Consider “On the Castle of Chillon” as a poem on freedom
Byron is a romantic poet with deep love and honour for freedom. His poem “On the Castle of Chillon” is a glorification of freedom. Here he presents freedom as an uncrushable spirit. The poem deals with liberty as a noble patriotic feeling which cannot be conquered or crushed. Nothing can take away from man the spirit of liberty, and liberty even thrives on repression. It is an animating, encouraging, and emboldening power that endows man with inner force to face all the challenges from tyrants and repressors. Byron believes and asserts that freedom is an inspiring principle that makes man’s mind unsubduable. This poem praises highly freedom which exerts a noble influence on man.
Byron glorifies liberty as the undying sentiment in the hearts of patriots. No force on earth can suppress it. Though a patriot’s body may be put into chains. his mind remains free, for liberty is the indwelling spirit that always actuates and supports it. It is the embodiment of the eternal spirit of man. The spirit of freedom controls the free spirit of man. Freedom inspires man and looks most attractive when her votaries are in prison, for it takes refuse in the hearts of her chained votaries, and those hearts submit to no other influence than their own love of freedom Prison and repression cannot damp their ardor for liberty. They boast their spirit of liberty:
“………… Liberty, thou art –
For there, thy habitation is the heart
The heart which loves of thee alone can bind: “
The poet celebrates patriotic heroism cherished by a poet, who was himself a fierce lover of freedom and the sworn enemy of tyranny and had actually laid down his life heroically in the Greek struggle of independence against the Turks. It is an impassioned song of liberty, sung in soul-animating strains. It remains more a song of abstract liberty than a tribute to the lover of freedom that Bonnivard was. The poet is here concerned more with the glorification of liberty, which is personified here as a goddess, than with telling the story of the prison life of the patriot. The leading idea of the poem is that the love of liberty, which is the eternal sentiment of the human heart cannot be suppressed by force or imprisoned and the cause of liberty instead of sufferings gains most when patriots are cast in prison. Love of liberty is an undying and irrepressible sentiment of the human heart. It is spoken of as an immortal goddess. It is a spirit that dwells in the minds of men. No fetters or instruments of torture can conquer the patriotic heart, which pays its homage only to liberty and no other power. The glory of liberty spreads on all sides; its fame is carried by the winds all over the world:
“Their country conquers with their martyrdom,
And freedom’s fame finds wings on every wind”
Byron says that liberty is not only a noble principle but also a holy feeling. Bonnivard who had been confined into the prison of Chillon has sanctified it because he was a great champion of freedom. His patriotism and great love of freedom have transformed the prison into a holy or sacred place dedicated to the worship of liberty. The sad floor of the prison which bears the mark of his footsteps may be looked upon as the altar of Liberty where Liberty can be best worshipped. The poet wishes that these marks should remain permanently engraved on the floor, for they are a silent appeal to God against the oppression of tyrants:
“Worn as if thy cold pavement were a sod,
By Bonnivard! May none those marks efface
For they appeal from tyranny to God.”
A fierce love of liberty together with a burning hatred for tyranny is the main theme of the poem. It sheds light on the victim of tyranny. Bonnivard who championed the cause of liberty was subjected to torture. But a deep passion for liberty provides an unbounded source of courage and strength of mind, which prevents a patriot’s mind from being damp. The dungeon cannot dilute his love for freedom which dwells in his mind of which it is the eternal spirit. Liberty is the immortal and uncrushable spirit of the human mind and it cannot be suppressed by force. Thus the poem is a song in glorification of liberty. Byron is a hater of tyranny, and his deep hatred of tyranny brings out from him some of the most beautiful thoughts and expressions on liberty. The poem thus verbalizes his lofty philosophy of freedom.