Sonnet On Chillon
by Lord Byron (George Gordon)
Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind!
Brightest in dungeons, Liberty! thou art,
For there thy habitation is the heart--
The heart which love of thee alone can bind;
And when thy sons to fetters are consign'd--
To fetters, and the damp vault's dayless gloom,
Their country conquers with their martyrdom,
And Freedom's fame finds wings on every wind.
Chillon! thy prison is a holy place,
And thy sad floor an altar--for 'twas trod,
Until his very steps have left a trace
Worn, as if thy cold pavement were a sod
By Bonnivard ! May none those marks efface!
For they appeal from tyranny to God.
Written in 1816 after Byron and Shelley visited the Castle
The Château de Chillon, located near Montreux, Switzerland, is a sturdy, compact fortress nesting in lovely Lake Léman and resonating with over 800 years of feet pacing the worn stones and voices echoing along shadowed corridors.
When Lord Byron and Shelley visited the castle on the 22nd of June 1816, Byron was deeply impressed by the history of François de Bonivard, a Genevois monk and politician who was imprisoned there from 1530 to 1536. The poet was inspired to write a sonnet and later a longer fable. While in the dungeon, he scratched his name upon a column.
As a young woman I stood in that dim and silent room. I stared long at Lord Byron’s signature above me – preserved forever in stone. I listened to the water high overhead crashing in waves against the wall, the muffled squeak of a mouse hidden nearby and registered deep within that the dust below my feet retained the chill of a grim prison that stilled the beating hearts of countless victims.
But as I walked the hallways, peered through window slits formed for archers and gazed far into the lake from battlements… I found that it was Byron’s spirit that whispered along behind me as I took these pictures…