George Gordon, Lord Byron was an English poet writing in the early nineteenth century. He’s one of the central figures in the literary movement called Romanticism, which began around the turn of the nineteenth century. The Romantic-era writers and poets thought that literature needed to be less about rationality and scientific empiricism, and more about human feelings and human experience. For George Byron this meant focusing on nature and the pathos, or spirit of a man. Byron was the poster child of the wunderkind of poets to take part in this movement. He was wildly popular, although some of his poetry (like his long narrative poem Don Juan) was considered too scandalous for respectable people to read. He was sort of the Paul MacCarthy of his age.
My favorite Byron poem is “The Prisoner of Chillon.” It is the story of a man who spent most of his adult life in prison. It’s about how we adjust to our surroundings: the prisoner is able to survive, even while watching his brothers die alongside him, because he believes in something greater than himself. No, we’re not talking about religion or spirituality – we’re talking about the prisoner’s political beliefs. He’s been thrown in prison for sharing his father’s belief in personal freedom and liberty. But I would say in this age of facileness and superficiality we could stand to be a little more Romantic.
Ultimately though, this troubling poem is about disillusionment, and failure. Lord Byron’s poetic work “The Prisoner of Chillon” explores the struggle between a person’s ending their suffering and accepting it rather than holding on to the hope of freedom. The author uses symbols to represent the immediate end of suffering, acceptance of defeat, and succumbing to torture in competition with hope, strength, and faith in eventual freedom.
My hair is gray, but not with years,
Nor grew it white
In a single night,
As men`s have grown from sudden fears;
My limbs are bow`d, though not with toil,
But rusted with a vile repose,
For they have been a dungeon`s spoil,
And mine has been the fate of those
To whom the goodly earth and air
Are bann`d, and barr`d – forbidden fare;
Have you ever been persecuted for something you didn’t do? Or for something you did do, but that you really and truly believed to be the right thing? Humans are able to survive almost anything, so long as they really and truly believe in the veracity of their cause. The trouble is, most secular Americans, and too many evangelical Americans, don’t have a cause worth dying for.
The unnamed “prisoner of Chillon” is alone in a cell by the banks of Lake Geneva, in Switzerland, where he has grown old as a prisoner. He says that his father was executed for his beliefs, and all six of his sons have suffered persecution for the same reason. Three of the six sons died outside of the prison: one was burnt at the stake and two died in battle.
The prisoner almost gives in to grief, but is revived when he hears the singing of a bird outside his window. It reminds him that there’s beauty and hope in the world. So he clings to that thought and survives. He survives but loses his ability to believe in the transcendent, to believe in God. When he regains his freedom, it is too late. “In quiet we had learn’d to dwell–/My very chains and I grew friends,/So much a long communion ends/To make us what we are:-even I/Regain’d my freedom with a sign.”
It was too late. The idealist, the revolutionary, had been beaten, had been tamed by time, by torture, by neglect, by imprisonment, by discouragement. In effect, he could never escape the chains that his captors had placed on him. He was doomed to be in “chains,” defeated, for the rest of his life. In that sense, his captors, his enemies had won.
I think, in a way, the home school movement is like that. We have been fighting, and struggling, for so many years, for a worthy, laudable cause. Will we be able to take the next step? Will we lose our idealism? My point is evangelical Christians, after fighting so many courageous fights, after sacrificing and suffering so long, will we tire out? Will “my very chains and I grew friends?” Will we “learn’d to love despair?”
Mom and dad, parent, let’s give these kids a cause worth dying for. Let’s equip them for the long haul. There is no longer any doubt: this generation will experience excruciating persecution. They can be hopeless prisoners of Chillon or Overcomers by the Blood of the Lamb.
In Revelation 12 the intensely persecuted John, himself a possible prisoner of Chillon, writes:
10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:
“Now have come the salvation and the power
and the kingdom of our God,
and the authority of his Messiah.
For the accuser of our brothers and sisters,
who accuses them before our God day and night,
has been hurled down.
11 They triumphed over him
by the blood of the Lamb
and by the word of their testimony;
they did not love their lives so much
as to shrink from death.
That is the way we do it! We will be overcomers by the blood of the Lamb, by the word of our testimony, and being willing to die for the cause!
Let us go forth, let us send this generation forth, so that we/they will never give up, will never lose their idealism and faith!