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Page:The Works of Lord Byron (ed. Coleridge, Prothero) - Volume 4.djvu/51

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21
THE PRISONER OF CHILLON.

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.[1]
Oh, God! it is a fearful thing
To see the human soul take wing
In any shape, in any mood:[2]
I've seen it rushing forth in blood,
I've seen it on the breaking ocean180
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:
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 bloom190
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;
  1. [Kölbing quotes parallel uses of the same expression in Werner, act iv. sc. 1; Churchill's The Times, line 341, etc.; but does not give the original—

    "But earthlier happy is the rose distill'd,
    Than that which, withering on the virgin-thorn," etc.

    Midsummer Nights Dream, act i. sc. 1, lines 76, 77.]

  2. [Compare—

    "The first, last look of Death revealed."

    The Giaour, line 89, note 2.

    Byron was a connoisseur of the incidents and by-play of "sudden death," so much so that Goethe was under the impression that he had been guilty of a venial murder (see his review of Manfred in his paper Kunst und Alterthum, Letters, 1901, v. 506, 507). A year after these lines were written, when he was at Rome (Letter to Murray, May 30, 1817), he saw three robbers guillotined, and observed himself and them from a psychological standpoint.

    "The ghastly bed of Sin" (lines 182, 183) may be a reminiscence of the death-bed of Lord Falkland (English Bards, etc., lines 680-686; Poetical Works, 1898, i. 351, note 2).]