In this essay I will be discussing the similarities and differences between two poems written by Lord Byron in 1816, Darkness and The Prisoner Of Chillon. I expect the poems will be very similar, as Lord Byron was inspired to write both of them on real events. Darkness was inspired by three volcanic explosions in different parts of the world in 1814 and 1815, which threw up masses of dust into the upper atmosphere, which made the summer of 1816 one of the darkest and wettest on record. This fact led Byron to imagine what might happen if the sun was blotted out permanently, and he wrote Darkness.
Another time he went for a trip around Lake Geneva, Switzerland where he was staying with a close friend to escape London societys hatred. Whilst on his trip he discovered the Castle of Chillon, in which, between 1526 and 1532, a famous Genevan writer called Franois Bonnivard had been imprisoned. Byron hated the idea of anyone being imprisoned for his or her beliefs, as Bonnivard was, so he then wrote The Prisoner Of Chillon.
SimilaritiesByron seems to be obsessed with words ending in -ess, in Darkness he seems to fixate on words ending in -less, but in The Prisoner Of Chillon it is generally words ending in -ess. In Darkness the first example is:Rayless, and pathless, and the icy earthSwung blind and blackening in the moonless air; lines 4+5Later in Darkness there is an even better example of his fixation:Seasonless, herbless, treeless, manless, lifeless, line 71.
In The Prisoner Of Chillon we dont see this connection until much later in the poem:A sea of stagnant IdlenessBlind – boundless – mute – and motionless. section 9, lines 249+250. In The Prisoner Of Chillon not only do we see his obsession with -ess words, but he also seems to be fanatical about the word no:There were no stars – no earth – no time -No check – no change – no good – no crime – section 9, lines 245+246The effect this has on the poem is a very upsetting and negative mood, as it is constantly telling us that everything has stopped and there is nothing left, not even the pure elements.
In both poems the subject of selfishness is mentioned. In Darkness the selfishness is the worlds wish for light:Of this desolation; and all the heartsWere chilld into a selfish prayer for light: lines 8+9In The Prisoner Of Chillon the selfishness is referring to his wish for death:I had no earthly hope – but faith;And that forbade a selfish death. section 8, lines 229+230This gives the reader a feeling of sympathy for the hero, as although these people think they are selfish, really they are just desperate.
In the poems kings are also mentioned. In Darkness the word kings is used as an ironic remark as the people, who were kings who lived in palaces had to watch their houses burn to the ground as they were burnt for beacons:And they did live by watchfires – and the thrones,The palaces of crowned kings – the huts, lines 10+11.
In The Prisoner Of Chillon the prisoner is described as a king in the very last section to show how he was the most powerful of all the races inside his little prison cell and how mice and insects were his subjects:And I, the Monarch of each race,Had power to kill – yet, strange to tell! section 14, lines 386+387. The effect of having kings in such depressing poems is very confusing, because kings are usually associated with happiness and good fortune, for example, a feast fit for a king. You dont expect a king to be neither locked up in a prison cell or to be desperately burning their homes for light.
In the two poems the subject of sight is also mentioned. In Darkness sight is obviously important because it is too dark to see people:To look once more into each others face; line 15. In The Prisoner Of Chillon sight is also important because of the darkness of the dungeon, so the idea of sight does not only link the two because it mentions sight, but also because they are both directly linked with darkness:We could not see each others face,But with that pale and livid light. That made us strangers in our sight; section 3, lines 51-53. The effect of sight being mentioned in the poems gives a very eerie feeling, because you can begin to imagine being blind, alone, and utterly scared, as not only are you experiencing something horrible, you cant even see what it is, just total darkness.
Hope is also brought up in both the poems. In Darkness hope is the entire worlds wish for light:A fearful hope was all the world containd; line 18In The Prisoner Of Chillon the prisoner thinks that he doesnt have hope, he has a much more powerful gift of faith. Reminding us that he has been imprisoned for his beliefs:I had no earthly hope – but faith; section 8, line 229. The idea of hope in these poems is very upsetting, to think that all there is left to do is hope and to leave your life in the hands of your faith and not to be able to do anything about the situation you are in is exceedingly tragic.
