I read these lines several times over, and then tried to remember some of the poems by him that I had read while in college. I managed to recall bits of An Ode to the Westwind, along with vague recollections of my college classroom, the old fashioned wooden benches, notes that were being passed about which more often than not had nothing to do with the poets and writers we were dealing with. I also started wondering where Mary Shelley, the Frankenstein creator and PB Shelley’s wife, was buried (which I now know is in St. Peter’s Church in Bournemouth, UK). And Lord Byron? (Also in the UK).
Anyhow, interestingly, both PB Shelley and John Keats (whose grave I will take you to in a moment) are buried with their closest friends. English author Edward John Trelawny, who was also good friends with Lord Byron, is comfortably buried next to his companion Shelley with a beautiful epitaph about their friendship.
These are two friends whose lives were undivided.
So let their memory be now they have glided
Under the grave: let not their bones be parted
For their two hearts in life were single-hearted.
Keats, who came to Rome in the hope of nursing himself to better health, resides in the Old Cemetery, which is adjacent to the new one. The Old Cemetery is like a park, with much fewer graves and more benches and ground to sprawl. When I finally reach the park, the same tour group was now getting better acquainted with Keats.
As I looked from a distance, the guide seemed much more animated than he was near Shelley’s grave. I decided to wait, again, this time much more patiently. A girl, with her back resting against a tall tree, was sketching and I secretly half circled around her to peep into her sketchbook. She was drawing a triangular structure, which undoubtedly was the striking Pyramid of Caius Cestius, right ahead of us.
Soon after, Keats was finally alone.
Keats, who died of tuberculosis in 1821 at the age of 25, has a simple tombstone and a humble epitaph.
This Grave contains all that was mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET, who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his heart, at the Malicious Power of his enemies, desired these words to be Engraven on his Tomb Stone
Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water
I walked in into the triangular area, a bench right in front of his tombstone, and on another side an lyrical and forlorn retort to the words on Keats’ epitaph.
K-eats! if thy cherished name be "writ in water"
E-ach drop has fallen from some mourner's cheek;
A-ssured tribute; such as heroes seek,
T-hough oft in vain - for dazzling deeds of slaughter
S-leep on! Not honoured less for Epitaph so meek!
Keats’ epitaph is flanked by his “devoted friend” Joseph Severn, who lived till 85. Severn’s son Arthur, whose epitaph on a small tombstone documents that he was accidentally killed as a child, lies in between the two close friends.
After reading all the literature I finally sat down at the bench, ate the blueberry muffin that I had carelessly packed and drank some sweet Rome water from a plastic bottle. I then took out a notebook and a pen, and scribbled some personal notes. It all felt like a ritual.
Burials continue to be made today of those who qualify.
Payal Khandelwal is a freelance visual communications journalist and writer based out of India. She is on Twitter at @thefloatingbed.