Nestled in the heart of Rome, at the base of the Spanish steps, the Keats-Shelley House stands as a living testament to the Romantic era and the literary prowess of two of its most celebrated poets, John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. This historic residence, now a museum and a haven for literature enthusiasts, offers a unique journey through time, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in the lives and works of these iconic poets.
The Keats-Shelley House has become a pilgrimage site for lovers of literature and poetry, offering a glimpse into the creative minds that shaped the Romantic poetry movement. BILJANA BOGLEVSKA reports.
The Keats-Shelley House boasts a rich history dating back to the early 19th century. John Keats, an English poet, spent the last few months of his life in this house, seeking refuge from the harsh English winters that aggravated his tuberculosis. It was here that Keats produced some of his most profound works, such as ‘Ode to a Nightingale’ and ‘To Autumn’.
Born in London in 1795, John Keats established a remarkable career as a respected poet despite his life tragically ending at the age of 25. He was a poet who was not afraid of challenges. He experimented with poetic stylistic forms such as the sonnet, the Miltonic epic, the Spenserian romance, while incorporating it with his own sense of consciousness and dry ironic wit.
Keats left medical school in order to dedicate himself to poetry despite not having any formal literary education. Even though he received criticism for his early work, when he was called ‘vulgar Cockney poetaster’, he developed his craft quite rapidly, becoming one of the greatest lyric poets in the English language next to the great William Shakespeare. His poems are rich in charming word tapestry, while masterfully describing his surroundings.
One of the highlights of the museum is the original draft of Keats’ ‘Ode to a Nightingale’, a masterpiece that captures the essence of Romantic poetry. The meticulous curation of these unique artifacts provides a comprehensive overview of the poets’ creative processes and the historical context in which they lived.
In the early 1800s he declared his love for Fanny Brawne, which was followed by an engagement. Their love was filled with vigour and fire which culminated in love letters penned to one another. Unfortunately, Keats burned all but her last letters, which were buried with him.
British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was considered radical in his poetry as well as in his political and social views. Shelley had a privileged upbringing, he was a son of a parliamentarian and part of a big family. In his early school years, he was bullied. It was then he developed nightmares and sleepwalking that continued into adult life.
He attended Oxford where he wasn’t shy in expressing his views on political upsets, which got him expelled from Oxford. His father was deeply displeased by this and threatened Percy that he must continue his study under tutelage. However, Shelley rebelled against this, which led to a falling-out with his family.
His married life was turbulent and was followed by many tragedies. Shelley enjoyed fame in his short lifetime but his influence grew considerably after his death. Like Keats’ tragic destiny, Shelley was gone too soon. He was only 29 years of age when he died in a boating accident off the coast of Tuscany.
After Keats’ and Shelley’s deaths, the house was occupied by American writers, Mrs James Walcott Haslehurst and her mother who were unable to buy the house and restore it to its former glory. Their luck changed upon meeting Robert Underwood Johnson, an American poet, who fell in love with the house and decided to assemble various literati in order to raise much-needed funds for the restoration project. This joint effort by committees in the United States, England and Italy, was supported by President Roosevelt and King Edward VII, and after three long years they were finally rewarded for their efforts.
The house’s elegant facade and antique glamour is of the Romantic era. And upon entering, visitors are greeted by an ambiance that resonates with the poetic spirit of its former residents. The museum meticulously preserves the rooms where Keats and Shelley lived, allowing visitors to explore the spaces where they penned their masterpieces. The personal belongings on display evoke a sense of intimacy, offering a rare glimpse into the lives of these poets.
The Keats-Shelley House in Rome stands as a poetic haven, preserving the legacy of two Romantic giants as well as offering a profound exploration into the creative minds that shaped an era. Its meticulous curation, coupled with the immersive audio-visual guide, provides visitors with a unique opportunity to step back in time. Whether you are a literature enthusiast, a history buff, or simply a curious traveller, a visit to the Keats-Shelley House in Rome promises a journey into the heart of Romanticism and the enduring power of poetry.
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