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The Prisoner of Chillon



A Penn State University

Electronic Classics Series


The Prisoner of Chillon by Byron is a publication of the Pennsylvania State University. This Portable Document file is furnished free and without any charge of any kind. Any person using this document file, for any purpose, and in any way does so at his or her own risk.

Neither the Pennsylvania State University nor Jim Manis, Faculty Editor, nor anyone asso-ciated with the Pennsylvania State University assumes any responsibility for the material contained within the document or for the file as an electronic transmission, in any way.

The Prisoner of Chillon by Byron, the Pennsylvania State University, Jim Manis, Faculty Editor, Hazleton, PA 18201-1291 is a Portable Document File produced as part of an ongoing student publication project to bring classical works of literature, in English, to free and easy access of those wishing to make use of them, and as such is a part of the Pennsylvania State University’s Electronic Classics Series.

Cover design: Jim Manis; [At Venice (1820) From a drawing by G. H. Harlow]

Copyright © 1999 The Pennsylvania State University The Pennsylvania State University is an equal opportunity University.

“The Prisoner of Chillon” – Byron


We were seven—who now are one,

Six in youth, and one in age,


Finish’d as they had begun,

by George Gordon, Lord Byron

Proud of Persecution’s rage;

One in fire, and two in field,

My hair is grey, but not with years, Their belief with blood have seal’d, Nor grew it white

Dying as their father died,

In a single night,

For the God their foes denied;—

As men’s have grown from sudden fears: Three were in a dungeon cast,

My limbs are bow’d, though not with toil, Of whom this wreck is left the last.

But rusted with a vile repose,

For they have been a dungeon’s spoil, There are seven pillars of Gothic mould, And mine has been the fate of those In Chillon’s dungeons deep and old, To whom the goodly earth and air

There are seven columns, massy and grey, Are bann’d, and barr’d—forbidden fare; Dim with a dull imprison’d ray,

But this was for my father’s faith A sunbeam which hath lost its way, I suffer’d chains and courted death; And through the crevice and the cleft That father perish’d at the stake

Of the thick wall is fallen and left; For tenets he would not forsake;

Creeping o’er the floor so damp,

And for the same his lineal race

Like a marsh’s meteor lamp:

In darkness found a dwelling place; And in each pillar there is a ring, 3

“The Prisoner of Chillon” – Byron

And in each ring there is a chain; Of the pure elements of earth,

That iron is a cankering thing,

To hearken to each other’s speech, For in these limbs its teeth remain, And each turn comforter to each

With marks that will not wear away, With some new hope, or legend old, Till I have done with this new day, Or song heroically bold;

Which now is painful to these eyes, But even these at length grew cold.

Which have not seen the sun so rise Our voices took a dreary tone,

For years—I cannot count them o’er, An echo of the dungeon stone,

I lost their long and heavy score

A grating sound, not full and free, When my last brother droop’d and died, As they of yore were wont to be:

And I lay living by his side.

It might be fancy—but to me

They never sounded like our own.

They chain’d us each to a column stone, And we were three—yet, each alone; I was the eldest of the three

We could not move a single pace,

And to uphold and cheer the rest

We could not see each other’s face, I ought to do—and did my best—

But with that pale and livid light And each did well in his degree.

That made us strangers in our sight: The youngest, whom my father loved, And thus together—yet apart,

Because our mother’s brow was given Fetter’d in hand, but join’d in heart, To him, with eyes as blue as heaven—

’Twas still some solace in the dearth For him my soul was sorely moved:


“The Prisoner of Chillon” – Byron

And truly might it be distress’d

With joy:—but not in chains to pine: To see such bird in such a nest;

His spirit wither’d with their clank, For he was beautiful as day—

I saw it silently decline—

(When day was beautiful to me

And so perchance in sooth did mine: As to young eagles, being free)—

But yet I forced it on to cheer

A polar day, which will not see

Those relics of a home so dear.

A sunset till its summer’s gone,

He was a hunter of the hills,

Its sleepless summer of long light, Had followed there the deer and wolf; The snow-clad offspring of the sun: To him this dungeon was a gulf,

And thus he was as pure and bright, And fetter’d feet the worst of ills.

And in his natural spirit gay,

With tears for nought but others’ ills, Lake Leman lies by Chillon’s walls: And then they flow’d like mountain rills, A thousand feet in depth below

Unless he could assuage the woe

Its massy waters meet and flow;

Which he abhorr’d to view below.

