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On Chillon

Lord Byron

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The Prisoner of Chillon
Added by: Maddy
In 1816 Byron was staying near Lausanne with his close friend, the poet, Percy Bysshe Shelley. While a storm raged outside Byron spent his time composing a long poem about the political prisoner Francois de Bonnivard who was for six years imprisoned in the castle of Chillon on the edge of Lake Geneva.

Views of Chillon Castle reflected in the lake are picture-postcard-perfect but the cell where Bonnivard was held with two others, who died, is grim and icy cold. Fortunately Bonnivard was released to live a comfortable life for another 30 years.

Byron prefixes his long poem by this sonnet. The long poem is written in the first person, in the words of Bonnivard himself. This sonnet is a comment, summary and introduction.

A sonnet is a poem of a very specific form. To be a sonnet it must have 14 lines. The meaning must be divided INTO two parts of 8 and 6 lines each. The rhythm is Iambic Pentameter- in other words, each line goes "de-Dah, de-Dah, de-Dah, de-Dah, de-Dah." with five stressed and five unstressed syllables, starting with the short and ending with the long.

"e-TER-nal SPI-rit OF the CHAIN-less MIND"

The split in meaning is quite apparent here- Byron goes FROM talking in a generalised way about the Spirit of Liberty to the specific at line 9 when he intoduces Chillon and describes how Bonnivard's pacing footsteps had worn away the floor.

The rhyming pattern of a sonnet can vary. It can be complex and interwoven. Here it is quite a simple pattern

Mind-art-art-ind, ind-oom-om-ind, ace-od-ace-od-ace-od.

Other famous Sonnets are Shelley's Ozymandias and Wordsworth's Lines written upon Westminster Bridge. Shakespeare wrote a large collection of sonnets.

Try this-

Sonnet on an Empty Inbox

Oh heartless modem! Why do you so blight

each message, yea, each email he doth send!

It hath been two full days since I have heard

FROM him I love, who o'er the world doth wend

his way to work in a far distant clime!

All that I beg is one small megabyte

of news to keep me happy all the night

and day, and yet no message doth attend!

And so I CHECK my inbox one more time,

hope against hope, to find a precious word,

one smiling sideways face or an absurd

card, electronic sent, to cheer my sight!

Yet there is none! Oh woe to my frustration!

Doth my computer freeze communication?

copyleft Tamsyn Taylor Nov. 2000

(copyleft items may be freely reproduced in full with acknowledgment of the author)

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