The flowers of Italy, adornments for the grave of your love

Monday 26th December, 2022 - Bruce Sterling

*It’s hard to be more romantic than the Romantics.

Mary Shelley to Teresa Guiccioli, May 16th 1824:
(Source: text from LBLI 501-3)

My dear friend, How shall I write to you? How can I express to you the immense grief that is breaking my heart? Poor Teresa! So there we are, already sisters in misfortune! I am afraid that my letter will only redouble your sorrow, and I am all too aware that I cannot give you any consolation. I cannot avail myself of the conventional expressions of comfort, since I know from experience how false they are. How can I tell you that peace will come back to your heart once the woe of bereavement has healed—when I have the proof within myself that these wounds are quite beyond curing by time?— because we feel more and more, every day, how worthless the world is when we have lost the object of our affection. Did not dear Byron himself say, and he knew a woman’s heart to its very depths, that the whole of a woman’s existence depends on love, and that when you lose the one you love there is no other refuge than to love again, ‘to love again and be again undone….’?

But, my dear Guiccioli, we are bereft of that sole refuge. Destiny has given the two of us the leading minds of this age. When they are lost, to have a second love (to love for a second time) is not possible—and our hearts, forever widowed, are (will be) henceforward no more than memorials testifying to (demonstrating) the happiness that lies buried within them.

Alas—I have seen him for the last time!—so I shall never see that handsomest of men again!—the glorious creature who was the pride of the world. So I shall never hear his voice again, never read any new poetry of his, the daughter of his genius, which was beyond compare (had no equal). Perhaps I ought not to relieve my feelings in this way, and to make you shed tears, now that my eyes are sore with weeping. But when I lost the beloved other half of myself, nothing gave me relief but hearing his praises sung. I fed on them: and it seems to me that you too will be glad to hear the echo of your crying in a friend of Byron’s who is voicing her distress! I would like to be at your side, my dear Contessina [little Countess]—we would talk together about Byron, so greatly loved; we would speak of (bring to mind) the time we spent together, our outings, when he came to meet us in the splendor of his beauty; our conversations would be endless. Undoubtedly you will not be lacking in sympathy from your friends; I rejoice at the thought that you are surrounded by those who love you, and at least you will have all the consolation that tender friendship can give.

How afraid you were about that voyage of his! Every day I am more convinced that God has endowed us with the ability to foresee our misfortunes! But we are all Cassandras, and so blind are we that we ourselves do not attend enough to the silent voices that make themselves heard within the soul. The entire truth is known once the prophecies are fulfilled (accomplished). How many things gave Mrs. Williams and me definite warning of our disaster!—and you said yourself a thousand times, ‘Oh! how scared I am about that expedition!’ …

“The lovely sky of Italy and its flowers will now be no more for you than adornments for the grave of your love … But have courage, since it appears that Nature has a new law, and will make us all die young—courage, then! because for us the unknown road of death has been trodden by our nearest and dearest; when we make that same journey and arrive in a land beyond our ken, those whom we love are (being) there already will hasten to bid us welcome.

“Dying, for us, will not be separation from the good things of life, but recovering the treasures that death seizes from us for a while….

Mary Shelley.