P.B. Shelley’s Cremation (2)

On 16 August 1822, Shelley’s body was cremated on the beach near Viareggio.
Italian quarantine laws made it necessary for the bodies of the drowned to be burned, so the remains, after having been temporarily interred, had to be dug up.

“The Funeral of Shelley” (Liverpool, Walker Art Gallery).is a famous painting by Louis Fournier, completed in 1889, which was to become one of his most celebrated works.
However, this pictorial rendition is not based on reality: the painter’s aim was just to create a moving and poignant account of that day.

The painting represents a bleak windswept beach on a cloudy and cold day with people wearing heavy coats.
The centre is taken up by a funeral pyre on which, lying on his back as if asleep, is the dead poet whose corpse looks undamaged .
There are a number of people in the background and three men standing near the burning pyre: they are Shelley’s friends and fellow authors, Edward John Trelawney, Leigh Hunt and Lord Byron.
To the left of this group is Shelley’s widow Mary on her knees, in prayer. and a coach can be observed in the background

Edward Trelawney was a friend of Byron and Shelley who, when Shelley had set sail from Livorno to Lerici during the voyage in which the Don Juan sank, had planned to accompany him in Byron’s schooner, the Bolivar. However, at the last moment, he was held back by Italian port authorities because he was not carrying his port clearance with him
If he had been alongside, would he have been able to save them?

In 1858 he wrote ‘Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron’ and described the cremation as a pagan ceremony, with libations of wine, and oil, salt and spices poured on the pyre.
According to one of his several accounts: “ more wine was poured over Shelley’s dead body than he had consumed during his life. This, with the oil and the salt, made the yellow flames glisten and quiver. The heat from the sun and the fire was so intense that the atmosphere was tremulous and wavy. The corpse fell open, and the heart was laid bare. The frontal bone of the skull, where it had been struck with the mattock, fell off; and, as the back of the head rested on the red-hot bottom bars of the furnace, the brains literally seethed, bubbled, and boiled, as in a cauldron, for a very long time.” (*)

Mary Shelley was not present, as was the English custom, for health reasons.
Leigh Hunt never moved out of the carriage and Lord Byron was so shocked by the experience that , before it ended, he stripped off and swam out to sea.

After the cremation Trelawny removed Shelley’s unburned heart from the embers (“In snatching this relic from the fiery furnace my hand was severely burnt”, he wrote), and gave it to Leigh Hunt, who at first refused to hand it over to Mary, but eventually relented.
She kept it in a silken shroud, and carried it with her nearly everywhere for years. It was found among her things after her death, wrapped up in the pages of one of his last poems, his elegy to Keats, “Adonais”.


(*) Sul cadavere di Shelley venne versato più vino di quanto ne avesse consumato in tutta la sua vita. Questo, con l’olio e il sale, faceva luccicare e tremare le fiamme gialle. Il calore proveniente dal sole e dal fuoco era così intenso che l’atmosfera tremolava e ondeggiava. Il cadavere si aprì e il cuore fu lasciato a nudo. L’osso frontale del cranio, dove era stato colpito dalla zappa, cadde; e, mentre la parte posteriore della testa poggiava sulle barre roventi della fornace, il cervello letteralmente ribolliva, gorgogliava e cuoceva come in un calderone per moltissimo tempo.

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62 thoughts on “P.B. Shelley’s Cremation (2)

      1. This damn microphone it prints out your name wrong and everything else unfortunately I have to use it sometime but what I was saying was Sam I guess Sam but it’s my initials Sharon Sharon A & N and then the marunouchi marinucci

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Wow, I am so affected by your post. So Mary Shelley really carried her husband heart with her–Now I know where EE Cummings got his inspiration. Such a beautiful sad absurd picture of death. Shelly is such kind of guy–he is prone risk. Just judging from his poem, one can see his leaning towards all the risky idea, behavior, and…

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  2. Wow! That was amazingly written! Thank you so much Luisa for sharing these last two Shelley posts.

    I’ve never read about Shelley’s heart being taken at the end … what an incredible story. A poem in itself!

    Blessings always, Deborah.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. They say that his heart, which was very small, resisted burning, probably owing to calcification from an earlier tubercular infection.

      Thank you so much for your kind words . Your appreciation means a lot to me.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Dear Deborah, I was replying to your comment on Tesla’s Obsessions, when it suddenly disappeared. I just wanted to agree with your words and say that geniuses are not profiteers, so they rarely get rich. Furthermore, genius and madness have a very thin border between them, don’t they?
      I also intended to wish you a happy weekend, as well

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How odd, I’ve just checked Luisa and noticed that although my comment is there on your “Tesla” post … my name has been changed to “Array” … perhaps it’s one of those WordPress glitches that seem to happen often? Not sure. Thank you for your reply here though. Blessings always, Deborah.

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