A Sea Change

An evening of considerable emotional impact with the wonderful Viareggina actress and writer Rebecca Palagi and presenter Luca Guidi was held yesterday in Bagni Di Lucca’s Sala Rosa in the Circolo dei Forestieri

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It was part of the “Viareggio, città del cuore di Shelley” festival, which has been running since 2010.


Shelley drowned in a storm off the Viareggio coast on his way back home at Villa Magni, San Terenzo, from Livorno in 1822. Due to sanitary regulations for cadavers washed from the sea his body had to be cremated, a process then regarded as virtually diabolical in Catholic Italy, and Trelawney, present at the event, famously ripped out the poet’s heart still intact in the flames, placed it in a casket and gave it to the widowed Mary.

Indeed, until quite recently Viareggians would refer to cremation as “morire come quell’inglese”.

After an introduction by Guidi, Palagi read La Tempesta è Oltre, (alluding, of course, to those lines in Shakespeare’s TempestNothing of him that doth fade / but doth suffer a sea change / into something rich and strange”, and much else besides especially the hymn to Intellectual Beauty) her poetic monologue inspired by Shelley’s own Adonais written as an elegy on hearing the death of his admired John Keats who he first met in 1816 and who had just died in Rome after a failed attempt to cure his TB in a warmer climes.

In Palagi’s recreation Adonais became Shelley himself mourned by Mary. The mourning becomes an apotheosis in which Shelley is reborn into eternal life. Indeed, his spirit is all about us whether we walk up to the summit of the Prato Fiorito, which inspired several lines in the poet’s Epipsychidion, to San Pellegrino where Shelley conceived The Witch of Atlas. The two presenters paid tribute to Bagni di Lucca as a place where not only did they feel at home but also where Shelley recharged his batteries in a rare moment of peace before embarking on the great poems of his last period.

The Italian programme on this great poet in some respects reflects Italians’ attitude on Byron who, too, seem to obtain a greater resonance on the continent than in his country of birth. The Shelley celebration programme is consultable at http://www.cuoredishelley.altervista.org/joomla/ and has many interesting events including art exhibitions, conferences and readings. There’s also a poetry competition which one can enter.

Shelley continues to be too often sadly misunderstood by his own countrymen despite the mythical book by Holmes. Leavis and his acolytes certainly did him a disservice whose unwarranted stain still persists.

I’m so glad the Shelley festival has happily extended to Bagni Di Lucca for it was in the villa Chiappa where the young couple first stayed in Italy and found the strength to move on creatively after so much sadness that had befallen them.

Anyone missing the evening yesterday and Rebecca Palagi’s recitation missed, in my opinion a great deal.


I have written many posts on Shelley, some of which are at:

























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