He says that his father was executed for his beliefs, and all six of his sons have suffered persecution for the same reason. Three of the six sons died outside of the prison: one was burnt at the stake and two died in battle. Our narrator, the prisoner of Chillon, was originally imprisoned with his two remaining brothers. Our prisoner was left with the youngest brother, who was cheerful and patient.
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He says that his father was executed for his beliefs, and all six of his sons have suffered persecution for the same reason. Three of the six sons died outside of the prison: one was burnt at the stake and two died in battle.
Our narrator, the prisoner of Chillon, was originally imprisoned with his two remaining brothers. Our prisoner was left with the youngest brother, who was cheerful and patient. But, unfortunately, he also wasted away and died.
The prisoner almost gives in to grief, but is revived when he hears the singing of a bird outside his window. So he clings to that thought and survives.
Years later the prisoner stopped counting the days ages ago , the guards arrive to set him free. Everyone he loves is dead, and he has nowhere else to go. He calls it "vile repose," or evil rest. His "limbs" have been "spoil[ed]" by a dungeon. This is the first mention of the setting of the poem besides the title, of course. He also says that his father died by being burned "at the stake" for his beliefs. The six that died all died as they lived — proud to be "persecut[ed]" for their beliefs.
Lines The speaker starts listing how all his brothers died. One of them died "in fire," so probably by being burned at the stake, like their father line Two of them died on the "field" of battle. Those first three all died like their dad — for believing in a "God" that their enemies "denied. The other three were thrown into prison, and the speaker is the last of the three to survive.
The dungeon has seven Gothic-looking pillars a Gothic pillar, if you were wondering, is one that holds up Gothic-style arches. The ray of light must have worked its way in through some crack or "cleft" in the wall. The sunbeam "creep[s]" over the clammy, damp floor of the dungeon, and the speaker compares it to a "meteor lamp" in a "marsh" or swamp. Sounds pleasant! Lines Each of the seven pillars has a ring on it that holds a chain.
The speaker says that the iron of the chains "canker[s]," or festers and plagues him. Stanza 3 Lines Each of the three brothers was chained to one of the seven pillars, so that even though they shared a dungeon, they were isolated from each other.
Lines The three brothers are imprisoned together, and yet separately. But at least they had the comfort of being able to talk to each other, even in the absence "dearth" of fresh air, light, and water the "pure elements of earth". The brothers take turns comforting each other — they offer each other hope, and sometimes share stories or legends about brave heroes.
But, after a while, even those stories and legends stop comforting them. Lines The speaker says that, after a while, their voices started sounding "dreary" and sad in the echoes of the dungeon. He does his best to keep his two brothers cheerful. The other two brothers did as well as they could, too, given their different personalities and the circumstances. He has her forehead and her bright blue eyes.
The speaker says he felt really sorry for his youngest brother — he was so young and sweet, it seemed especially wrong for him to be in a dungeon like this. Lines The youngest brother was a good-looking kid with a really sweet personality. So the youngest brother is associated with summer, and daylight, and freedom.
His natural personality is to be cheerful. The youngest brother only ever cried when someone else was hurt or unhappy — he never cried for himself. When he was sympathizing with someone else, though, he could really turn on the waterworks — unless, of course, he was able to do something for the person, and "assuage" their pain.
Stanza 5 Lines The middle brother was totally different: he was pure and innocent, but he was a fighter. He was strong and tough — the kind of guy who would stand up to anyone and never give an inch. Every "clank" of the chains seems to "wither" his spirit. Lines The middle brother was a hunter — he had wandered all over the mountains hunting "deer and wolf," which is why he had the hardest time adjusting to being chained up in a prison.
Being imprisoned was pretty much the worst thing that could have happened to the middle brother. Stanza 6 Lines Lake Leman a. Lake Geneva is right outside the walls of the castle where the speaker and his brothers are imprisoned. The white "battlement," or castle wall "inthrals" or encircles the waves of the lake. Lines Between the dungeon wall and the deep lake, the prisoners are in a "double dungeon.
He compares their dungeon to a "living grave" — being imprisoned there is like being buried alive. Being so close to the lake, they can hear the sounds of the water over and around them in their dungeon. When the weather is really bad and he can feel the castle rocking in the bad weather. As an outdoorsy, woodsy kind of guy, being imprisoned is hardest on him.
