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Lay for the Day
8th July

1822: Shelley drowns at sea off the coast of Italy. He was sailing in a small boat with Edward Williams, whom the poet had met, along with his common-law wife Jane, in January of the previous year.
Shelley had fallen desperately in love with Jane, and several of his last lyrics are addressed to her. In one of these, ‘With a Guitar, to Jane’, he compares her and her husband to Miranda and Ferdinand in Shakespeare’s Tempest, and himself to Ariel, disembodiedly devoted to her service. In another poem, ‘To Jane: The Recollection’ he recalls a walk with her in a forest by the coast: “And still I felt the centre of / The magic circle there / Was one fair form that filled with love / The lifeless atmosphere.” This ‘Recollection’ ends: “Though thou art ever fair and kind, / The forests ever green, / Less oft is peace in Shelley’s mind, / Than calm in waters, seen.”
Mary Shelley wrote, in the notes to her late husband’s poems: “Captain Roberts watched the vessel with his glass from the top of the lighthouse of Leghorn, on its homeward track. They were off Via Reggio, at some distance from shore, when a storm was driven over the sea. It enveloped them and several larger vessels in darkness. When the cloud passed onwards, Roberts looked again, and saw every other vessel sailing on the ocean except their little schooner, which had vanished.”
The bodies of Shelley and Williams were found on the shore ten days later, partly devoured. The poet was identified by a volume of Keats found in his pocket. Italian law forbade washed-up corpses to be removed, for fear of contagion, so they were temporarily buried, and cremated on the beach a few weeks later. Lord Byron was there, and plucked the poet’s heart unconsumed from the flames. He brought it to Mary, who kept it with her in a silk shroud for the rest of her life.

Waters of Sleep [Hear it here]

If you’ll find just a handful, a handful of loved ones,
If you’ll find just a handful
Of good friends to me,
Let them lower me down
With their kind helping hands, oh,
Let them lower me down to eternity.

Body gon’ die,
Body gon’ die,
Body gon’ die,
Body can’t live.

May the hands of the man who walked on the water,
The hands of the man
That commanded the deep,
The hands of the man
In the cold stormy sea, oh,
Raise me again from the waters of sleep.

Spirit will live,
Spirit will live,
Spirit will live,
Spirit can’t die.

Goodbye to my friends and all whom I did wrong,
Goodbye to my brothers
And sisters so strong.
I’ll meet you no more
In a sweet conversation
Till I take your two hands on that distant fair shore.

Body be raised,
Body be raised,
Body be raised,
Body rejoice.

Words and music by The Children,
from In Memory of Grace

The Lay Reader: an archive of the poetic calendar