Poem | The Four Pietàs Of Michelangelo

With her left hand she says, “See
this masterpiece they’ve given me
then taken it away again.
They even call him Son of Man
as if I had no claim on Him.
He slips between my knees. He is
more now than I can bear.”
Pity the woman who’ll demand
that she have equal rights to one
who calls himself her son.

In the Deposition
the sculptor will assume
the role of Nicodemus
carrying himself the burden,
Mary and Magdalene merely
a supporting chorus.

Next, the women are left alone
to support Christ, a heavy man
in middle age, the torso one
the sculptor knows
as if it were his own.
The weight of it
with which these women struggle
is far too much for them.

But when he carves the last
reducing it until
it becomes light enough
for her alone to hold,
she is once more the sole support,
not of a horizontal weight,
a rising one, columnar, one
with her. She struggles to support
the God, the man, the son she bore
until the arm that guides the stroke
that breaks away the stone, is severed
from the sculptor’s heart,
so that the work itself
is left unfinished. She remains
trying to lift the dead.

—Claire Nicolas White

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About the Author

Claire Nicolas White, poet, novelist, and biographer, is the editor of Oberon, a poetry magazine.

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