Hôtel De L'ancre, Ouchy

HERE Byron and here Shelley slept —
Here, after happy voyaging,
Under a sudden rain they stepped
Ashore, in hopes that port would bring
All storm-spent pilgrims’ first desire —
Poets or peers or simple men —
Bed, a hot supper, and a fire;
But, the last two attained, oh! then
Within that room what talk there was —
Where travelers, merchants, clerks, would meet,
And whose drab walls, smeared looking-glass,
Rug frayed by countless transient feet,
Witnessed each day dull men’s dull words —
As if upon a garden bush,
The sober inn of sober birds —
Sparrow and robin, wren and thrush —
Two, strange and lovely, should alight,
Brilliant of feather and of song,
And — mixed disturbance and delight —
Make music there the whole night long.
They talked as friends will talk, who know
They may not find such hours again,
Lulled and encouraged by the slow
Soft thrumming of the summer rain;
As men may talk, when full and free
Exchange of tolerance is given,
Although they hotly disagree
On everything in Earth or Heaven.
And Byron in his low sweet voice
Spoke desperately his grim belief
Of man predestined and sans choice,
Shieldless alike to sin and grief
On earth, and damned hereafter — each
The quarry of Blind Power Above;
And Shelley, in his eager screech,
Of Freedom and Eternal Love.
Their fancy’s fiery wine ran red,
Blended with that of earthlier make
From Vaud’s steep sunny vineyards, spread
Tier upon tier above the lake.
And when at last they said ‘good-night’ —
Because all other words were said —
The mountain stars shone big and bright,
And flashed a dream round Shelley’s bed;
While a cold wind from Chillon blew
Desolately through Byron’s hair,
Till his heart’s sorrow woke, and knew
That it had found its brother there.
And Byron dreamed of prisoned man
In dungeons of subaqueous stone,
Thrust to a doom Promethean,
Fettered, defiant, and alone.
But Shelley dreamed of mountain tops —
White, cloudless, sunward-soaring, free —
Where even the ungyved spirit stops
With only blue for boundary.
JOAN RAMSAY