Different types of personalities are also mentioned in both poems. In Darkness the personalities refer to how different groups of people cope with the darkness:The flashes fell upon them; and some did restTheir chins upon their clenched hands, and smiled;And others hurried to and fro, and fedTheir funeral piles with fuel, and lookd upWith mad disquietude on the dull sky, lines 24-29.
In The Prisoner Of Chillon the different personalities are the different characteristics of the brothers. The youngest being innocent, unselfish and gentle, the other being proud, strong and bold:With tears for nought but others ills,And then they flowered like mountain rills, section 4, lines 88+89.
The other was as pure of mind,But formed to combat with his kind; section 5, lines 93+94. The topic of personalities doesnt have a strong effect of empathy on the reader, but it does create thoughts of whatever type of person you are whether you are strong and independent or pure and gentle, horrible things can happen to you.
Animals are also referred to in both poems. Darkness refers to how the animals have turned into [wild] brutes because they have to suffer the loss of light as well as the humans:And gnashd their teeth and howld: the wildest birds shriekdAnd, terrified, did flutter on the ground,And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutesCame tame and tremulous; and vipers crawldAnd twined themselves among the multitude,Hissing, but stingless – they were slain for food. lines 32-37.
Darkness does mention other animals though, one of which is very loving, it is a dog who although his master is dead doesnt seem to understand and stays by his owners side until, he too eventually passes away:Even dogs assaild their masters, all save one,And he was faithful to a corse, and kept. The birds and beasts and famishd men at bay,Till hunger clung them, or the dropping deadLured their lank jaws; himself sought out no food,But with a piteous and perpetual moan,And a quick desolate cry, licking the handWhich answerd not with a cares – he died. lines 47-54.
In The Prisoner Of Chillon the animals are a mixture of those, which are free and those, which also have to endure the dungeon. All the animals in The Prisoner Of Chillon are much kinder than the brutes from Darkness and more like the faithful dog, who bring hope and sanity to the prisoner:A lovely bird with azure wings,And song that said a thousand things,And seemed to say them all for me! Section 10, lines 168-170. With spiders I had friendship made, Section 14, line 381With animals being mentioned in both poems, it gives them a powerful effect, because the animals that also have to endure the ordeal show you how enormous the scale is in Darkness that even animals are involved and in The Prisoner Of Chillon it shows you how desperate the hero is to have to make friends with spiders and to spot a bird saves his sanity.
Love is also mentioned in both poems. In Darkness it conveys that no one cares about each other any more. It is all one-man-for-himself and dog-eat-dog as they all battle for food in their desperation:With blood, and each state sullenly apartGorging himself in gloom: no love was left; lines 40+41.
In The Prisoner Of Chillon love is also mentioned in a similar way, that he has no love left, and that he has had to deal with such a traumatic experience that he thinks that he will never be able to love again:I learned to love Despair. section 14, line 374. The topic of love is also very powerful in both the poems, as it shows the enormity of the ordeal they are having/had to go through.
Tombs are also mentioned in both poems, or, rather the fact that the people dont or seem not to have them. In Darkness people dont have tombs, they are just left for dead to be fed upon by other hungry members of the human race:…and the pangOf famine fed upon all entrails -menDied, and their bones were tombless as their flesh; lines 43-45.
In The Prisoner Of Chillon the brothers dont have tombs, but he knows where they died so imagines their tombless bodies still there and tries not to stand on them:Avoiding only as I trod. My brothers graves without a sod,For I thought with heedless treadMy step profound their lowly bed, section 11, lines 312-325. The reference to tombs in the poems is reminding us of death and the terrible tragedy that is striking the world and the prisoner although they have not done anything to deserve it.
Faithfulness is also an important issue in both poems, especially when talking about being faithful to something that is already dead and staying by their side. In Darkness, as I have already mentioned earlier in this essay under animals, a dog is faithful to his master, unknowing that he master is actually dead:The prisoner of Chillon is the one who is faithful. He is faithful to his brother and stays by his side, even after he is dead:When my last Brother dropped and died,And I lay living by his side. section 2, lines 46+47. The effect of faithfulness to a corpse being mentioned in both poems is very emotional, as the reader can picture themselves very distressed laying next to their dead family member wanting them to answer you, unbeknown that they cant/ or knowing that they wont.
