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Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
Switzerland and Austria: Vol. XVI. 1876–79.

Switzerland: Chillon

Lake Leman and Chillon

By Henry Morford (1823–1881)

AT the old Genevan wharf she lay,

Where the Jardin Anglais looks on the bay,—

That steamer small, with a name so regal:

Lake Leman was tempting blue, that day,

And as part of her brood we sailed away,—

Our national totem,—“L’Aigle.”

Has the world of travel a purer joy

Than the ramparts grim of old Savoy,

As that day we sailed apast and down them?—

Peak upon peak rising high, more high,

And some with their heads that reached the sky,—

With stern Mont Blanc to crown them?

With Jura’s steeps on the other side

Of that lake with the dangerous placid tide;

And below, to the edge, the green hills sloping:

On one hand the mother, tender-eyed,

On the other the father, high in pride,

O’er their blue-eyed darling stooping!

With Beau Rivage, with sweet Lausanne,

With the hostel named for “milord Biron,”

Where he heard Childe Harold’s echoing thunder:

One feast to the eye, sailing on and on,

Till the cliffs hung dark over old Chillon,

With the castle nestling under!

Time has gently dealt with the stern old pile,

And few the stones that have dropped erewhile

From the architect’s featly and graceful shaping:

Though behind it a railway comes to spoil

The Past, with a hint of modern toil

And a means for romance escaping.

Dark rise the old turrets,—dark, yet fair.

Round tower in graceful blending with square,

And here a tall keep over all arisen;

Till the gazer thinks what a fortune rare

For a limited space to linger there,

Even calling one’s home a prison!

And fair as ever the sun-rays fall

On the lapping waters under the wall;

And the view across still keeps its glory,—

Over the lake to the ramparts tall,

And the great snow-mountains crowning all

With that presence mighty as hoary.

But what dearer view was within embraced,

When over the drawbridge height we paced,

Under the archways gray and moulding,

And stood in the midst of that stony waste

Where the hand of genius one mark has placed

For the ages’ long beholding,

Savoy’s stern Dukes rule here no more:

There is silence on that presence-floor

Where herald and king bandied feudal manners;

And the free Swiss Cantons there keep in store

Of rusty firelocks many a score

And a dozen of red-cross banners.

And deeper within comes room on room,

Of still deepening infamy and gloom,

Beneath and above the waters’ level,—

Where the victims of old found cruel doom,

The prison a scaffold, the lake a tomb,

And the headsman a hooded devil.

And then,—the chamber of Bonnivard,

Of victims at once the evilest-starred,

And the luckiest far, that, one summer morning

The English lord saw his place of guard,

And the old renown of the castle marred

With a glory that came sans warning.

For who now visits the dungeons old,

But to see those “seven pillars of Gothic mould,”

With the one still bearing the broken fetters,

And the window ’neath which the blue lake rolled,

And through which the birds of lost freedom told,

As if they were wrong’s abettors?

And what, when the old pile tumbles down,

Will give to its stones their best renown?

Some puzzling and dim historic question?

No!—the story-in-rhyme, that makes its crown,

One day at Veytaux-Chillon set down

By a guest with a bad digestion!