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

II. Descriptive and Narrative

Bonnivard and his Brothers

(Prisoner of Chillon, Stanzas 6–8.)

LAKE LEMAN lies by Chillon’s walls:

A thousand feet in depth below

Its massy waters meet and flow;

Thus much the fathom-line was sent

From Chillon’s snow-white battlement,

Which round about the wave inthrals:

A double dungeon wall and wave

Have made—and like a living grave.

Below the surface of the lake

The dark vault lies wherein we lay,

We heard it ripple night and day;

Sounding o’er our heads it knock’d;

And I have felt the winter’s spray

Wash through the bars when winds were high

And wanton in the happy sky;

And then the very rock hath rock’d,

And I have felt it shake, unshock’d,

Because I could have smiled to see

The death that would have set me free.

I said my nearer brother pined,

I said his mighty heart declined,

He loathed and put away his food;

It was not that ’twas coarse and rude,

For we were used to hunter’s fare,

And for the like had little care:

The milk drawn from the mountain goat

Was changed for water from the moat,

Our bread was such as captive’s tears

Have moisten’d many a thousand years,

Since man first pent his fellow men

Like brutes within an iron den;

But what were these to us or him?

These wasted not his heart or limb;

My brother’s soul was of that mould

Which in a palace had grown cold,

Had his free breathing been denied

The range of the steep mountain’s side;

But why delay the truth?—he died.

I saw, and could not hold his head,

Nor reach his dying hand—nor dead,—

Though hard I strove, but strove in vain,

To rend and gnash my bonds in twain.

He died—and they unlock’d his chain,

And scoop’d for him a shallow grave

Even from the cold earth of our cave.

I begg’d them, as a boon, to lay

His corse in dust whereon the day

Might shine—it was a foolish thought,

But then within my brain it wrought,

That even in death his freeborn breast

In such a dungeon could not rest.

I might have spared my idle prayer—

They coldly laugh’d—and laid him there:

The flat and turfless earth above

The being we so much did love;

His empty chain above it leant,

Such murder’s fitting monument!

But he, the favourite and the flower,

Most cherish’d since his natal hour,

His mother’s image in fair face,

The infant love of all his race,

His martyr’d father’s dearest thought,

My latest care, for whom I sought

To hoard my life, that his might be

Less wretched now, and one day free;

He, too, who yet had held untired

A spirit natural or inspired—

He, too, was struck, and day by day

Was wither’d on the stalk away.

Oh, God! it is a fearful thing

To see the human soul take wing

In any shape, in any mood:—

I’ve seen it rushing forth in blood,

I’ve seen it on the breaking ocean

Strive with a swoln convulsive motion,

I’ve seen the sick and ghastly bed

Of Sin delirious with its dread;

But these were horrors—this was woe

Unmix’d with such—but sure and slow:

He faded, and so calm and meek,

So softly worn, so sweetly weak,

So tearless, yet so tender—kind,

And grieved for those he left behind!

With all the while a cheek whose bloom

Was as a mockery of the tomb,

Whose tints as gently sunk away

As a departing rainbow’s ray—

An eye of most transparent light,

That almost made the dungeon bright,

And not a word of murmur—not

A groan o’er his untimely lot,—

A little talk of better days,

A little hope my own to raise,

For I was sunk in silence—lost

In this last loss, of all the most;

And then the sighs he would suppress

Of fainting nature’s feebleness,

More slowly drawn, grew less and less:

I listen’d, but I could not hear—

I call’d, for I was wild with fear;

I knew ’twas hopeless, but my dread

Would not be thus admonished;

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

I burst my chain with one strong bound,

And rush’d to him:—I found him not,

I only stirr’d in this black spot,

I only lived—I only drew

The accursed breath of dungeon-dew;

The last—the sole—the dearest link

Between me and the eternal brink,

Which bound me to my failing race,

Was broken in this fatal place.