have never found salvation in nature; rather I love cities.
He who follows will never surpass.
Beauty is what lies beneath superfluities.
I criticize via creation, not by fault-finding.
If you knew how hard I worked, you wouldn’t call it “genius.”

SONNET: RAVISHED
by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Ravished, by all our eyes find fine and fair,
yet starved for virtues pure hearts might confess,
my soul can find no Jacobean stair
that leads to heaven, save earth's loveliness.
The stars above emit such rapturous light
our longing hearts ascend on beams of Love
and seek, indeed, Love at its utmost height.
But where on earth does Love suffice to move
a gentle heart, or ever leave it wise,
save for beauty itself and the starlight in her eyes?

SONNET: TO LUIGI DEL RICCIO, AFTER THE DEATH OF CECCHINO BRACCI
by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A pena prima.

I had barely seen the beauty of his eyes
Which unto yours were life itself, and light,
When he closed them fast in death's eternal night
To reopen them on God, in Paradise.

In my tardiness, I wept, too late made wise,
Yet the fault not mine: for death's disgusting ploy
Had robbed me of that deep, unfathomable joy
Which in your loving memory never dies.

Therefore, Luigi, since the task is mine
To make our unique friend smile on in stone
Forever, brightening what dark earth would dim,
And because the beloved causes love to shine,

And since the artist cannot work alone,
I must carve you, to tell the world of him!

BEAUTY AND THE ARTIST
by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Al cor di zolfo.

A heart aflame; alas, the flesh not so;
Bones brittle wood; the soul without a guide
To curb the will’s inferno; the crude pride
Of restless passions’ pulsing surge and flow;
A witless mind that – halt, lame, weak – must go
Blind through entrapments scattered far and wide; ...
Why wonder then, when one small spark applied
To such an assemblage renders it aglow?

Add beauteous Art, which, Heaven-Promethean,
Must exceed nature – so divine a power
Belongs to the one who strives with every nerve.
Created for such Art, from childhood given
As prey for her wild Inferno to devour,
I blame the Mistress I was born to serve.

SONNET XVI: LOVE AND ART
by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

Sì come nella penna.

Just as with pen and ink,
there is a high, a low, and an in-between style;
and, as marble yields its images pure and vile
to excite the fancies artificers might think;
even so, my lord, lodged deep within your heart
are mingled pride and mild humility;
but I draw only what I truly see
when I trust my eyes and otherwise stand apart.

Whoever sows the seeds of tears and sighs
(bright dews that fall from heaven, crystal-clear)
in various pools collects antiquities
and so must reap old griefs through misty eyes;
while the one who dwells on beauty, so painful here,
finds ephemeral hopes and certain miseries.

SONNET XXXI: LOVE'S LORDSHIP, TO TOMMASO DE' CAVALIERI
by Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)
loose translation/interpretation by Michael R. Burch

A che più debb' io.

Why should I confess my desire
with copious tears and windy words of grief,
when a merciless heaven offers no relief
to souls consumed by fire?
Why should my aching heart aspire
to death, when all must die? Beyond belief
would be a death both delectable and brief,
since in my compound woes all joys expire!

Therefore, because I cannot dodge the blow,
I rather seek whoever rules my breast,
to glide between her gladness and my woe.
If only chains and bonds can make me blessed,
no marvel if alone and bare I go
to face the foe: her captive slave oppressed.
While the following poem is not a translation, per se, it is my interpretation of another poet's idea, as explained after the poem ...

The following are links to other translations by Michael R. Burch:

The Seafarer
Wulf and Eadwacer
Adam Lay Ybounden
Sweet Rose of Virtue
How Long the Night
Caedmon's Hymn
The Rhyming Poem
Anglo-Saxon Riddles and Kennings
Bede's Death Song
The Wife's Lament
Deor's Lament
Lament for the Makaris
This World's Joy
Charles d'Orleans
Whoso List to Hunt
Alexander Pushkin's tender, touching poem "I Love You"
The Love Song of Shu-Sin: The Earth's Oldest Love Poem?
Native American Poetry Translations
Tegner's Drapa
Ancient Greek Epigrams and Epitaphs
Meleager
Sappho
Basho
Oriental Masters/Haiku
Miklós Radnóti
Rainer Maria Rilke
Marina Tsvetaeva
Renée Vivien
Ono no Komachi
Allama Iqbal
Bertolt Brecht
Ber Horvitz
Paul Celan
Primo Levi
Ahmad Faraz
Sandor Marai
Vera Pavlova
Wladyslaw Szlengel
Saul Tchernichovsky
Robert Burns: Original Poems and Translations
The Seventh Romantic: Robert Burns
Poetry by Michael R. Burch
Free Love Poems by Michael R. Burch
Doggerel by Michael R. Burch

If you want to learn more about the origins of English poetry, please check out English Poetic Roots: A Brief History of Rhyme.

For an expanded bio, circum vitae and career timeline of the translator, please click here: Michael R. Burch Expanded Bio.

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