Rome has been a magnet to the greatest painters, musicians and writers from across the globe for centuries. Here are nine poets who simply could not resist the lure of Roma...
Edgar Allen Poe
Edgar Allen Poe was an American poet and author renowned for his stories that embraced all things creepy and macabre. Poe intensely studied the works of Horace, Cicero and Homer and had a fascination with the ancient civilizations of Rome and Greece. He became enamoured with Rome and composed some of his less macabre poems about the city, such as The Coliseum.
While many may suspect that this great poem celebrating the grandeur of the Roman Empire and the immortality of its glory was actually inspired by the Coliseum itself, it was not. This poem was actually inspired by the desolate and lonely supporting pillars that are found at the Temple of Castore and Polluce. This temple had served as a speaking forum in ancient Rome, but the trials of time and lack of repairs caused much of it to disintegrate over time. Today and during Poe's time the Temple of Castore and Polluce were little more than pillars supporting small piles of stones that inspired such verses as ‘We are not impotent, We are pallid stones' and 'Not all our power is gone, Not all our fame.'
Henry James was an American author who penned a series of essays and poems about his travels to Italy between 1872 and 1909. James explored the art, religion, political shifts, cultural revolutions and vitality of Rome within his works, which were marked with a pensive regret at disappearance of Rome's past and a hearty embrace of the future. In Rome, it was the Pantheon that affected James so dramatically that it caused him to pen one of his most memorable lines in the essay The Last of the Valerii.
‘Inside the Pantheon, I fell into the fathomless abyss of history. Does still exist a passionate pilgrim. Moving inside these walls, who can't perceive air, light, the faintness of the stones, imbued with the obsessive ghosts of time, pervaded by the desolate loneliness of memories and by the impalpable mist of the reminiscences?’
Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley is considered to be one of the best lyrical poets of the English language. It was in 1818 when Shelley and his family moved to Italy, originally taking up residence in Venice before moving to Rome. Shelley had a complicated relationship with Rome. It was where he lost two of his children to sickness. However, it was also where he penned what are considered to be his best works: Prometheus Unbound and The Cenci.
Miguel de Cervantes
Miguel de Cervantes was a Spanish author and poet who is best remembered for his novel Don Quixote. Cervantes travelled to Rome looking for a better life. He joined the Italian military, where he became well-liked among his fellow soldiers. It was this time in Rome, as well as his time spent as a slave in Algiers, that inspired many of the characters and locations in Don Quixote. It was the sacred places of Rome, such as the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, that Cervantes found most inspiring about the city. This church on the hill built on top of the foundations of an ancient temple of Juno inspired him to pen verses that praised the city as a model of the city of God.
Nathaniel Hawthorne is most famous for his novel The Scarlet Letter. However, it is in his novel The Marble Faun that the influences of Rome leap from the pages. The Marble Faun follows the different tales of four artists in Rome, three of which are Americans, who encounter evils in the city. This novel that has a distinct air of Victorian morals weaves a murder mystery with a romantic setting in a way that was prized by readers when it was first published. Many places within Rome are detailed, such as the Santa Maria Maggiore, which Hawthorne describes it as the 'simplest and the grandest' basilica in all of Rome.
Johann Wolfgang Goethe
Johann Wolfgang Goethe spent the majority of his life in Germany. However, from 1786 to 1788, he journeyed to the Italian peninsula because the work of Johann Joachim Winckelmann provoked a renewed interest in the classical art and history of Rome. His time in Italy was chronicled in his non-fiction Italian Journey, where Goethe comments on the works of Winckelmann that drew him to the city.
He wrote on Winckelmann's view of the Ponte Sisto saying: “’Everything in Roma should be looked for with the same river’s quietness. In my opinion, the school of the whole world is here, in Roma”. I like this passage from Winckelmann. Even the most vulgar individual becomes somebody in Roma; he gains at least a non-vulgar vision of life.’"
Marie-Henri Beyle is better known under his pen-name of Stendhal. Though Stendhal was born in France, he loved Italy and wrote extensively about it. In fact, Stendhal was so overcome with the cultural richness of Florence that he developed heart palpitations and dizziness – which was later named Stendhal Syndrome – a psychosomatic condition among first-time visitors to cities. Stendhal wrote extensively about his travels through all of Italy, including Rome. He describes such places as the magnificent Trevi Fountain as pinnacle of the city’s cultural achievement.
Emile Zola visited Rome after he had established his literary career and fortune in France. It was his 1880 work Le Roman Experimental, which gave a detailed and intellectual view on the beautiful city of Rome. He detailed his walks through Rome, but no place is presented in more poetic detail than the Santa Francesca Romana during the night hours. He laments that the design takes away from the glory that should only be saved by worshippers for God itself.
James Fenimore Cooper
James Fenimore Cooper wrote historical romances that formed the style of early American literature. While many of his works were popular during his time, it is his novel The Last of the Mohicans that is considered to be his greatest masterpiece.
Like many authors during his time, Cooper was inspired by the renewed interest in classic Roman and Greek culture. He visited Rome during his time in the Navy and used many of the sights there as inspiration for his work. Cooper wrote a series of travel essays, such as Gleanings in Europe: Italy, where he described the city in poetic detail.
One of Cooper's most popular verses on Italy is about the Tritone Fountain. This verse states: ‘The water turns bronze into crystal, creating a dreamlike reality. This fountain keeps the tune and rhythm which only a fluid substance can convey to a motionless stone. We hear in that basin sound the echo of Bernini’s foolishness. Who is not accustomed to the eternity is caught by a vertigo.’
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