SHELLEY IN ITALY Shelley

Shelley called Italy 'The Paradise of Exiles',and Rome in particular had a great importance for the English poet because it worked steadly on his health with restorative powers; the spirit of Rome gradually cared to condense itself into three magical gardens of archeology: the Forum, the Colosseum and the baths of Caracalla.For Shelley Rome presented overwelming evidence, both literal and symbolic. In Italy, the Shelleys lived in Venice and Este, where the poet wrote Julian and Maddalo, based on his friendship with Byron. Shelley wintered in Naples, where he wrote the desperately unhappy Stanzas Written in Dejection. Their domestic situation became increasingly strained: their little daughter Clara had died in Venice; their favourite son William, affectionately known as 'Willmouse' died in Rome, and Mary Shelley suffered a nervous breakdown. They left Florence in 1819 where a child, Percy Florence Shelley, was born who survived both his parents. The following twelve months were the most prolific of Shelley's life. During this period he wrote many of his major works including The Mask of Anarchy, Ode to the West Wind, The Cenci and To a Skylark.

In the spring of 1821 news of the death of Keats in Rome produced Adonais. In April 1822, Shelley moved his household to an isolated house in San Terenzo on the bay of Lerici. It was there that Mary suffered a dangerous miscarriage; Claire Clairmont reacted violently to the news of the sudden death of Allegra, her daughter by Byron: and Shelley saw the ghost of a child in the sea. Shelley was drowned in a violent storm on 8 July 1822. Eight days later his body was washed up on the beach at Viareggio together with those of his companions, Edward Williams and a young sailor boy, Charles Vivian. There are various explanations of Shelley's death. It was rumoured at the time that the boat had been rammed by another fishing boat, whose crew thought Byron was on board with gold. Many years later a fisherman confessed to this but there is no existing proof. Another story tells of a boat pulling close and offering them help. A shrill voice, which is supposed to have been Shelley's, was heard to cry 'No'. According to another interpretation, Italian sailors shouted to Williams to lower the sails but a tall man, presumed to be Shelley, stopped him immediately. Inevitably it has been suggested that it might have been suicide. Judging from the letter from Shelley to Horatio Smith, Shelley was obviously suffering from a severe depression.

Although only 29, his life was littered with complex relationships, financial difficulties and beset with artistic insecurity. Shelley himself admitted six weeks before he died; 'I have lived too long near Lord Byron and the sun has extinguished the glow-worm'. Whatever the truth of Shelley's death, his life and work continue to provoke and fascinate.
Shelley's body was identified by a copy of Keats' poems still in his jacket pocket given to him by Leigh Hunt when he left Livorno. The book was folded back at The Eve of St Agnes.

The book was thrown onto the funeral pyre and burnt with Shelley's body. According to the legend, Shelley's heart did not burn and Trelawny, at Byron's insistence, seized it from the flames. Later it was given to Mary Shelley and was found among her belongings when she died in 1851, wrapped in one of the sheets of Shelley's elegy to Keats, Adonais. Much later the ashes were buried in a tomb designed by Trelawny, in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, after having remained for several months in a mahogany chest in the British Consul's wine cellar.


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