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THE PRISONER OF CHILLON.
SONNET ON CHILLON.
ETERNAL Spirit of the chainless Mind!
To fetters, and the damp vault's dayless gloom,
And thy sad floor an altar-for 'twas trod,
Worn, as if thy cold pavement were a sod,
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."
3 "His [Byron's] sonnets are all good; the best is that on Bonnivard, one of his noblest and completest poems
THE PRISONER OF CHILLON.
My hair is gray, but not with years,
In a single night,
As men's have grown from sudden fears:
For they have been a dungeon's spoil,
And mine has been the fate of those
Proud of Persecution's rage;
1 Byron cites the case of Ludovico Sforza and of Marie Antoinette. there other instances?
Dying as their father died,
There are seven pillars of Gothic mold,
A sunbeam which hath lost its way,
And in each ring there is a chain;
For in these limbs its teeth remain,
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
They chained us each to a column stone,1
Fettered in hand, but joined in heart,
But even these at length grew cold.
A grating sound, not full and free,
I was the eldest of the three,
And to uphold and cheer the rest
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.