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Lit Major Abroad

Romantics in Rome: the German Edition

IMG_1457.2Last week I looked at some of the English Romantics who chose to call Rome their home. I’ve already discussed one of my favourite museums in the world, the Keats-Shelley House, but Rome also appealed to writers from the other side of the Channel. So while in Rome I decided to visit the Casa di Goethe and see where the famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe lived, wrote, and painted. It was also a place of particular interest because at the time I was knee-deep in Goethe’s book Italian Journey, about his time in Italy (though not literally knee-deep, of course. That would have been embarrassing while trying to read on the train to Pompeii).

So what was this famous German writer doing in Rome? Well, it’s a funny story, and it goes something like this:

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Lit Major Abroad

Romantics in Rome

ColosseumViewOut

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.