Their bread was the same kind of bread that prisoners have cried over for the last thousand years — ever since people first started imprisoning their fellow humans like animals or "brutes. So the speaker tells us bluntly — his brother died in prison. After his brother dies, "they" the jailers come in to unlock the body from its chain.
They bury him in a "shallow grave" right there in the dungeon. Lines The speaker begs the jailers to bury his brother outside, where the sun would shine on his grave. But the jailers just laugh at him and bury his brother there in the dungeon, leaving his "empty chain" as the only marker of the grave. The speaker calls that chain a "fitting monument" for his brother, since it was being chained that killed him.
Stanza 8 Lines The youngest brother, too, starts to waste away. Lines Seeing people die has always been horrible, of course, but watching his youngest brother slowly waste away is a whole new level of sad. His eyes are so bright that the speaker imagines that they almost light up the dreariness of the dungeon. He chats about the "better days" they had before they were thrown in prison, and pretends to be hopeful to keep the speaker happy. The speaker knows that his brother is going to die, and is totally miserable about it.
Lines The younger brother starts breathing more and more slowly and softly. His youngest brother, his last living family member and his dearest brother, has died. He compares his brother to a "link" between himself and his family, which has now broken — ironic, considering that they have been chained up in a dungeon together, and that he breaks the links of his literal chains just as his brother dies.
Lines The speaker wishes he could die, but the only thing left keeping him going is his faith, which forbids him from killing himself or even allowing himself to waste away. Basically, his grief and shock have thrown him into a state of depressed torpor. Lines Slowly, the speaker comes back to his senses. He can see the walls of his dungeon around him again.
And again, he can see the spot of dim sunlight on the floor of the cell. But now he can see the bird perched on the gap where the light is coming in. The bird seems really tame. It has blue "azure" wings. He imagines that, like him, the bird is lonely and "want[s] a mate. The bird has brought him back from his black hole of depression. Lines The speaker wonders whether the bird might be a visitor from Heaven in disguise.
He feels as lonely as a corpse in a shroud, or as lonely as a single cloud on a sunny day. He feels like the only sad and lonely thing in the world.
They let him stay loose in the dungeon, and leave his broken chain hanging on his pillar. Lines He walks around and around the seven pillars in the cell, only avoiding stepping on the graves of his two brothers. Whenever he accidentally comes anywhere near to stepping on one of their graves, he starts hyperventilating, and feels like his heart will break. The whole world would just be a bigger prison for him if he ever gained his freedom. He just made himself the step so that he can climb up and look through the bars in the window to see the mountains in the distance.
He can see the heavy snow on their tops, and the huge lake Lake Geneva below. He sees the Rhone River flowing out of the lake and can hear the rush of the water. He can see the "white wall[s]" of the town in the distance, and the white sails of boats on the lake and river.
He watches the breeze from the mountains blow through those trees. There are flowers growing on the island. He sees eagles flying around, and starts to get teary eyed. So he climbs down from his window and almost wishes he could die. He feels as though these people were tearing him from his "second home. The prison is as much his home as it is theirs. Lines He and the mice and spiders were all "inmates" together. He has even learned to be at peace with his chains and his captivity — so much so, that he gains his "freedom with a sigh.
Lord Byron's Poems Summary and Analysis of "The Prisoner of Chillon," stanzas I-VII
The remaining three sons have been imprisoned together in the dungeon from which the prisoner relates his tale. In Stanza II the prisoner describes his cell. Seven Gothic pillars hold up the heavy roof of this dark prison. A single sunbeam comes in through a crack in the wall.
The Prisoner of Chillon: A Fable
Byron particularly was intrigued by the story of Francois Bonivcard, who had been incarcerated in the vast, vaulted dungeon for four years. They stood at the stone column where the prisoner had been chained and looked at the footprints that had been worn into the cold stone floor by his pacing feet. As tourists do today, they must have meditated upon the fate of this unfortunate man whose only crime was support of the Reformation. But possibly Mary and Claire wondered-as did I-why the poet chose to focus on the fate of this man who was ultimately freed rather than upon the hundreds of women condemned as witches and burned to death in the castle courtyard. They do indeed exist. Byron, a typical tourist, carved his name on one of them. Today visitors stop to look at it along with other reminders of the past.
The Prisoner of Chillon
Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind! Brightest in dungeons, Liberty! May none those marks efface! For they appeal from tyrrany to God.
Lord Byron’s Castle Chillon