Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Brian’s Reflection: Thursday, August 4, 2011

"O gentle child, beautiful as thou wert,
Why didst thou leave the trodden paths of men
Too soon, and with weak hands though mighty heart
Dare the unpastured dragon in his den?
Defenceless as thou wert, oh, where was then
Wisdom the mirrored shield, or scorn the spear?
Or hadst thou waited the full cycle, when
Thy spirit should have filled its crescent sphere,
The monsters of life's waste had fled from thee like deer.

Percy Bysshe Shelly, poet; this is a stanza from
“Adonais”, his elegy for Keats. Shelly lived in Rome
with Keats and nursed him as Keats died from
consumption. Shelley was born on this date, 1792.

[ The complete poem can be found here: ]

Dennis and I went to the Spanish Steps in Rome at about 8am a few weeks ago. I had been there several times, but not at that early hour. When I’d been there, it was packed with people, local and tourists. This morning, we were almost alone. I took this picture (above) of the little house in which John Keats died, where Shelley cared for him, and which is now the Keats and Shelley House. (Byron stayed there too.)

The first time I sat on the Spanish Steps and gazed at the house, I had with me a copy of “Adonais”. I was about 30 – four years older that Keats when he died. It was that morning, as I sat there reading Shelley’s “Adonais” that I became consciously aware that I was a Romantic. That I first understood Melancholy! It was a life-changing moment, spiritually and emotionally.

I remember reading:

For he is gone, where all things wise and fair
Descend; -oh, dream not that the amorous Deep
Will yet restore him to the vital air;
Death feeds on his mute voice, and laughs at our despair -

and consciously pondering death for the first time, the “not-knowingness” - something which deeply shaped and affected my life as a priest, and my sense of how important living every moment was.

We know not how much time we have. It would be well to live it fearlessly – and to know Why!!


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