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The Prisoner of Chillon
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George Gordon, Lord Byron (1816), page 2
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   But he, the favourite and the flower,
Most cherish’d since his natal hour,
His mother’s image in fair face
The infant love of all his race
His martyr’d father’s dearest thought,
My latest care, for whom I sought
To hoard my life, that his might be
Less wretched now, and one day free;
He, too, who yet had held untired
A spirit natural or inspired—
He, too, was struck, and day by day
Was wither’d on the stalk away.
Oh, God! it is a fearful thing
To see the human soul take wing
In any shape, in any mood:
I’ve seen it rushing forth in blood,
I’ve seen it on the breaking ocean
Strive with a swoln convulsive motion,
I’ve seen the sick and ghastly bed
Of Sin delirious with its dread:
But these were horrors—this was woe
Unmix’d with such—but sure and slow:
He faded, and so calm and meek,
So softly worn, so sweetly weak,
So tearless, yet so tender—kind,
And grieved for those he left behind;
With all the while a cheek whose bloom
Was as a mockery of the tomb
Whose tints as gently sunk away
As a departing rainbow’s ray;
An eye of most transparent light,
That almost made the dungeon bright;
And not a word of murmur—not
A groan o’er his untimely lot,—
A little talk of better days,
A little hope my own to raise,
For I was sunk in silence—lost
In this last loss, of all the most;
And then the sighs he would suppress
Of fainting Nature’s feebleness,
More slowly drawn, grew less and less:
I listen’d, but I could not hear;
I call’d, for I was wild with fear;
I knew ’twas hopeless, but my dread
Would not be thus admonishèd;
I call’d, and thought I heard a sound—
I burst my chain with one strong bound,
And rushed to him:—I found him not,
I only stirred in this black spot,
I only lived, I only drew
The accursed breath of dungeon-dew;
The last, the sole, the dearest link
Between me and the eternal brink,
Which bound me to my failing race
Was broken in this fatal place.
One on the earth, and one beneath—
My brothers—both had ceased to breathe:
I took that hand which lay so still,
Alas! my own was full as chill;
I had not strength to stir, or strive,
But felt that I was still alive—
A frantic feeling, when we know
That what we love shall ne’er be so.
            I know not why
            I could not die,
I had no earthly hope—but faith,
And that forbade a selfish death.

   What next befell me then and there
       I know not well—I never knew—
First came the loss of light, and air,
       And then of darkness too:
I had no thought, no feeling—none—
Among the stones I stood a stone,
And was, scarce conscious what I wist,
As shrubless crags within the mist;
For all was blank, and bleak, and grey;
It was not night—it was not day;
It was not even the dungeon-light,
So hateful to my heavy sight,
But vacancy absorbing space,
And fixedness—without a place;
There were no stars, no earth, no time,
No check, no change, no good, no crime
But silence, and a stirless breath
Which neither was of life nor death;
A sea of stagnant idleness,
Blind, boundless, mute, and motionless!
A light broke in upon my brain,—
       It was the carol of a bird;
It ceased, and then it came again,
       The sweetest song ear ever heard,
And mine was thankful till my eyes
Ran over with the glad surprise,
And they that moment could not see
I was the mate of misery;
But then by dull degrees came back
My senses to their wonted track;
I saw the dungeon walls and floor
Close slowly round me as before,
I saw the glimmer of the sun
Creeping as it before had done,
But through the crevice where it came
That bird was perch’d, as fond and tame,
       And tamer than upon the tree;
A lovely bird, with azure wings,
And song that said a thousand things,
       And seemed to say them all for me!
I never saw its like before,
I ne’er shall see its likeness more:
It seem’d like me to want a mate,
But was not half so desolate,
And it was come to love me when
None lived to love me so again,
And cheering from my dungeon’s brink,
Had brought me back to feel and think.
I know not if it late were free,
       Or broke its cage to perch on mine,
But knowing well captivity,
       Sweet bird! I could not wish for thine!
Or if it were, in wingèd guise,
A visitant from Paradise;
For—Heaven forgive that thought! the while
Which made me both to weep and smile—
I sometimes deem’d that it might be
My brother’s soul come down to me;
But then at last away it flew,
And then ’twas mortal well I knew,
For he would never thus have flown—
And left me twice so doubly lone,—
Lone as the corse within its shroud,
Lone as a solitary cloud,
       A single cloud on a sunny day,
While all the rest of heaven is clear,
A frown upon the atmosphere,
That hath no business to appear
       When skies are blue, and earth is gay.

   A kind of change came in my fate,
My keepers grew compassionate;
I know not what had made them so,
They were inured to sights of woe,
But so it was:—my broken chain
With links unfasten’d did remain,
And it was liberty to stride
Along my cell from side to side,
And up and down, and then athwart,
And tread it over every part;
And round the pillars one by one,
Returning where my walk begun,
Avoiding only, as I trod,
My brothers’ graves without a sod;
For if I thought with heedless tread
My step profaned their lowly bed,
My breath came gaspingly and thick,
And my crush’d heart felt blind and sick.
I made a footing in the wall,
       It was not therefrom to escape,
For I had buried one and all,
       Who loved me in a human shape;
And the whole earth would henceforth be
A wider prison unto me:
No child, no sire, no kin had I,
No partner in my misery;
I thought of this, and I was glad,
For thought of them had made me mad;
But I was curious to ascend
To my barr’d windows, and to bend
Once more, upon the mountains high,
The quiet of a loving eye.

   I saw them—and they were the same,
They were not changed like me in frame;
I saw their thousand years of snow
On high—their wide long lake below,
And the blue Rhone in fullest flow;
I heard the torrents leap and gush
O’er channell’d rock and broken bush;
I saw the white-wall’d distant town,
And whiter sails go skimming down;
And then there was a little isle,
Which in my very face did smile,
       The only one in view;
A small green isle, it seem’d no more,
Scarce broader than my dungeon floor,
But in it there were three tall trees,
And o’er it blew the mountain breeze,
And by it there were waters flowing,
And on it there were young flowers growing,
       Of gentle breath and hue.
The fish swam by the castle wall,
And they seem’d joyous each and all;
The eagle rode the rising blast,
Methought he never flew so fast
As then to me he seem’d to fly;
And then new tears came in my eye,
And I felt troubled—and would fain
I had not left my recent chain;
And when I did descend again,
The darkness of my dim abode
Fell on me as a heavy load;
It was as is a new-dug grave,
Closing o’er one we sought to save,—
And yet my glance, too much opprest,
Had almost need of such a rest.

   It might be months, or years, or days—
       I kept no count, I took no note—
I had no hope my eyes to raise,
       And clear them of their dreary mote;
At last men came to set me free;
       I ask’d not why, and reck’d not where;
It was at length the same to me,
Fetter’d or fetterless to be,
       I learn’d to love despair.
And thus when they appear’d at last,
And all my bonds aside were cast,
These heavy walls to me had grown
A hermitage—and all my own!
And half I felt as they were come
To tear me from a second home:
With spiders I had friendship made
And watch’d them in their sullen trade,
Had seen the mice by moonlight play,
And why should I feel less than they?
We were all inmates of one place,
And I, the monarch of each race,
Had power to kill—yet, strange to tell!
In quiet we had learn’d to dwell;
My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are:—even I
Regain’d my freedom with a sigh.




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