Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Promethean Fire Unbound


The Funeral of Shelley by Louis Edouard Fournier (1889); pictured in the center are, from left, Trelawny, Hunt and Byron

This from the funeral pyre of Percy Bysshe Shelley:

After the fire was well kindled we repeated the ceremony of the previous day; and more wine was poured over Shelley's dead body than he had consumed during his life. This with the oil and salt made the yellow flames glisten and quiver. The heat from the sun and fire was so intense that the atmosphere was tremulous and wavy. The corpse fell open and the heart was laid bare. The frontal bone of the skull, where it had been struck with the mattock, fell off; and, as the back of the head rested on the red-hot bottom bars of the furnace, the brains literally seethed, bubbled, and boiled as in a cauldron, for a very long time.
Byron could not face this scene, he withdrew to the beach and swam off to the Bolivar. Leigh Hunt remained in the carriage.
The fire was so fierce as to produce a white heat on the iron, and to reduce its contents to grey ashes. The only portions that were not consumed were some fragments of bones, the jaw, and the skull, but what surprised us all, was that the heart remained entire.
In snatching this relic from the fiery furnace, my hand was severely burnt; and had any one seen me do the act I should have been put into quarantine.
After cooling the iron machine in the sea, I collected the human ashes and placed them in a box, which I took on board the Bolivar. Byron and Hunt retraced their steps to their home, and the officers and soldiers returned to their quarters. I liberally rewarded the men for the admirable manner in which they behaved during the two days they had been with us. As I undertook and executed this novel ceremony, I have been thus tediously minute in describing it.


Extracts from Recollections of the Last Days of Shelley and Byron
Edward John Trelawny
Arkansas State

By the way, in Hebrew, the words for 'heart' and 'flame' are very intimately connected.

6 comments:

Citizen H said...

Hmm, this one's a little more macabre than usual.

Citizen H said...

Spiritual connexion notwithstanding, this is still a little morbid.

steve said...

Raised alot of questions...found that the event actually happened and the Iron machine was kept by his wife for the rest of her days...
Very commendable...but citizen is right.. a little morbid, but what would you expect from those that brought us Frankenstein...
"We can rebuild him!"

kissyface said...

Death is death, fellas. It's as much a part of life as eating, washing your face in the morning and loving your family. Of course, you know this too well. I don't see what makes it so morbid, in the sense of pathological interest in death, but I suspect it's the ritualizing and handling of the body here that is most disquieting. To me, our culture is so distanced from the handling, grieving and even celebrating of this particular form of passage, that anything that delves into those shadowy realms (which are moreso because we continuously turn our backs on them), feels strange and uneasy. Voodoo, even.

Americans can't really be fucking bothered with this, and I tell you, as someone who lost an inordinate amount of family in childhood, it really creates problems. Funny, though, I was not in any sort of foul mood when I posted it. Rather, I was marvelling at the organ being intact, the persistance of the human heart. Hmm, that would make a good title...

It's precisely when you push those things down, lock the Pandora's Box, as it were, that monsters start to emerge. And yes, Shelley's wife gave us Frankenstein, which is an excellent novel.

steve said...

It was the term "Iron Machine" that got me...I thought they meant to fashion some horseshoes with it or umpin...


"When I die want you to dress me in straight lace shoes
I wanna a boxback coat and a stetson hat
Put a twenty dollar gold piece on my watch chain
So the boys'll know that I died standin’ pat...

Karen said...

Yes, but then did Lord Byron snort him?