Thus much the fathom-line was sent From Chillon’s snow-white battlement, The other was as pure of mind,

Which round about the wave inthralls: But form’d to combat with his kind; A double dungeon wall and wave

Strong in his frame, and of a mood Have made—and like a living grave

Which ‘gainst the world in war had stood, Below the surface of the lake

And perish’d in the foremost rank

The dark vault lies wherein we lay: 5

“The Prisoner of Chillon” – Byron

We heard it ripple night and day;

Like brutes within an iron den;

Sounding o’er our heads it knock’d; But what were these to us or him?

And I have felt the winter’s spray These wasted not his heart or limb; Wash through the bars when winds were high My brother’s soul was of that mould And wanton in the happy sky;

Which in a palace had grown cold,

And then the very rock hath rock’d, Had his free breathing been denied And I have felt it shake, unshock’d, The range of the steep mountain’s side; Because I could have smiled to see But why delay the truth?—he died.

The death that would have set me free.

I saw, and could not hold his head, Nor reach his dying hand—nor dead,—

I said my nearer brother pined,

Though hard I strove, but strove in vain, I said his mighty heart declined,

To rend and gnash my bonds in twain.

He loathed and put away his food;

He died—and they unlock’d his chain, It was not that ’twas coarse and rude, And scoop’d for him a shallow grave For we were used to hunter’s fare, Even from the cold earth of our cave.

And for the like had little care:

I begg’d them, as a boon, to lay

The milk drawn from the mountain goat His corse in dust whereon the day

Was changed for water from the moat, Might shine—it was a foolish thought, Our bread was such as captives’ tears But then within my brain it wrought, Have moisten’d many a thousand years, That even in death his freeborn breast Since man first pent his fellow men In such a dungeon could not rest.


“The Prisoner of Chillon” – Byron

I might have spared my idle prayer—

In any shape, in any mood:

They coldly laugh’d—and laid him there: I’ve seen it rushing forth in blood, The flat and turfless earth above

I’ve seen it on the breaking ocean The being we so much did love;

Strive with a swoln convulsive motion, His empty chain above it leant,

I’ve seen the sick and ghastly bed Such Murder’s fitting monument!

Of Sin delirious with its dread:

But these were horrors—this was woe But he, the favourite and the flower, Unmix’d with such—but sure and slow: Most cherish’d since his natal hour, He faded, and so calm and meek,

His mother’s image in fair face

So softly worn, so sweetly weak,

The infant love of all his race

So tearless, yet so tender—kind,

His martyr’d father’s dearest thought, And grieved for those he left behind; My latest care, for whom I sought

With all the while a cheek whose bloom To hoard my life, that his might be Was as a mockery of the tomb

Less wretched now, and one day free; Whose tints as gently sunk away

He, too, who yet had held untired

As a departing rainbow’s ray;

A spirit natural or inspired—

An eye of most transparent light,

He, too, was struck, and day by day That almost made the dungeon bright; Was wither’d on the stalk away.

And not a word of murmur—not

Oh, God! it is a fearful thing

A groan o’er his untimely lot,—

To see the human soul take wing

A little talk of better days,


“The Prisoner of Chillon” – Byron

A little hope my own to raise,

My brothers—both had ceased to breathe: For I was sunk in silence—lost

I took that hand which lay so still, In this last loss, of all the most; Alas! my own was full as chill;

And then the sighs he would suppress I had not strength to stir, or strive, Of fainting Nature’s feebleness,

But felt that I was still alive—

More slowly drawn, grew less and less: A frantic feeling, when we know

I listen’d, but I could not hear;

That what we love shall ne’er be so.

I call’d, for I was wild with fear; I know not why

I knew ’twas hopeless, but my dread I could not die,

Would not be thus admonishèd;

I had no earthly hope—but faith,

I call’d, and thought I heard a sound—

And that forbade a selfish death.

I burst my chain with one strong bound, And rushed to him:—I found him not, What next befell me then and there I only stirred in this black spot, I know not well—I never knew—

I only lived, I only drew

First came the loss of light, and air, The accursed breath of dungeon-dew; And then of darkness too:

The last, the sole, the dearest link I had no thought, no feeling—none—

Between me and the eternal brink,

Among the stones I stood a stone,

Which bound me to my failing race

And was, scarce conscious what I wist, Was broken in this fatal place.

