I’m taking a tour of Italian properties, one of which is CastaDiva in Lake Como. I arrived this afternoon to crisp air and a faint haze hovering around the undulant slopes that ring the beautiful body of water. I’ve been reading Percy Bysshe Shelley, who spent some time with Lord Byron in Lake Como one summer. The idea that two such great poetic minds would have come together in such a delicious setting has always fascinated me and I feel blessed as a writer to get to soak in the atmosphere, thinking for a moment that I’m channeling the energy that feeds the future of the poetic arts.
Shelley, who left England with his second wife Mary in 1818, was mesmerized by Italy and toured many of the country’s greatest cities. He wrote “Adonais” and “Prometheus Unbound” while traipsing from town to town before he drowned in the Bay of Spezia on July 8, 1822, aboard his boat “Don Juan” during a storm. As I was flying into Milan today, skimming above the Alps in a plane, I began a poem, a work in progress, that felt incredibly good to write.
I’ll be penning more practical reports of my time here, of course, but for tonight (it is evening here), I’m sending you these heartfelt lines that soothed me after a non-stop filled-to-the-brim-with-activity trip to London to see Johnny Grey’s launch of his new kitchen furniture line at Decorex. Shelley made the same trek I made this morning, though he didn’t fly from London, of course. During his first spring in Italy, remarks John Lehmann, who wrote Shelley in Italy, “each step he took seemed to increase his enthusiasm, and also his power of description…He began by thinking of staying in Como, the first Italian scene to be celebrated in his poetry (in Rosalind and Helen).” In the poem, Shelley’s protagonist warns, “Remember, this is Italy,/ And we are exiles.” Oh, but to be exiled here!
Ode to the Alps
Mountains heave themselves
toward haze-capped shelves of azure,
the highest peaks aglow
as the sun effervesces the snow.
Green valleys lumber through gorges
punctuated by grids of sienna
as the edge of the range gives way
to a concerto of crags—
white billowing down the slopes
and heaped inside the tallest pockets,
mouths gaping to the sky.
Roadways are sliced into mountainsides—
snail-like wanderings as they zig and zag
toward the high terrain.
The sculpted fringe of the highest peaks
are stiff, fluted cuffs
on an ancient poet’s sleeves—
the frozen fabric deftly starched taut.
The plane of crops square-dance up to
the hulking walls of stone, some of which loom
above the horizon and into a dowsing of blue
holding in its grasp a ghostly moon.
In Lake Como the mountains hunker down,
their backs hunched against the beauty
of a gemmed lake they cannot take.
If you want a rather contemporary take on the subject of Byron’s and Shelley’s days in Lake Como, Haunted Summer is a fun flick to watch for imagining what the two bad boys in their age might have been up to!