The Poets of Venice - 'Around me are the Stars and Waters'

This article was previously published in the special edition, VENICE (July 2019).

To call Venice a city of ghosts is painfully cliché. But what isn’t cliché about the famous floating city – La Serenissima, the ‘most serene’ city? As literature’s love affair with Venice continues doggedly into its sixth century, poets and writers persistently attempt to revive the lost romanticism of the crumbling coloured façades, the slow gondolas traversing the Grand Canal and the view across the lagoon to the swiss-cheese exterior of the Doge’s Palace. On the one hand, nothing appears changed from the Venice that belonged to the Romantics – the city still sings of those poet-traps; sun, ruin, colour, history. When the light fades and the day-trippers embark back on the Vaporetti, it's not hard to picture Lord Byron swimming back along the Grand Canal, pushing a small candle on a board in front of him to light the path back to his Palazzo.

Around me are the stars and waters, —

Worlds mirrored in the ocean

- Lord Byron, Palazzo Lioni

And yet, to twenty-first-century eyes – ones far too saturated by Canaletto, Giorgione, Bellini; by tourism boards and tea-towels printed with San Marco – the ruin-sun-history matrix appears exhausted of stories. Stripped by the twenty million tourists that flood the streets each year. Through the voices of other visitors to Venice, I hope to find my own vantage point on the city, teetering between an idyll of the past and a sad ruin of a long-lost golden age. I start in the most recent past, and with a poet that saw a Venice closest to that which I saw.

Joseph Brodsky (Visited Venice regularly 1972 - 1996)