As shrubless crags within the mist; One on the earth, and one beneath—

For all was blank, and bleak, and grey; 8

“The Prisoner of Chillon” – Byron

It was not night—it was not day;

I saw the dungeon walls and floor

It was not even the dungeon-light, Close slowly round me as before,

So hateful to my heavy sight,

I saw the glimmer of the sun

But vacancy absorbing space,

Creeping as it before had done,

And fixedness—without a place;

But through the crevice where it came There were no stars, no earth, no time, That bird was perch’d, as fond and tame, No check, no change, no good, no crime And tamer than upon the tree;

But silence, and a stirless breath A lovely bird, with azure wings,

Which neither was of life nor death; And song that said a thousand things, A sea of stagnant idleness,

And seemed to say them all for me!

Blind, boundless, mute, and motionless!

I never saw its like before,

A light broke in upon my brain,—

I ne’er shall see its likeness more: It was the carol of a bird;

It seem’d like me to want a mate,

It ceased, and then it came again, But was not half so desolate,

The sweetest song ear ever heard,

And it was come to love me when

And mine was thankful till my eyes None lived to love me so again,

Ran over with the glad surprise,

And cheering from my dungeon’s brink, And they that moment could not see Had brought me back to feel and think.

I was the mate of misery;

I know not if it late were free,

But then by dull degrees came back Or broke its cage to perch on mine, My senses to their wonted track;

But knowing well captivity,


“The Prisoner of Chillon” – Byron

Sweet bird! I could not wish for thine!

I know not what had made them so,

Or if it were, in wingèd guise,

They were inured to sights of woe, A visitant from Paradise;

But so it was:—my broken chain

For—Heaven forgive that thought! the while With links unfasten’d did remain,

Which made me both to weep and smile—

And it was liberty to stride

I sometimes deem’d that it might be Along my cell from side to side,

My brother’s soul come down to me; And up and down, and then athwart, But then at last away it flew,

And tread it over every part;

And then ’twas mortal well I knew, And round the pillars one by one,

For he would never thus have flown—

Returning where my walk begun,

And left me twice so doubly lone,—

Avoiding only, as I trod,

Lone as the corse within its shroud, My brothers’ graves without a sod; Lone as a solitary cloud,

For if I thought with heedless tread A single cloud on a sunny day,

My step profaned their lowly bed,

While all the rest of heaven is clear, My breath came gaspingly and thick, A frown upon the atmosphere,

And my crush’d heart felt blind and sick.

That hath no business to appear

I made a footing in the wall,

When skies are blue, and earth is gay.

It was not therefrom to escape,

For I had buried one and all,

A kind of change came in my fate,

Who loved me in a human shape;

My keepers grew compassionate;

And the whole earth would henceforth be 10

“The Prisoner of Chillon” – Byron

A wider prison unto me:

The only one in view;

No child, no sire, no kin had I,

A small green isle, it seem’d no more, No partner in my misery;

Scarce broader than my dungeon floor, I thought of this, and I was glad, But in it there were three tall trees, For thought of them had made me mad; And o’er it blew the mountain breeze, But I was curious to ascend

And by it there were waters flowing, To my barr’d windows, and to bend

And on it there were young flowers growing, Once more, upon the mountains high, Of gentle breath and hue.

The quiet of a loving eye.

The fish swam by the castle wall,

And they seem’d joyous each and all; I saw them—and they were the same, The eagle rode the rising blast,

They were not changed like me in frame; Methought he never flew so fast

I saw their thousand years of snow As then to me he seem’d to fly;

On high—their wide long lake below, And then new tears came in my eye, And the blue Rhone in fullest flow; And I felt troubled—and would fain I heard the torrents leap and gush I had not left my recent chain;

O’er channell’d rock and broken bush; And when I did descend again,

I saw the white-wall’d distant town, The darkness of my dim abode

And whiter sails go skimming down; Fell on me as a heavy load;

And then there was a little isle,

It was as is a new-dug grave,

Which in my very face did smile,

Closing o’er one we sought to save,—


“The Prisoner of Chillon” – Byron

And yet my glance, too much opprest, And why should I feel less than they?

Had almost need of such a rest.

We were all inmates of one place,

And I, the monarch of each race,

It might be months, or years, or days—

Had power to kill—yet, strange to tell!

I kept no count, I took no note—

In quiet we had learn’d to dwell;

I had no hope my eyes to raise,

My very chains and I grew friends, And clear them of their dreary mote; So much a long communion tends

At last men came to set me free;

To make us what we are:—even I

I ask’d not why, and reck’d not where; Regain’d my freedom with a sigh.

It was at length the same to me,

Fetter’d or fetterless to be,

I learn’d to love despair.

To read more Electronic Classics from And thus when they appear’d at last, the Penn State series, go to our web 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:

To return to our Byron site, go to: With spiders I had friendship made

And watch’d them in their sullen trade,


Had seen the mice by moonlight play, 12

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