Go thou to Rome,—at once the Paradise,
The grave, the city, and the wilderness …
-Percy Bysshe Shelley, ‘Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats’
John Keats, one of the best-known poets of the Romantic era, died in Rome in 1821. Not long after, Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote these beautiful and heartbreaking lines, which encourage the reader to visit Keats’ grave in Rome. Since then, Keats’ final resting place has fascinated generations of visitors. A few weeks ago, I decided to visit it and try to grasp its significance for myself.
Keats left England for Italy in 1820. In a little house on the Spanish Steps, he spent his final months with his friend Joseph Severn, fighting the illness that would eventually claim him. Today the house is a museum, devoted to the writing of Keats and his contemporaries. Continue reading
A lot of people don’t like revisiting cities they’ve already seen. I’m the opposite; I feel that once you’ve visited the famous landmarks – all the things every tourist ‘has to see’ – you’re free to see some more out of the way, unexpected things. This is especially true in big European cities. I don’t think one visit is ever enough for places like London, Paris, or Rome. On my first full day in London, and I was eager to see something a little ‘off the beaten track’. So I decided to spend the day on Hampstead Heath. Luckily, the Heath has a great deal to offer in the literature way.
I started by making the trek to Highgate Cemetery, where quite a few notable people are buried. Karl Marx is probably the most famous name; his statue’s bulbous head (about three-quarters of which is just beard) is on the front of the map they gave me in the little shed-like entrance house. I, however, was most eager to see the grave of Mary Ann Evans, also known as Mary Ann Cross, also known as George Eliot, the famous nineteenth century novelist.
I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable visiting cemeteries and taking pictures of graves; as if my tourist’s nosiness is somehow least excusable when photographing monuments under which people are buried. But it was a beautiful, sunny day, and Eliot’s grave is in a nice little spot. I actually passed by it the first time; two women were lighting candles on one of the graves and I thought it would be rude to intrude on their private moment. When I returned ten minutes later, I found that the candles they had been lighting had, in fact, been for Eliot’s grave. It was a sweet gesture, and testament to her influence across the generations. Continue reading