The Funeral of Shelley


The Funeral of Shelley  – Louis Édouard Fournier – 1889


So the story goes, Percy Shelley drowns in 1822, when his yacht is wrecked in a storm. He is 29 years old. A funeral pyre is built to cremate the body, but because it is saturated in sea water, the organs don’t burn very well. At a certain point, once the body is open like a book and its story is rising in clouds, someone reaches in and pulls out the heart, charred and sopping. The heart is given to Mary Shelley, who wraps the organ in a page of Percy’s poetry, and then keeps the charred organ-stone in her desk drawer for the next 30 years. Later there is conjecture as to whether it was actually the heart, or whether it was perhaps the liver that was removed. Now, while the heart may be more immediately romantic, the liver is also an organ of filtering and processing a larger flow – in some way very poetic – not to mention the links to the myth of Prometheus, who after stealing fire from the gods and gifting it to humans, is punished by being bound to a rock and having his liver torn out by eagles day after day for eternity.


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