My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are:—even I
Regain’d my freedom with a sigh.
Lord Byron – Prisoner of Chillon
Sonnet on Chillon
by Lord Byron
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 consigned,
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.
I have slept terribly in recent weeks. I don’t think I am alone in that predicament. What little sleep I get appears to be at least restful enough to have the energy I need to be productive. I am eager for life to get back to normal but I fear that what was once my “normal” maybe a thing of the past. And I fear even more, that if and when we have the tools to resume the lives we expect, that we will have all grown so accustomed to being isolated that we will be fearful to venture into the rock and roll concert mosh-pits of our existences again.
Lord Byron’s poetic voice can feel a bit antiquated, but the ideas of state sponsored suppression of minority freedoms, injustice, unfair incarceration, and in spite of those opposing forces, hopeful dreams for a better future are as relevant in his verse from 200 years ago as today. I look to poets to help me make sense of the senseless in times of grief and loss and fear. Which poets do you find inspiration from right now? What emerging new voices have caught your attention?
Life is Twofold
(From The Dream)
by Lord Byron
Our life is twofold; Sleep hath its own world,
a boundary between the things misnamed
Death and existence. Sleep hath its own world,
And a wide realm of wild reality;
And dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy.
They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
They take a weight off our waking toils.
They do divide our being; they become
A portion of ourselves as of our time,
And look like heralds of eternity.
They pass like spirits of the past—they speak
Like sibyls of the future; they have power—
The tyranny of pleasure and of pain.
They make us what we were not—what they will,
And shake us with the vision that’s gone by,
The dread of vanished shadows—Are they so?
Is not the past all shadow?—What are they?
Creations of the mind?—The mind can make
Substances, and people planets of their own,
With beings brighter than have been, and give
A breath to forms which can outlive all flesh….