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Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564)  
 
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The tensions of seductive sensuousness versus Platonic idealism that permeate the drawing can also be found in the allusions to flight in the poetry composed for Cavalieri during this period (the early to mid-1530s).

For example, in "Veggio co' bei vostr' occhi" ("I see with your beautiful eyes"), Michelangelo the poet celebrates Cavalieri as a source of inspiration and airborne rapture: "Though I am featherless, I take flight upon your wings, . . . and my words begin to breathe upon your breath." The bristling energies of homoeroticism are impossible to erase from the ecstatic images of flight in both verbal and visual contexts.

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The Imagery of Earthbound Captivity and Servitude

Michelangelo's images of earthbound captivity and servitude bristle with homoerotic energies as well. Two of his sonnets, "D'altrui pietoso" and "A che piu debb' io" (nicknamed, respectively, "The Silkworm" and "Love's Lordship" by the Victorian translator John Addington Symonds), are among the greatest lyrics of same-sex desire in world literature.

These poems, memorable for their evocation of masochistic fetishism and grotesque self-loathing, reinvigorate what had become, during the Cinquecento, the rather moribund imitative tradition of the courtly love lyric. Michelangelo takes the commonplaces of hyperbolic romantic discourse and infuses them with the dramatic dynamism of his own repressed desires for the male body.

In "The Silkworm," the poetic speaker, as usual a thinly veiled authorial mask for Michelangelo himself, longs for his skin to be flayed, thus becoming the raw material that will be transformed into garments to clothe the exquisite body of the fair beloved (probably Cavalieri):

Kind to the world, but to itself unkind,
   A worm is born, that dying noiselessly
   Despoils itself to clothe fair limbs, and be
   In its true worth by death alone divined.
Would I might die thus for my lord to find
   Raiment in my outworn mortality:
   That, changing like the snake, I might be free
   To cast off flesh wherein I dwell confined!
Oh, were it mine, that shaggy fleece that stays,
   Woven and wrought into a vestment fair,
   Around his breast so beauteous in such bliss!
All through the day he'd clasp me! Would I were
   The shoes that bear his burden; when the ways
   Were wet with rain, his feet I then should kiss!
       (adapted from Symonds's translation)

The image of being flayed alive is thematically relevant to Michelangelo's self-portrait as the flayed martyr St. Bartholomew in the Sistine Chapel's Last Judgment fresco.

In both the poem (1535) and the fresco (1534-1541), Michelangelo portrays himself as an annihilated piece of flesh that yearns to be transmogrified into a different form in order to accord with the superior status of the male beloved: The Christ of the Last Judgment, awe-inspiring as His wrath is, holds out the blissful possibility of eternal life in a state of grace, while Cavalieri in the sonnet offers a vaguely similar possibility of a fanciful kind of life after death.

The poem, however, foregrounds the idea of physical proximity and sensual infatuation that, in effect, undermines its own hypothetical denials of the living flesh. The fantasy of corporeal oneness with the beloved seems foremost in the mind of the poem's speaker.

In the cosmos of Michelangelo's poetry, the fascination with male physical splendor, despite superficial disclaimers to the contrary, is almost always imbued with the urgency of erotic appetite and sensual craving.

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