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Title: One whose “fate” was writ’ in water: Percy Bysshe Shelley and the water sublime, between poetry and cultural memory
Authors: Canani, Marco
Keywords: Percy Bysshe Shelleywater sublime
Issue Date: 2018
Publisher: EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste
Source: Marco Canani, "One whose “fate” was writ’ in water: Percy Bysshe Shelley and the water sublime, between poetry and cultural memory", in "Prospero. Rivista di letterature e culture straniere 23 (2018)", Trieste, EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste, 2018, pp. 21-47
Percy Bysshe Shelley’s first biographers suggest that water was a mesmerizing presence in his life. Particularly the mid nineteenth-century life-writings written by Shelley’s friends Thomas Medwin (1847), Thomas Jefferson Hogg (1858), and Edward Trelawny (1858) narrate the poet’s ‘water sublime’ from end-to-start, almost searching for incidents and poetic hints that might anticipate Shelley’s fate. Indeed, Shelley’s poetry provides several examples of his sublime attraction to water. In “Mont Blanc” (1818), water is depicted in the sinuosity of the flowing streams and in the unfathomable magnificence of the ice blocks, while “The Cloud” (1818-19) suggests Shelley’s knowledge of Adam Walker’s and Luke Howard’s studies. More significantly, water becomes a metaphor for poetic creation in A Defence of Poetry (1821). By interrelating life-writing and poetry, this article investigates the role of water in Shelley’s life and work in the light of his pantheistic views. By focusing on contemporary sites of memory, the article subsequently discusses the ways in which water has been associated to Shelley’s image in cultural memory, taking into account several media, from lithographs to paintings and monuments. In addition to Shelley’s graves in Rome, The Rising Universe – the kinetic memorial installed in Horsham for the poet’s bicentenary in 1996 – suggests water as a primal source of inspiration and experience for the poet. From this perspective, material culture responds to Shelley’s old and new biographies, creating a narrative that, at least in part, re-writes his life from his death.
Type: Article
ISSN: 1123-2684
DOI: 10.13137/1123-2684/22497
Rights: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 Internazionale
Appears in Collections:2018 / 23 Prospero. Rivista di letterature e culture straniere

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