Ten miles from Pisa, the beach where Trelawney burned the drowned corpse of Shelley offers villas for lease, new stucco facades leering sea-pink and rosy green. The heat of the pyre, three hours burning, failed to consume the heart. The backdrop of mountains that so impressed Byron testifies to the fireproof quality of that muscle, later claimed by Leigh Hunt but surrendered to Mary Shelley. I walk from Viareggio on the strand for six or eight miles and allow the summer heat to burn me like Byron, who blistered so badly he wasted two weeks recovering. The thought of him shrivels me in my tracks.
The villas sneer and the scattered beachgoers chatter in Italian too quick for me to readily decipher. A mile or two offshore, sloops ply the Gulf. Pleasure craft built for the rich: not for English poets but for Italian, French, and German corporate clones wedded to cell phone and fax machines. They’re unlikely to gaze at the beach and the background of mountains, unlikely to glimpse the ghost-smoke of Shelley’s pyre, which lingers not quite invisibly.
The salt and frankincense Trelawney tossed on the fire still sweetens the smoke plume, and I breathe it gracefully, deeply as I dare. I’m well aware that by testifying to presence of that smoke plume two hundred years too late I lay my heart as bare as Shelley’s, though being postmodern it’s no longer an organ of love.