Another image that both the poems have in common is the fact that the people in both poems become hideously thin. In Darkness there are numerous references to the people not having enough food and having to kill wild animals, then later in the poem, when talking about two enemies around a fire they are described as being skeletal:And shivering scraped with their cold skeleton hands line 61. The prisoner of Chillon is the person who has become extremely scrawny, also from lack of food:They were not changed like me in frame; section 13, line 333. The idea of thinness in these poems conveys the sheer size of the suffering the people have had to tolerate.
DifferencesThe most obvious difference between the poems is that in Darkness the entire world is having to endure the ordeal, whereas in The Prisoner Of Chillon there is only a small group of people that eventually whittles down to only one.
I dont think it makes either poem more distressing because both poems have terrible things happening in them. Although I think it makes it easier to relate to a singular person than the entire world, so I think The Prisoner Of Chillon is slightly more powerful, because you can experience more empathy.
In Darkness the theme of selfishness is referring to the worlds wish for things to get back to normal and for there to be light:Of this desolation; and all the heartsWere chilld into a selfish prayer for light: lines 8+9In The Prisoner Of Chillon selfishness is referring to the prisoners wish to end the suffering. He doesnt want to get back to normal, he just wants to die:I had no earthly hope – but faith;And that forbade a selfish death. section 8, lines 229+230. I dont think this makes one poem more distressing than the other because the theme of selfishness is shared by both, just because they are used to describe different wishes, doesnt make them any different.
The subject of different personalities in the poems are very different, because in Darkness the personalities describe how the different people react to their situation, whereas in The Prisoner Of Chillon describes how the brothers are before they were put in the dungeon:The flashes fell upon them; and some did rest. Their chins upon their clenched hands, and smiled;And others hurried to and fro, and fed. Their funeral piles with fuel, and lookd upWith mad disquietude on the dull sky, lines 24-29With tears for nought but others ills,And then they flowered like mountain rills, section 4, lines 88+89.
The other was as pure of mind,But formed to combat with his kind; section 5, lines 93+94I think the ideas make them equally distressing, because although the excerpt from Darkness shows how drastically the people have reacted the excerpt from The Prisoner Of Chillon conveys that the brothers who had great qualities because of the dungeon died.
Another difference between the poems is how the theme of animals is used. In Darkness most of the animals except one have turned evil from having to undergo such torment. Whereas in The Prisoner Of Chillon the animals are good and represent hope and save Franoises sanity.
And gnashd their teeth and howld: the wildest birds shriekdAnd, terrified, did flutter on the ground,And flap their useless wings; the wildest brutesCame tame and tremulous; and vipers crawldAnd twined themselves among the multitude,Hissing, but stingless – they were slain for food. lines 32-37. A lovely bird with azure wings,And song that said a thousand things,And seemed to say them all for me! Section 10, lines 168-170With spiders I had friendship made, Section 14, line 381I think the way the themes are used makes no real difference to the effect of the poems, because they balance each other out. It is very distressing to think the darkness has effected the animals in such a way, but it is equally distressing to think that you would have to turn to animals to save your sanity.
The way the idea of tombless bodies is used in the poems are also different. In Darkness the bodies really dont have tombs, whereas in The Prisoner Of Chillon the bodies do have tombs, it is just that he imagines them above ground:Immediate and inglorious; and the pangOf famine fed upon all entrails -menDied, and their bones were tombless as their flesh; lines 43-45. Avoiding only as I trodMy brothers graves without a sod,For I thought with heedless tread.
My step profound their lowly bed, section 11, lines 312-325I think, again, the ways the ideas have been used balance each other out. It is very upsetting to think that people have been left for dead when they have done nothing wrong, and it is equally upsetting to see how badly Franoise has been effected not only physically, but also psychologically.
The last difference between the poems is how they use the image of being faithful and staying by a dead loved one. In Darkness it is the dog who is faithful but doesnt know that the owner is dead, whereas in The Prisoner Of Chillon the prisoner knows that his brother is dead.
When my last Brother dropped and died,And I lay living by his side.section 2, lines 46+47 Again, I believe that the ways the ideas are used balance each other out emotionally. It is very shocking to imagine yourself lying by a loved one not knowing they are dead and wanting them to reply to your dying pleas for affection, although it is equally shocking to imagine yourself laying by a loved one knowing that they are dead but too afraid to leave their side.
In conclusion to this essay I deduce that the poems although include many of the same themes and are both exceptionally miserable they both use the themes differently and are miserable in different ways.