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THE PRISONER OF CHILLON.

SONNET ON CHILLON.

ETERNAL Spirit of the chainless Mind!
Brightest in dungeons, Liberty! thou art,
For there thy habitation is the heart-
The heart which love of thee alone can bind;
And when thy sons to fetters are consigned-

To fetters, and the damp vault's dayless gloom,
Their country conquers with their martyrdom,
And Freedom's fame finds wings on every wind.
Chillon! thy prison is a holy place,

And thy sad floor an altar-for 'twas trod,
Until his very steps have left a trace

Worn, as if thy cold pavement were a sod,
By Bonnivard!2 May none those marks efface!
For they appeal from tyranny to God.3

1 The last six lines of this noble introductory sonnet are thrillingly impressive.

2 François de Bonnivard, a magistrate and political writer of Geneva, suffered six years' imprisonment in Chillon for helping to defend the freedom of Geneva against the duke of Savoy. He was rescued by his countrymen, who captured the castle in the year 1536. This real hero must not be confounded with the imaginary prisoner of the poetical tale. Byron himself wrote: "When this poem was composed I was not sufficiently aware of the history of Bonnivard, or I should have endeavored to dignify the subject by an attempt to celebrate his courage and his virtues."

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3 "His [Byron's] sonnets are all good; the best is that on Bonnivard, one of his noblest and completest poems

(SWINBURNE).

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THE PRISONER OF CHILLON.

I.

My hair is gray, but not with years,
Nor grew it white

In a single night,

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As men's have grown from sudden fears:
My limbs are bowed, though not with toil.
But rusted with a vile repose,

For they have been a dungeon's spoil,

And mine has been the fate of those
To whom the goodly earth and air
Are banned, and barred-forbidden fare;
But this was for my father's faith
I suffered chains and courted death;
That father perished at the stake
For tenets he would not forsake;
And for the same his lineal race
In darkness found a dwelling place;
We were seven-who now are one,
Six in youth, and one in age,
Finished as they had begun,

Proud of Persecution's rage;
One in fire, and two in field,
Their belief with blood have sealed,

1 Byron cites the case of Ludovico Sforza and of Marie Antoinette. there other instances?

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Dying as their father died,
For the God their foes denied ;
Three were in a dungeon cast,
Of whom this wreck is left the last.

II.

There are seven pillars of Gothic mold,
In Chillon's dungeons 1 deep and old,
There are seven columns, massy and gray,
Dim with a dull imprisoned ray,

A sunbeam which hath lost its way,
And through the crevice and the cleft
Of the thick wall is fallen and left;
Creeping o'er the floor so damp,
Like a marsh's meteor lamp: 2
And in each pillar there is a ring,

And in each ring there is a chain;
That iron is a cankering thing,

For in these limbs its teeth remain,
With marks that will not wear away,
Till I have done with this new day,
Which now is painful to these eyes,
Which have not seen the sun so rise
For years I cannot count them o'er,
I lost their long and heavy score,
When my last brother drooped and died,
And I lay living by his side.

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1 The deep old dungeon which suggested the poem is not so gloomy as the verses would indicate. Longfellow called it a "delightful dungeon." "In the cells," wrote Byron, are seven pillars, or rather eight, one being half merged in the wall. In some of these are rings for the fetters and the fettered. On the pavement the steps of Bonnivard have left their traces."

2 A meteor is any atmospheric phenomenon. Marsh gas takes fire spontaneously on coming in contact with oxygen. Byron's "meteor lamp" is the

III.

They chained us each to a column stone,1
And we were three-yet, each alone;
We could not move a single pace,
We could not see each other's face,
But with that pale and livid light
That made us strangers in our sight:
And thus together-yet apart,

Fettered in hand, but joined in heart,
'Twas still some solace, in the dearth
Of the pure elements of earth,
To hearken to each other's speech,
And each turn comforter to each
With some new hope, or legend old,
Or song heroically bold;

But even these at length grew cold.
Our voices took a dreary tone,
An echo of the dungeon stone,

A grating sound, not full and free,
As they of yore were wont to be:
It might be fancy, but to me
They never sounded like our own.

IV.

I was the eldest of the three,

And to uphold and cheer the rest
I ought to do—and did my best-
And each did well in his degree.

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ignis fatuus or will-o'-the-wisp, the Jack-o'-lantern of superstition. (See Milton's L'Allegro for "friar's lantern.")

1 Byron's name, graved by his own hand, is on the central" column stone," the one to which Bonnivard was chained.

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