Visiting the Shelley-Keats House

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Even though I am an English major, both of my classes here are art courses.  I was absolutely thrilled to return to my literary roots and visit the Shelley-Keats House, a memorial to the Romantic poets after whom the house is named.  In order to get there, I took the metro to the Spagna station, a very easy route. The museum is located immediately to the right of the Spanish steps, and from inside I was able to view the steps from angles previously unseen.  John Keats, ill from tuberculosis, spent his final days in the house with artist and friend Joseph Severn.  The house commemorates Keats’ friendship with fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, though Shelley did not spend time in the house.

Museum admission and an information booklet cost about 8 euros, and were well worth it.  The stairs leading up to the gift shop and ticket office were lined with documentation of famous writers who had visited Italy.  Highlights included Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry James.  Once I entered the museum, I was in awe. The first room was a gorgeous library, showing writings in reaction to Shelley and Keats from such greats as Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, William Wordsworth, and even Theodore Roosevelt, who supported the endeavor to make the home into a museum.  It was interesting to see people I admire show reverence for Keats and I reflected on how inspiration can trickle down for generations, especially in instances of literature.  There were original editions of works, such as Keats’ Endymion.  Other than the library, there was a room that was occupied the by Severn and the room in which Keats died. In the Keats room, there is a replica of his bed and the tour video explained how he could hear the hustle of the people on the Spanish Steps and the flow of the fountain from his small quarters.  In the Terrace room, immediately overlooking the Spanish Steps, there were letters from Frankenstein author and Shelley’s wife, Mary Shelley. I was especially struck by her description of her husband still being with her beyond his death.

I really enjoyed seeing the handwriting and original drafts from so many of my favorite authors and felt empowered as a writer.  I also enjoyed learning more about the interconnectedness of the writing community.  The hand-written letters showed the authors in a light that text books often fail to capture and adds dimension to their existences from a contemporary perspective.  Many people visiting the house seemed to quickly stroll through the rooms, but I spent about three hours there, asking for copies of letters in instances where the handwriting was illegible.  I also took the time to read Keats’ Sleep and Poetry (two of my favorite pastimes) and Shelley’s elegy to Keats, Adonais. Both Shelley and Keats are buried at the Non-Catholic Cemetery by the Piramide station and visiting their graves to pay homage to these greats will certainly be my next literary endeavor before I depart Rome.

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