When I go to get milk I pass this street sign.
And it never fails to set my mind awhirl. Who was this street planner? Did he (or she) have an affinity for the Romantic poets of the late 19th century? Or did he (or she) simply pick up his daughter’s English text and flip through the index?
Let’s face it, it was probably a he, seeing as how the houses were built post WWII in the June Cleaver era where the women on TV were at home in apron and pearls, though, in this little neighborhood of Sears and Roebuck houses there were probably no women with the luxury of either time or television to drink in that image which was being drummed into the minds of suburban women in the name of Feminine Mystique.
But that– all of that–apron and pearls and kit homes and the passing cars in the intersection–plays into the mental spasm which is this intersection, at least in my mind. And here’s the raft trip of my mind as I pass this sign.
I begin from the very outskirts of Shelly—by which I mean Wollstonecraft, the British feminist who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Woman .
This unconventional woman was speaking out in a manner most radical—with progressive thought that was certainly ahead of June Cleaver and even more radical than the actions of the gangs who have tagged the neighborhood surrounding this intersection.
Taught from infancy that beauty is woman’s scepter,
the mind shapes itself to the body,
and roaming round its gilt cage,
only seeks to adorn its prison.
Mary, beautifully free souled Mary who questioned men and God far ahead of her time, died a mere ten days after giving birth to my favorite Shelly—Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, who, on a cold and dreary winter’s night at 18, sat with her then lover (Persey Shelly) and their bud, Lord Byron (oh, you Twilight fans—know you the debt you owe Lord Byron?) at Byron’s Swiss Villa swapping ghost stories when The Modern Prometeus, or as it is better known, Frankenstein, came into her mind. This is some of Mary W. Shelly (she later married that Persey boy and became Mary Shelly) in the words of her achingly tormented sweet soul of a monster:
I do know that for the sympathy of one living being, I would make peace with all. I have love in me the likes of which you can scarcely imagine and rage the likes of which you would not believe. If I cannot satisfy the one, I will indulge the other.
Frankenstein, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly
The vision of Victor Frankenstein’s rejected creation drifting into the darkness on his raft of ice, alone to carry out his own sacrifice is, to me, one of the most haunting images in literature—right up there with Tashtego nailing the sea hawk to the mast as the Pequod is swallowed by the enveloping sea.
Do not think that I shall be slow to perform this sacrifice. I shall quit your vessel on the ice raft which brought me thither and shall seek the most northern extremity of the globe; I shall collect my funeral pile and consume to ashes this miserable frame, that its remains may afford no light to any curious and unhallowed wretch who would create such another as I have been. I shall die. I shall no longer feel the agonies which now consume me or be the prey of feelings unsatisfied, yet unquenched. He is dead who called me into being; and when I shall be no more, the very remembrance of us both will speedily vanish. I shall no longer see the sun or stars or feel the winds play on my cheeks.
Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly
And finally in its intersection gymnastics, my mind reaches the literary intersection of Shelly and Keats, in the form of Adonais, the poem Percy Shelly wrote upon the death of his friend Keats–Keats being John(a-thing-of-beauty-is-a-joy-forever) Keats.
In contrast to what Keats requested be inscribed on his tombstone:
Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water.
Shelly wrote an entire tribute to the poet who died at the age of 25 casting young Keats as Adonis (or, as he spelled it Adonais):
The fire for which all thirst, now beams on me,
Consuming the last clouds of cold mortality.
The breath whose might I have invoked in song
Descends on me;
my spirit’s bark is driven
Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng
Whose sails were never to the tempest given;
The massy earth and sphered skies are riven!
I am borne darkly, fearfully, afar;
Whilst, burning through the inmost veil of Heaven,
The soul of Adonais, like a star,
Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are.
And from this intersection I reach Keats, whom one has to appreciate if for nothing else than the spirit of youth’s passionate romance:
Yet she had,
Indeed, locks bright enough to make me mad;
And they were simply gordian’d up and braided,
Leaving, in naked comeliness, unshaded,
Her pearl round ears, white neck, and orbed brow;
The which were blended in, I know not how,
With such a paradise of lips and eyes,
Blush-tinted cheeks, half smiles, and faintest sighs,
That, when I think thereon, my spirit clings
And plays about its fancy, till the stings
Of human neighbourhood envenom all.
John Keats, Endymion
And speaking of the neighborhood envenoming all, a thumper inevitably passes through the physical intersection as I am lost in 19th century romance and tears me ahead to the 21st century brand of this passion of youth as his radio blasts, and, really—is it so different?:
When I walk on by, girls be looking like damn he fly
I pimp to the beat, walking down the street in my new lafreak, yeah,
This is how I roll, animal print pants out control
It’s Redfoo with the big ass ‘fro
And like Bruce Leroy I got the glow, yo
Ahhh girl look at that body
Ahhh girl look at that body
Ahhh girl look at that body
I work out.
LMFAO, Sexy and I Know It
Well, yes it is that different. And here on the corner of Keats and Shelly I think of the articulate monster, and the tubercular poet and oh what I would give for that boy coughing up blood who wrote:
Methought I fainted at the charmed touch,
Yet held my recollection, even as one
Who dives three fathoms where the waters run
Gurgling in beds of coral: for anon,
I felt upmounted in that region
Where falling stars dart their artillery forth,
And eagles struggle with the buffeting north
That balances the heavy meteor-stone;–
Felt too, I was not fearful, nor alone,
But lapp’d and lull’d along the dangerous sky.
Soon, as it seem’d, we left our journeying high,
And straightway into frightful eddies swoop’d;
Such as ay muster where grey time has scoop’d
Huge dens and caverns in a mountain’s side:
There hollow sounds arous’d me, and I sigh’d
To faint once more by looking on my bliss–
I was distracted; madly did I kiss
The wooing arms which held me, and did give
My eyes at once to death: but ’twas to live,. . . .
John Keats Endymion
Take me by the tongue and I’ll know you
Kiss me till you’re drunk and I’ll show you all
All the moves like Jagger
I got the moves like Jagger
Maroon 5, Moves Like Jagger)
Oh, it is too too easy to condemn—I do appreciate the passion, the fun, the joy but still. . .
Ah, desperate mortal! I ev’n dar’d to press
Her very cheek against my crowned lip,
And, at that moment, felt my body dip
Into a warmer air: a moment more,
Our feet were soft in flowers.
John Keats Endymion
The words of Persey Shelly assure us that this boy was no watercolor, but we. . .
Peace, peace! he is not dead, he doth not sleep-
He hath awakened from the dream of life-
‘Tis we, who lost in stormy visions, keep
With phantoms an unprofitable strife,
And in mad trance, strike with our spirit’s knife
Invulnerable nothings.-We decay
Like corpses in a charnel; fear and grief
Convulse us and consume us day by day,
And cold hopes swarm like worms within our living clay.
Persey Bysshe Shelley, Adonais