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