I enjoy reading the British Romantic poets and John Keats in particular. I lived in Rome for a year and found this little gem of a museum just off the famous Spanish Steps.
If you are visiting Rome and have any interest in poetry, especially from the Romantic period, don’t miss the Keats-Shelley House at the Spanish Steps in Rome’s historical center. Any taxi will take you there or use the Metro, Rome’s subway, Line “A,” and get off at “Spagna.”
The piazza itself features a glorious sweep of stairs acting like a grand staircase leading up to the beautiful church of Trinita dei Monti. Locals and tourists alike use the stairs as a meeting place. Sitting on the steps, posing for pictures, or just posing, the visitors to the Piazza di Spagna marvel at the sight. Then, after taking a few pictures, most quickly move to the next place on their list. Few would be impressed by the faded red building immediately on the right of the stairs with the small brass plate identifying the building as the Keats-Shelley House.
Although,the museum and library memorialize both of the poets Percy Bysshe Shelley and John Keats, because Keats died there, the Keats-Shelley House has become a place of pilgrimage to those who have a deep affection for the man who wrote the poems “Bright Star!” and “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” among many others.
You enter a hallway and walk up two flights of stairs to the second floor. There you pay four euroes admission and enter the simple museum and library. The first room is lined with books about the Romantic period, many of them concern the poetry of both Keats and Shelley but Coleridge and other Romantics are also represented. Memorabilia of Keats and Shelley are in glass cases and Keats’ death mask is especially notable.
John Keats,who was born in 1795, suffered with tuberculosis during his brief life. Nevertheless, by age twenty-four he had published quite a lot of poetry to mixed reviews. When his health began to deteriorate, his friends packed him off to Rome which was thought to have a warmer, more healthful climate.
In Rome, he rallied at first and was able to get outside and take walks in the park close by, but just before Christmas of 1820 it was clear that he was dying. Keats was in the final stages of the disease but he could look out onto the Spanish Steps from the bed by the window of his apartment. His tiny bedroom is kept as it would have been when Keats died there in 1821 in the arms of Joseph Severn who had cared for him during the last months of his life.
At the time of his death, Shelley was probably the more well-known of the two. However, in his last year Keats had produced a remarkable amount of poetry, some of his best. He did not live long enough to see those works published but over the many years since his death, those poems along with his earlier works have nourished the hearts of those who have come to appreciate his florid and passionate writings.
No one will mind if you bring your copy of Keats poems and read one aloud. That’s the kind of thing that is done at the Keats-Shelley House. Try “Ode to A Nightengale” or “Bright Star.”
The year 2009 is the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Keats-Shelley House. Banners hanging from the windows mark the occasion.
A film was released in 2009 based on he life of John Keats and his relationship with Fanny Braune with whom he was madly in love. It’s a beautiful film called “Bright Star.”
See the Keats-Shelley House Web site for more details.