San Michele, Venice, Italy

The island of San Michelle with its yellow-bricked wall surround and cemetery trees

Home to the first Renaissance church in Venice, Isola di San Michele (the island of San Michele) is more famous today as the burial place of Russian composer, Igor Stravinsky, and American poet Ezra Pound.

Stravinksy, apparently, had a great fondness for Venice and made it clear during his life that when his number came up and the last curtain came down, he was to be buried on San Michele, close to his friend Serge Diaghilev [Sergei Pavlovich Diaghilev, usually referred to outside Russia as Serge Diaghilev, was a Russian art critic, patron, ballet impresario and founder of the Ballets Russes, from which many famous dancers and choreographers would arise.] Stravinsky was one of the great composers of the twentieth century. I feel a certain kinship with him as we both walked this earth at the same time. The fiftieth anniversary of his death was marked in 2021 with a special performance by the Teatro La Fenice at the Basilica di San Marco. He’s buried beside his second wife, Vera. There’s a wonderful interview with her on Thames TV from the late 1970s, if you’re interested.

Two gravestones lying flat on the ground, side by side, trimmed in red stone. On the left, IGOR STRAVINSKY. on the right, VERY STRAVINKSY. Both have wilted roses lying on them and are marked with two crosses. Around the edges of both, tiny pebbles have been placed.

Ezra Pound’s marker is less impressive for a man whom Time magazine described in 1933 as “a cat that walks by himself, tenaciously unhousebroken and very unsafe for children”. Pound, too, had a love affair with Italy. He moved there in 1924, bringing with him his disillusionment with Great Britain in the aftermath of the war.

He moved to Italy in 1924 and throughout the 1930s and 1940s embraced Benito Mussolini’s fascism, expressed support for Adolf Hitler, and wrote for publications owned by the British fascist Sir Oswald Mosley. During World War II, he was paid by the Italian government to make hundreds of radio broadcasts criticizing the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Jews, as a result of which he was arrested in 1945 by American forces in Italy on charges of treason. He spent months in detention in a U.S. military camp in Pisa, including three weeks in a 6-by-6-foot (1.8 by 1.8 m) outdoor steel cage, which he said triggered a mental breakdown: “when the raft broke and the waters went over me”. The following year he was deemed unfit to stand trial, and incarcerated in St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C., for over 12 years. Pound began work on sections of The Cantos while in custody in Italy. These parts were published as The Pisan Cantos (1948), for which he was awarded the Bollingen Prize in 1949 by the Library of Congress, leading to enormous controversy. Largely due to a campaign by his fellow writers, he was released from St. Elizabeths in 1958 and returned to live in Italy until his death.

A stone marker with the name EZRA POUND carved on it sits on a gravel bed surrounded by green foilage.

I didn’t find out till later that Pound’s mistress, American-born violinist Olga Rudge is also buried on San Michele, presumably beside him. I didn’t notice. I did notice one of the Irish Guinness family though. Ned to his friends. He’s a very distant relative of the bould Arthur, he who introduced the world a pint of black. It was a delight to stop and have a few words with him.

The gravemarker in the foreground, standing behind some green leaves, is inscribed EDWARD DOUGLAS GUINNESS CBE - Born 19 April 1893 Died (?) March 1983. Behind are four more gravestones, too far to be able to read the inscriptions

Family tomb with a marble angel looking up at the carved faces of two men. Her hands are cross over her busom, her ankles are crossed too. She has a quizzical look on her face. The statue is set on a red brick wall.

An angel sits, hand on his head, looking frustrated. He seems to be sitting by a grave covered in snow. The relief is on a crumbling wall of red and yellow brick.

A plaster relief on an old wall - a boy angel stands in front of a man who has his hand on his head, resting his elbow on his knee. His facial expression is one of 'No, what now!'

I stumbled across a superfluity of nuns, admittedly all of them long since reunited with Him in heaven. Seeing the various convents represented and the nuns, photographed in their habits reinforced the notion that they are indeed a dying breed. has an interesting article on nuns today. Worth a read.

A collage of three photos. 1. The gravemarker (a simple cross) of Sr Pierino Pesavento born 22/2/1931, died 9/3/2015. The photo insert is of her in her nuns habit. 2. A photo of a cemeteary showing crosses on simply granite graves. 3 A cross marker engraved with Sr M Caterina Simionato, Domenicane di S Caterina da Siena. Born 8/1/1924. Died 29/5/2015. A photo insert shows her in a white habit and black veil

Elsewhere, there was a children’s section. As always, it reminded me of the notion that we choose the body our soul inhabits, we see its destiny and know that by residing in it we will learn the lessons we’ve come to learn or perhaps teach. It’s the only way I can make sense of kids dying.

Like most graveyards, there was the stark reminder of wars gone by that never fail to make me ask if we’ll ever learn from our mistakes.

LHS = gravestone of Charles G Byron RNR - HMS - Earl of Peterborough 10 Dec 1918 aged 38. RHS. Mark Zuber, Lieutenant Aviator Chevalier de la Legion d'honneur. Died 22 years old 28 June 1917 for France and the defence of VEnice

The mozzies were biting and our time was limited so we didn’t spend as much time here as I’d have liked. I’d been before but had forgotten how quiet it is. It’s an idyllic spot. One I’d be happy to end up in, had I not almost certainly decided on cremation.

A curved yellow-bricked wall into which are set tombstones. Set against a blue sky with trees in the background.

A red bricked wall and ornate gateway with trees in the background and water in the foreground











@ 2024 Mary Murphy