Oh, Venice! Just the name of this place is enough to conjure up images from a bygone era. Why stop there? There are many aspects to this city: Romantic, stately, tranquil, vibrant. We’ve compiled this list to give Venice the full attention it deserves.
Samuel Rogers; Italy, A Poem
Samuel Rogers, an English poet, shared the literary stage during the 18th century with Wordsworth, Coleridge and Shelley – even though his name is somewhat forgotten today. Italy was his most popular poem. It was actually a love letter to Italy after he had visited the country in 1815. Although the poem received a poor reception at first, it was a huge success. Its description of Venice evokes the fairytale, dreamlike qualities that the Floating City embodies.
“There is a magnificent City by the Sea.
The Sea is found in both the wide and the narrow streets.
The salt sea-weed is ebbing and flowing
She clings to the marble in her palaces.
There is no track of men or footsteps between them.
Follow her to her gates. The path is o’er to the Sea.
Invisible; from the land we went
As a floating city – steering in.
She glides up her streets like in a dream …”
Lord Byron; Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage
Byron was described as “mad and bad” and dangerous to know. His literary achievements were more impressive than his eccentric personality. After being forced to leave England in 1816 due to rumors of an affair with his half sister, Byron stayed three years in Venice and formed an attachment that would influence many of his later works. The Mocenigo Palace, which is located along the Grand Canal, was one of his places. He lived there with two monkeys and two mastiff dogs. Although Venice was a significant influence on the poet, he also left his mark on the city. In fact, Byron is credited for giving the city’s infamous ‘Bridge of Sighs” its nickname. The following excerpt from Child Harold’s epic poem, Child Harold’s Pilgrimage shows how Byron’s descriptions of Venice invoke the glory of its past, combining mythical origins with rich history.
“She looks like a fresh out of the ocean sea Cybele.
With her tiara of proud towers, she rose
With majestic motion at a distance of airy.
The ruler of the waters and their power.
She was a great mother; her daughters got their dowers
From the spoils of nations and the endless East
All gems in sparkling rains were poured into her lap.
She was robed in purple, and she enjoyed her feast.
Monarchs took part, and their dignity was increased.”
Hans Christian Andersen, What the Moon Saw
Hans Christian Andersen, a Dutch writer, was well-known for his collection fairytales. His ability to bring to life diverse locations, real and imagined, was one of the reasons his stories resonated so strongly with so many. One of his lesser-known works, What The Moon Saw is a story in which the moon travels around the globe and then returns to tell a young artist who struggles to find inspiration about what he has seen. The city of Venice is one of the featured sights. It is described with hauntingly beautiful images of abandoned streets before people rise.
“When the jetty fountains splash into marble basins, it seems to me that they are telling the story about the floating city. Yes, the water may spout of her, and the waves of the ocean may sing of her fame. A mist of water often lies on the ocean’s surface, which is her widow’s veil. The sea’s bridegroom is dead. His palace and city are his mausoleum. Is this the city you know? She has not heard the wheels of her street or the hoof-tread horses of horses. The streets are where the fish swim and the black gondola glides over the green water. Moon continued, “I will show you the area, the largest square in it, so you’ll feel transported into the city of fairy tales.”
Charlotte Dacre; Zofloya or The Moor
Charlotte King was Dacre’s mother. She was one of the most radical women writers in the Romantic period. Her contemporary critics accused her of writing sexually explicit and immoral material. She was the daughter of John King, a money-lender who was often bankrupt. She often wrote under the pseudonym Charlotte Dacre. Zofloya, or The Moor was published in 1806. It describes the’stately Venice’ of politics and high society elsewhere. The novel is set against dark undercurrents and intrigue.
Victoria saw the domes and towers of the stately Venice rise proudly from the Adriatic, its green arms surrounding it. It was the Carnival time. As they approached the lake, a multitude of gay and magnificent gondolas appeared. They were soon at St. Mark’s. Victoria turned to the gondolier to express her gratitude. He smiled and nodded, helping Victoria out of the gondola. She whispered in his ear that he would never object to giving such a pretty girl a service.
Mary Shelley, the daughter of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, is most well-known for her epic novel Frankenstein. It was first published anonymously in 1818. Mary Shelley traveled around Europe with Percy Bysshe Shelley, and stayed in Italy during her extended stay. It was a difficult time in her life, marked by the deaths of two of her children. However, it had a profound impact on her writing later.
“There is something different about Venice than any other place in this world. You leave behind all your everyday habits to enter an enchanted forest.”
Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lines Written Between the Euganean Hill Hills
Percy Shelley, like many Romantic writers, had a deep love for Italy. Percy and Mary Shelley moved from one city to the next to escape their creditors in England. Percy died in 1822 after his boat got caught in a storm. He was drowned in the Gulf of La Spezia. It was later named the “Gulf of Poets”. Venice is portrayed as an ocean deity in this poem.
“Beneath spreads like a green ocean
The flat plain of Lombardy.
Bound by the vaporous atmosphere
Cities fair islanded
Underneath Day’s azure eyes
Ocean’s nursling, Venice lies,
The walls are a labyrinth for people.
Amphitrite’s destin’d halls,
And her old sire, now paves
His blue, beaming waves