The Prisoner of Chillon

(an extract from)

by Lord Byron


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 unfastened 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 crushed 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 barred 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 a 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 channeled rock and broken bush ;
I saw the white-walled 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 seemed 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 seemed joyous each and all ;
The eagle rode the rising blast,
Methought he never flew so fast
As then to me he seemed 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 asked not why, and recked not where ;
It  was at length the same to me,
Fettered or fetterless to be,
     I learned to love despair.
And thus when they appeared 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 watched 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 learned to dwell ;
My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are:—even I
Regained my freedom with a sigh.
Lord Byron | Classic Poems

Destruction of the Sennacherib ] Growing Old ] She Walks in Beauty ] Italy versus England ] The Eve of Waterloo ] [ from The Prisoner of Chillon ] The Isles of Greece ] from Don Juan ]






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