Archive for July, 2008

I’m ready to begin an oil painting class tomorrow evening: a six week intensive class that meets for nine hours each week. And, as usually happens when I’m ready to start something new like this, I’m having my last minute fit of chickening out. Call it insecurity perhaps, or maybe just plain laziness: but somehow I always have to struggle past these last minute temptations to cancel my plans and… …do what? What would I find more restful?

A good friend has recently told me that she sees a pattern in my life: she’s sure Satan likes to especially attack whenever I’m pursuing things of beauty and, much as I don’t like to see devils in every doorknob (I honestly don’t think I’m saint enough to be worth quite that much attention from Satan,) I do see that there’s often a disturbing perimeter of darkness I have to wade past to find the restful center I know waits for me in the creative process.

I was in Florence last month, and saw again, through fresh eyes, Michelangelo’s marble “Prisoners” , struggling to be free from the stone that holds them. What darkness did their creator have to fight through to begin to bring them to life? Did that darkness keep him from completing them? Are they a metaphor for their master’s own struggle?

Since I’ve been home from my European tour, I’ve been reading again some of the poems of Michelangelo. There’s something earthy and real in his words that draws me. It seems he, too, fought against the darkness at every turn.

What file’s incessant bite
left this old hide so shrunken, frayed away,
my poor sick soul? When is it due, the day
that sloughs it off, and heaven receives you, where
in primal joy and light
you lived, unvexed by the perilous flesh you wear?
Though I change hide and hair
with little life ahead,
no way to change behavior long engrained,
cramping me all the more as years go by.
I’m envious, Love, I swear
(why hide it?) of the dead,
a panicky muddle-head,
my soul in terror of its sensual tie.
Lord, as the last hours fly,
stretch out in mercy your two arms; make me
less what I’ve been, more what you’d have me be.

(Poem 161, The Complete Poems of Michelangelo. Translated by John Frederick Nims)


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