Poet Percy Bysshe Shelley drowned at sea, not yet thirty, off the coast of Italy. He had learned political poems wouldn’t change the world, but sailing a stormy sea, his schooner sank. He never learned to swim.
Percy Bysshe Shelley had been living in Lerici, Italy for about four years. Leaving England, he also left his radical political poetry behind and turned to a more Romantic idealism. He was sailing home from Livorno when they encountered a storm and the boat was swamped. Percy could not swim and drowned along with the crew of three. Shelley’s badly decomposed body washed ashore at Viareggio ten days later and was identified by his clothing and a copy of Keats’s “Lamia” in a jacket pocket.
The conservative London newspaper The Courier, reported, “Shelley, the writer of some infidel poetry, has been drowned: now he knows whether there is a God or no.” But his friends and admirers, including his second wife, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein, set about to create a Romantic legacy for him. His body was cremated on the beach in a kind of pagan ceremony. Shelley’s heart, which had not burned, was retrieved from the pyre. Mary kept it for the rest of her life, wrapped in a copy of his poem “Adonais” which is an elegy on the death of John Keats, Here is how that poem ends:
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.
The rest of his ashes were interred at the Protestant Cemetery in Rome with a monument inscribed with the words Cor Cordium — “heart of hearts” — and lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest: “Nothing of him that doth fade But doth suffer a sea-change Into something rich and strange.”
Her neck rises from the white lace necklaced with a black velvet band soft as her pink and purple garden petunias. Syllables of velvet from a tender perennial. Flowers blackened by Death still blooming annually.
Emily created as a young girl (before the poetry) a herbarium in which she collected 424 flowers from the Amherst region. She called them “beautiful children of spring,” and arranged them in a 66-page large leather-bound album with labels of the common names and sometimes the official Linnaean ones. All are in her elegant handwriting. I don’ think she had a black petunia in the book, but I think she would have liked the flower.
A poem by Emily – #334
All the letters I can write Are not fair as this— Syllables of Velvet— Sentences of Plush, Depths of Ruby, undrained, Hid, Lip, for Thee— Play it were a Humming Bird— And just sipped—me—
It’s not dusting, vacuuming or straightening up. It’s permanent organization for your everyday life. It’s the cleaning your family would do after your death, being done by you. Clear conscience and shelves in the afterlife.
“Every living thing is turning into something else.” – Ovid
All of your poems that remain unwritten. Promises to and from family not kept. Urn of ashes on a son’s mantle. Things read aloud to laughter and tears, now lost in the country of time.
Laura Boss was an American, award-winning poet and a friend and mentor. She was the founder and Editor of Lips poetry magazine for four decades. Laura died on April 9, 2021, after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer.
A mourning cloak on a cool morning on a walk through the cemetery. It is quiet but for whispered prayers.
She touches a headstone in the sun. Her yellow skirt escaping the dark cloak.
Nymphalis antiopa, the mourning cloak, is a large butterfly native to Eurasia and North America. The immature form of this species is sometimes known as the spiny elm caterpillar which has a toxic substance in its hairs or spines that can cause a very painful reaction if you touch it,
These butterflies have a lifespan of 11 to 12 months, one of the longest lifespans for any butterfly.