By James Charlton in “Bred Any Good Rooks Lately?”
Percy Shelly was despondent. After banging out pamphlets and poems, odes and dramas with ease he had suddenly run up against that which all poets fear more than editorial rejection — writer’s block. No matter how hard he tried, nothing came. Page after page of jibberish went into the basket.
Pacing the streets of Oxford one morning he encountered his good friend Keats. Keats was in fine spirits but soon became solicitous when he heard the poet’s plight.
“The very thing happened to me last year,” said Keats. “Upon the advice of a friend I visited a small religious retreat, Mount St. Michaela, off the coast of Cornwall. It is run by an order of nuns and there is nothing to do but listen to the surf and the gulls. In no time at all I was afire to put pen to paper.”
“Then I shall do it,” vowed Shelley, and he hurried off to make arrangements.
Three days later, after a long, dusty and tiring coach ride, he soon arrived in the small coastal village across from the nunnery, and there he hired a skiff to take him over to the island three miles distant. A wind was coming up and the sun was setting as the fisherman methodically pulled the oars, drawing the boat every nearer. The waves grew angrier but finally the boat scraped alongside a rock and Shelley jumped ashore. Scrambling up the stone steps, he made his way to the front door of the convent and a young woman peered out.
“I’m Percy Bysshe Shelley and I’ve come to stay here awhile. Please let me in.”
“I’m only a novitiate,” a small voice answered. “Mother Superior has retired for the night and only if I have her signature can I allow you admittance.”
“But a storm is coming up and the boat has gone back to the village,” pleaded the poet. “Surely you can authorize it yourself.”
“I’m very sorry,” answered the young sister. “You have to wait till the nun signs, Shelly.”