English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley died in the late afternoon of 8 July 1822 just a month before his 30th birthday while travelling from Livorno, in Tuscany (Italy), to Lerici, in Liguria, in his sailing boat
The previous week he had left in his new boat, the Don Juan, from Lerici, where he had settled with his wife Mary. They were living at San Terenzo, on the bay of Lerici, in a rented villa, Casa Magni, with a beautiful open terrace gazing out to sea.
He had gone to Livorno to meet Lord Byron, and greet another old friend Leigh Hunt, who had just arrived in Italy to make arrangements for the start-up of a new literary magazine “The Liberal”.
It was to be the literary mouthpiece of Romantic opposition, managed by Leigh Hunt, the leading liberal newspaper editor of the day, and printed in England by his brother John Hunt. Both of them had already been imprisoned for seditious libel, as editor and printer of the Examiner, and were ready for a new fight, since the new journal’s aim was to outrage Tory opinion.
After the meeting, on 8 July, Shelley, his friend Williams, a retired naval officer, and their boat boy sailed out of Livorno for Lerici. A few hours later, the Don Juan and its crew were lost in a sudden, dramatic storm in the Gulf of La Spezia, which caused the boat to sink.
Shelley’s badly-decomposed body was washed ashore at Viareggio ten days later and was identified only by his clothes and a volume of poetry by John Keats that was found in his pocket.
It seems that in England, the Courier, a leading Tory newspaper, greeted the news of his death with the announcement “Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry has been drowned; now he knows whether there is a God or no.” (While at Oxford the poet had published a pamphlet called “The Necessity of Atheism”, and therefore he had been expelled)
The previous year he had written the elegy “Adonais”, on the death of John Keats and in the last stanza he seems to foretell his fate.
In these lines, Adonais/Keats has achieved the happiest state of all: being one with nature, therefore Shelley also wishes to depart from life and to be carried “darkly, fearfully, afar” to the place where those who will live forever are. It is there that the soul of Adonais glows like a star and will be a source of beauty, inspiration, and light for all ages to come.
The breath whose might I have invoked in song
Descends on me; my spirit’s bark is driven,
Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng
Whose sails were never to the Tempest given;
The massy earth and sphered skies are riven!
I am borne darkly, fearfully, afar;
Whilst, burning through the inmost veil of Heaven,
The soul of Adonais, like a star,
Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.
Quel soffio di cui ho invocato la potenza nel canto
discende su di me; la nave del mio spirito è spinta
lontano dalla riva, lontano dalla massa tremante
le cui vele non furono mai offerte alla Tempesta;
la solida terra e la sfera dei cieli sono squarciati!
Sono sospinto lontano, oscuramente , spaventosamente;
mentre, bruciando nel più intimo velo del Cielo,
l’anima di Adonais, simile a stella,
risplende dalla dimora in cui sono gli Eterni.
… to be continued
Image Pinterest: Sketches of boats by P B Shelley – Bodleian Libraries – (Amanda Czerniuk (Open Classroom) saved to High School Teaching Ideas)