Home  »  Poetry of Byron  »  Bonnivard alone

Lord Byron (1788–1824). Poetry of Byron. 1881.

II. Descriptive and Narrative

Bonnivard alone

(Prisoner of Chillon, Stanzas 9–14.)

WHAT next befell me then and there

I know not well—I never knew—

First came the loss of light, and air,

And then of darkness too:

I had no thought, no feeling—none—

Among the stones I stood a stone,

And was, scarce conscious what I wist,

As shrubless crags within the mist;

For all was blank, and bleak, and grey,

It was not night—it was not day,

It was not even the dungeon-light,

So hateful to my heavy sight,

But vacancy absorbing space,

And fixedness—without a place;

There were no stars—no earth—no time—

No check—no change—no good—no crime—

But silence, and a stirless breath

Which neither was of life nor death;

A sea of stagnant idleness,

Blind, boundless, mute, and motionless!

A light broke in upon my brain,—

It was the carol of a bird;

It ceased, and then it came again,

The sweetest song ear ever heard,

And mine was thankful till my eyes

Ran over with the glad surprise,

And they that moment could not see

I was the mate of misery;

But then by dull degrees came back

My senses to their wonted track,

I saw the dungeon walls and floor

Close slowly round me as before,

I saw the glimmer of the sun

Creeping as it before had done,

But through the crevice where it came.

That bird was perch’d, as fond and tame,

And tamer than upon the tree;

A lovely bird, with azure wings,

And song that said a thousand things,

And seem’d to say them all for me!

I never saw its like before,

I ne’er shall see its likeness more:

It seem’d like me to want a mate,

But was not half so desolate,

And it was come to love me when

None lived to love me so again,

And cheering from my dungeon’s brink,

Had brought me back to feel and think.

I know not if it late were free,

Or broke its cage to perch on mine,

But knowing well captivity,

Sweet bird! I could not wish of thine!

Or if it were, in winged guise,

A visitant from Paradise;

For—Heaven forgive that thought! the while

Which made me both to weep and smile—

I sometimes deem’d that it might be

My brother’s soul come down to me;

But then at last away it flew,

And then ’twas mortal—well I knew;

For he would never thus have flown,

And left me twice so doubly lone—

Lone—as the corse within its shroud,

Lone—as a solitary cloud,

A single cloud on a sunny day,

While all the rest of heaven is clear,

A frown upon the atmosphere,

That hath no business to appear

When skies are blue, and earth is gay.

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 unfasten’d 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 crush’d heart fell 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 barr’d 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 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 channell’d rock and broken bush;

I saw the white-wall’d 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 seem’d 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 seem’d joyous each and all;

The eagle rode the rising blast,

Methought he never flew so fast

As then to me he seem’d 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 oppress’d,

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 ask’d not why, and reck’d not where,

It was at length the same to me

Fetter’d or fetterless to be,

I learn’d to love despair.

And thus when they appear’d 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 watch’d 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 learn’d to dwell.

My very chains and I grew friends,

So much a long communion tends

To make us what we are;—even I

Regain’d my freedom with a sigh.