“Go thou to Rome,—at once the Paradise,
The grave, the city, and the wilderness;
And where its wrecks like shattered mountains rise,
And flowering weeds, and fragrant copses dress
The bones of Desolation’s nakedness,
Pass, till the Spirit of the spot shall lead
Thy footsteps to a slope of green access
Where, like an infant’s smile, over the dead
A light of laughing flowers along the grass is spread.”
—Percy Bysshe Shelley, Adonais: An Elegy on the Death of John Keats (link)
Portrait of John Keats by William Hilton the Younger [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
On the 15th of November 1820, the English poet John Keats entered Rome together with his friend, the artist Joseph Severn. They had already been on the Italian soil for a few weeks as their ship had been kept in quarantine for 10 days in Naples.
Keats’s journey to Italy was no trip of pleasure, inspiration or for a particular cause, such as other Romantic poets were compelled to take (Wordsworth, Coleridge, Lord Byron). On the doctor’s advice and with the help of his friends, Keats travelled in search of a warmer climate that would ease his ailment – what would later turn out to be tuberculosis.
The two Englishmen settled down in number 26 in Piazza di Spagna, a villa adjacent to the Scalinata (Spanish Steps). Exhorted by Dr James Clark, the young poet would go out for a walk but was soon confined indoors as his condition worsened. The warmer climate eluded him as he had arrived too late in Italy, when it was already winter.
He passed away on the 23rd of February 1821, aged 25, three months after his arrival in Rome. He was buried in the Protestant Cemetery in the same city.
To honour John Keats on his death anniversary, I wanted to write about my ‘pilgrimage’ in Rome – done on the 2nd of January 2015 – where I have visited the Keats-Shelley House in Piazza di Spagna and the Protestant Cemetery.