If you have any interest in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or vampires or Romantic poets or, who knows, Swiss tourism, you've most likely read Polidori’s name. He’s a curio, Polly Dolly, most notable not for what he wrote but for being nearby when other people wrote things. It’s a strange afterlife; to think you've landed a leading role, and then there you are, on stage, sure, and with big names too, but fixed to a mark far upstage and over to the left, near the wings, in the half-dark where the spotlight doesn't quite reach. “Poor Polidori.” That’s how Mary Shelley referred to him, writing years later. And he was. Here is how he creeps into letters, like this one written by Byron: “Dr. Polidori is not here, but at Diodati, left behind in hospital with a sprained ankle, which he acquired in tumbling from a wall—he can’t jump.” It was John Polidori’s misfortune to be comic without having a sense of humor, to wish to be a great writer but to be a terrible one, to be unusually bright but surrounded for one summer by people who were titanically brighter, and to have just enough of an awareness of all of this to make him perpetually uneasy. Also, he couldn't jump. Poor Polidori.
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,There is a rapture on the lonely shore, There is society where none intrudes, By the deep Sea, and music in its roar: I love not Man the less, but Nature more, From these our interviews, in which I steal From all I may be, or have been before, To mingle with the Universe, and feel What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.
Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean--roll! Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain; Man marks the earth with ruin--his control Stops with the shore;--upon the watery plain The wrecks are all thy deed, nor doth remain A shadow of man’s ravage, save his own, When for a moment, like a drop of rain, He sinks into thy depths with bubbling groan, Without a grave, unknelled, uncoffined, and unknown.
His steps are not upon thy paths,--thy fields Are not a spoil for him,--thou dost arise And shake him from thee; the vile strength he wields For earth’s destruction thou dost all despise, Spurning him from thy bosom to the skies, And send’st him, shivering in thy playful spray And howling, to his gods, where haply lies His petty hope in some near port or bay, And dashest him again to earth: —there let him lay.