Poet John Keats’s burial was in the older section of the cemetery. As I contemplated his tomb and his final days in Rome, they seemed strangely contemporary: they revolved around a respiratory disease and quarantining during international travel. Finding his slow consumption worrisome, his doctors advised him to travel to Rome, where a more temperate climate might improve his health. After surviving the nervous tension of a storm at sea during his travels, Keats spent ten days in quarantine in Naples, due to a cholera outbreak in England that Neapolitan authorities wanted to keep at bay. Two months after his departure from London, he reached Rome. He lived in an apartment on Piazza di Spagna and his last letter (dated 30 November, 1820) describes his losing battle with tuberculosis: “Tis the most difficult thing in the world to me to write a letter. … I have an habitual feeling of my real life having past, and that I am leading a posthumous existence” (from Keats’s letters at the Keats-Shelley House in Rome).
Despite the assiduous cares of his friend, Joseph Severn (with whom he had traveled to Rome) and Doctor James Clark, Keats died on 23 February, 1821. Keats’s friends, presumably Joseph Severn and Charles Armitage Brown, wrote most of the epitaph on his tombstone in the Non-Catholic Cemetery, which was positioned two years after his burial. The last line is Keats’s: “This grave contains all that was mortal, of a YOUNG ENGLISH POET, who on his death bed, in the bitterness of his heart, at the malicious power of his enemies, desired these words to be engraven on his tombstone: Here lies one whose name was writ in water.”