Page images
PDF

I begged 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 laughed, - 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 !

VIII.

But he, the favorite and the flower,
Most cherished since his natal hour,
His mother's image in fair face,
The infant love of all his race,
His martyred 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 withered on the stalk away.
O 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
Unmixed with such, but sure and slow.

[merged small][ocr errors][merged small]

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 listened, but I could not hear, -
I called, for I was wild with fear;
I knew ’t was hopeless, but my dread
Would not be thus admonished;
I called, and thought I heard a sound,
I burst my chain with one strong bound,
And rushed to him :- I found him not, —
I only stirred in this black spot,
I only lived, I only drew
The accursèd 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.
One on the earth, and one beneath, -
My brothers, both had ceased to breathe :
I took that hand which lay so still,
Alas! my own was full as chill ;

I had not strength to stir or strive,
But felt that I was still alive,
A frantic feeling, when we know
That what we love shall ne'er be so.

I know not why

I could not die;
I had no earthly hope, - but faith,
And that forbade a selfish death.

[ocr errors]

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 gray,
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 ;

THE PRISONER OF CHILLON.

139

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 perched, as fond and tame,

And tamer than upon the tree;
A lovely bird, with azure wings,
And song that said a thousand things,

And seemed to say them all for me!
I never saw its like before,
I ne'er shall see its likeness more :
It seemed 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 for 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 deemed that it might be My brother's soul come down to me. But then at last away it flew, And then 't was 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.

[ocr errors]

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 fell blind and sick.

XII.
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,

« PreviousContinue »