Posthumous John Keats

This is the view John Keats had of the world for the last months of his life. Once he was too sick to climb the Spanish Steps to the Pincian Hill view of the sunset over the piazza delle popolo and take in the sweeping view of the renaissance rooftops of cupolas, churches, houses and hotels of Rome – he had one final view, the Bernini fountain outside his room, at the end of his deathbed. He could hear the passersby and the fruit sellers. He could hear the horses hooves and the coaches. He could hear the rushing water of the fountain and smell the scent of the sweetest water in Rome. Sometimes he could drink it, a few shallow sips in a brief moment of respite.

I stood and looked out his window and took this shot with my phone. I stood there for ages alone and stared out the window and looked for John Keat’s ghost or a shadow of his memory, an imprint of him somewhere. I think I found him in the golden glow of dusk which touched everything in Rome for the last hour before sunset and made everything so pretty it hurt to lose it each night.


John Keats’ Rome house is located at the Spanish Steps by the Bernini fountain. On one visit I placed a white rose I brought for John Keats’ Plaque near his grave on the wall to the left of the garden in the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome in the Non-Catholic Cemetery near the Pyramid of Cestius. We recited his poetry and pet cats who slumber in the gardens nearby. The annual pilgrimage to the Protestant Cemetery never fails to give me chills when I read the epithet Keats intended for himself; Here lies One Whose Name Was Writ In Water.

And now these words ache in my own heart for the one companion who always joined me on these sojourns: Rian, now gone into the shadows to blaze his own light in a place or time I cannot see nor touch for I am still rooted to the earth… and the two men who could ensorcell me are now words and memories without touch or sense or feeling. In vast darkness or light, I do not know, but their imprints are still felt in this world of the living. They capture me!

“Forlorn! the very word is like a bell. To toll me back from thee to my sole self! Adieu!”

Each time I followed the sign reading KEATS it felt like a mystery unfolding. No matter how many times I retraced my steps to the back garden, to the memory of him, it felt new again, as though taking holy orders in a hushed silence under a canopy of umbrella pines and sky and garden walls, nature’s cathedral summoning pilgrims with the tolling of a bell nearby echoing on the stone of the tombs and graves and statues.

One evening, alone, over a sparkling golden glass of prosecco at Caffe Greco, in Rome, Italy, in Oct 2012 on a bar napkin I penned these thoughts:

Tonight I looked for Keats’ ghost. 

Spotted Byron in the Borghese and heard Shelley was somewhere around the Villa Medici. Caught a glimmer of him.

Goethe kept a respectful distance when I passed him on the Pincio. 

Keats silently joined me eventually somewhere on Via delle Magnolie. He slipped out from the shadows and fell into step with me. I felt him quietly by my side for the rest of the night.