Understanding ‘the thrill of graveside communion’: Jessica’s Postcard from the Protestant Cemetery, Rome

Jessica's roses at the graves of Shelley and Keats, the Protestant Cemetery at Rome, Summer 2013

Jessica’s roses at the graves of Shelley and Keats, the Protestant Cemetery at Rome, Summer 2013

Why I went…

After a thwarted attempt as an undergraduate too nervous to brave the Rome metro alone – and unable to convince my Classics-major travelling companions to visit anything so recent as a nineteenth-century poet – I made a point of playing pilgrim the next time I found myself in Italy. ‘Adonais’ has long been one of my favorite Shelley poems, and I wanted to understand the thrill of graveside communion that work posthumously promises for both its subject and its author. I admit I imbued it with a great deal of probably silly seriousness.

 What I got out of the experience…

I stopped at a florist’s a few blocks from the cemetery and bought two pink roses, which I proceeded to very carefully stuff in my purse, and made my way to the gates. The cemetery is beautiful and unexpected, wedged between the crumbling old Aurelian walls, the pyramid of Caius Cestius (the “wedge sublime,” as Shelley puts it) and a suburban neighborhood. I left my roses on the graves – Shelley’s first – and took a few photos. I was by myself, but for some reason didn’t snap a selfie, although I think I have one of nearly every other Roman landmark I visited. Still, I felt a connection not just with Shelley and Keats, but even more so with all the other readers and admirers who had come there over the years to leave (or take) flowers, snap pictures, and talk to the dead.
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