This will be the last time you hear from the three of us together. We each wanted to take a moment and tell you about our experiences.
For Grant, this trip was bittersweet. While Grant wanted to enjoy the sights, the images of San Michele, Old St. Pancras, poet’s corner in Westminster Abbey, and the non-Catholic Cemetery stuck with him. He thought a lot about how we remember the past, and how the Romantic poets remembered each other. In some respects, their fight to remember each other in life is the reason we know them at all today. Keats is a particularly good example. When Keats died, his poetry was barely read or published, and he assumed he would not be remembered. Thus, he requested to have engraved on his tombstone: “Here lies one whose name is writ in water.”
Had things been left there, we might not have ever known who Keats is today. In the very least we would have never known that the stone was his. However, his friends--particularly Percy Shelley-- couldn’t let that stand. Thus they added to his grave these words: “This grave contains all that was mortal of a Young English Poet, who, on his deathbed, in the bitterness of his heart at the malicious power of his enemies, desired these words to be engraven on his tombstone: ‘Here lies one whose name is writ in water.’” While Keats might not have felt this sentiment exactly, it’s a touching example of how much the Romantic poets cared about one another. The Romantics constantly thought about oblivion and ruin, but they found solace in each other. Even if they faded from the face of the earth, their friendship would last. Our lives are not much different. In our troubled times, we must rely on our friends, families, and loved ones. If Grant took one thing away from this journey, it would be that.
While Grant thought about how the Romantics were remembered, Emma thought about how we as people share stories and remember experiences. When one is about to embark on a study abroad trip, friends and family always say, “Bring back tons of photos to share with us!” This can be problematic if you don’t like taking photos (or tend to get your thumb in every landscape picture). After getting over that hurdle, you find yourself taking more and more photos on your iPhone, whether they are relevant or not. You take photos of signs and information that you say you will “read later”. You begin to realize that you don’t know where a photo was taken or why it was significant anymore. As you look upon a photo you don’t recognize, you panic wondering if you have lost all intellectual ability to remember and enjoy experiences without technology in front of your face. This panic fades as you realize that you didn’t take the photo, and that a friend sent it to you from their free day, and that you didn’t visit that place at all. But there is still a prickle at the back of your neck. Does this feel familiar?
Dr. Weldon asked the class to do an exercise where we write about a place or an experience from the trip that we didn’t take a photo of. What seems like an easy task becomes daunting when your phone is filled with seven hundred plus photos from a three week trip. But once we all began to write, memories came flooding back: vivid depictions of cemeteries, streets, and croissant mishaps come to mind. Writing and storytelling brings these experiences to life. Looking back over journal entries and adding to them conjures scenes that we can never forget. When showing photos, we don’t just play a slideshow of museums and churches in silence, we narrate. We explain the location, set the scene, and include personal anecdotes. While pictures are beautiful, writing and storytelling are what bring them to life. We are still writing and telling stories just as the Romantics did in the Villa Diodati two hundred years before us.
Jonathan’s biggest takeaway was how easy it is to forget the mundane things in life. Reflecting on the trip it is easy to remember the Colosseum and David and the view from the dome of St. Paul’s, but harder to remember the hotel rooms we stayed in or the smell of the subway stations or the breakfasts we ate (except for English porridge, which will forever be a treasured memory). Even though these things were omnipresent and oftentimes necessary for the success of our trip, they slip past our eyes and are forgotten. Timewise, the grand, show-stopping sights and experiences comprise only a small portion of the trip. Most of the trip was spent sleeping or walking or chatting with classmates, and yet our hotel rooms, the subways, and the dinner tables are unlikely to be remembered.
When thinking about the poets we studied, or any historical figure, it is easy to remember their great accomplishments and shortcomings, but the moments which made them real people are scarcely known and rarely studied. It is well known that Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, that she married Percy Shelley, that only one of her children survived into adulthood, but it difficult to know her everyday struggles. It is impossible to know exactly how she interacted with her husband and sister and son, or what it was like to move into a new house every few months as she and Percy travelled. Byron, Keats, and Shelley all lived short lives, and while they accomplished many extraordinary things in a short time, most of that time must have been lived in mundane, human moments. By focusing only on the big, exciting moments we lose most of their lives. This trap is not only present when studying the lives of historical figures and poets, but also when remembering our own lives. So as Jonathan looks back on the trip he is reminded to appreciate the ordinary moments, not only those of this trip, but those at home and in the future.
It has been a pleasure to share our adventures with you this past month, and while we regret that our journey is finished, it is good to be home again.
So long for now,
Jonathan, Emma, and Grant