Monday, September 24, 2012

The Protestant Cemetery in Rome - Where Poets Lie Easy

I was rambling this morning through the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, in the Testaccio neighborhood, because it was a place revered by Henry James, who tenderly placed his candidly shocking little American heroine Daisy Miller in its hallowed precincts: "Daisy's grave was in the little Protestant cemetery, in an angle of the wall of imperial Rome, beneath the cypresses and the thick spring flowers." I wandered to the grave of Keats with its modest epitaph, and then searched for some minutes and found another grave, that of Constance Fenimore Woolston, an American writer, grand-daughter of James Fenimore Cooper, and intimate friend of James. She reportedly committed suicide in Venice, throwing herself out the window of the Palazzo Semitocolo (I took a photo of that, too, when I was in Venice 10 days ago), where James soon after the melancholy event visited and burned all of his correspondence to her, among other things. The scene, and his feelings about it, are tellingly, dramatically, movingly portrayed in Colm Toibin's magnificent book The Master. Percy Bysshe Shelley is buried there, too, along with the sons and daughters of many illustrious "non-Catholic foreigners": Goethe and Bach among them. A melancholy and beautiful place, well worth the long walk outside the Eternal City to visit the remains and think about time passing. 

But a final, more modern note! It came as a complete surprise to me to find the grave of Gregory Corso, the Beat poet, who died in 2001 - his epitaph is well worth remembering and pondering.

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