Dawn Reader

Dawn Reader
from Open Door Coffee Co.; Hudson, OH; Oct. 26, 2016

Monday, September 28, 2015

Frankenstein Sundae, 158

Bysshe Shelley was a plein-air writer—loved to write outside. (He no doubt loved, as well, getting away from any domestic responsibilities, not that he really believed that he had any. He found it hard, too, to be around Mary, who was still grieving from poor lost daughter, Clara, who’d died just six months earlier; she had been barely a year old.)

Mary’s diary during these Roman months contains only the briefest entries—generally just a mention of where they’ve gone in the city, what she’s reading each day: the Bible, Montaigne, Livy, Julius Caesar, Hamlet, King Lear … how did she bear to read Lear’s wrenching lines about the death of his daughter Cordelia as he holds her dead body?

Bysshe’s favorite spots during their Rome sojourn were the Forum, the Colosseum, the ruins of the Baths of Caracalla.[1] In his day—as old images and paintings show—vegetation swarmed over the fractured and fallen marble, giving these places the sort of post-lapsarian loveliness that the Romantics adored.

But it was the Baths, as Holmes notes in his magnificent biography, that became “his headquarters.”[2] He worked on his Prometheus Unbound there.

On Sunday, April 25, 1999, I walked over to the Baths, got lost, then found them. Closed, of course.

I took a few photographs of the outside, figuring out how I could get back there the next day. I’d scheduled things so tightly. And I made it. My journal is a little vague about what I did. A truly lovely spot, I wrote so eloquently (?). … The sun was generally good also. I did mention, too, that the vegetation from the Shelleys’ day was gone—all cleaned up and tourist-ready.

But I couldn’t linger. So much to do this day—the Forum, the Colosseum, and other iconic sites were calling. And off I dashed, feeling as I often have on literary trips, that I was becoming more concerned about the photographs than about the realities in front of me. I’d learned well the lesson of the twentieth (and now twenty-first) century: A picture proves I was there; a story does not.

NOTE: Photos I took at Baths of Carcalla, April 1999.

[1] Holmes, Shelley, 487.
[2] Ibid., 489.

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