Pieces People Ask For/The Prisoner

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For works with similar titles, see The Prisoner.


Closed in by four gray walls,
Grim, and grimy, and hard!
One only break in the slimy dark,
A window, iron-barred!

Quivering on tiptoe there,
I spy at the world without,
And wearily scan that blue sea-bay,
Where the white sails glide about.
I gaze, till my hot eyes ache
With the changeful, flashing light:
That billowy blue, so terribly blue;
That white, so intensely white!
And I step from my trembling hold
Down on the loathsome floor;
Then bruised, half-blinded, and sick,
I climb, and gaze once more.

Out of this fearful dun-light,—
Darkness "made visible,"—
I gaze on the summer sunlight
Which never visits my cell,—
Out on yon summer-glory
Flooding the golden sand;
And I sigh for the distant freedom:
I weep for my far-off land!

So I cling to the bars, and wonder
If my lot will ever be
To float in that skifflet yonder,
Home o'er that tempting sea.

Oh! I loathe the foreign banner,
With its fluttering, flaunting brag;
And my soul is sad and weary,
Heart-sick for the dear old flag!
Oh! could I loose from her moorings,
Could I reach yon tiny boat,
With what glad, wild heart-boundings,
Away, away I'd float!

But the sunbeams lie still and burning,
On ocean and on land,
While scarce by one breezy flutter
Is my burning forehead fanned.

'Tis maddening!—this awful still,
Round me in my hollow stone!
Though yonder the glad notes thrill,
I hear not, I hear not one!
But out of my terrible silence,
I can see these voices yonder,
While over my tugging heart-strings
Creep echoes, dearer, fonder.

I ache for liberty,
Over the far blue sea,
O'er the blue sea so wide!
And I hear the angels singing,
"Keeping time,
In silver rhyme"
With that boat so slowly swinging,
On the restless, heaving tide.
Ripple, dipple,
Plashing, dashing,
The wavelets sleepily lap the shore;
Lazily, hazily,
Drearily, wearily,
I cling here, listening o'er and o'er—

To the sobbing oozing gurgle
Slushing underneath the keel,
And the restless, dipping murmur
Which I cannot know by the outward ear,
The tide is too far for me to hear,
But deep in my soul I feel.

And I see yon boat so slowly swinging:
I hear the far-off home-bells ringing,
Ringing through my heart!
Sweet bells of home, I must be free:
Yon skiff shall bear me o'er the sea,
If but these stanchions part!

Then will I dare the tempest's wrath,
While seeking out the homeward path,
For liberty's dear sake;
And my frail bark shall boldly drift,
Where mightier ships have passed, and left
Lines of snow-foam in their wake.

Ha! the iron bars are loosening!
So! gently on the floor!
I am mad for yon shifting sea,
Frantic I'll spring to liberty!
Now! there goes one bar more!

Another! And now I'm free! I'm free!
Wide is my path to liberty;
For a sailor's foot and hand
Make light of castle-wall,
In its rugged fall
To the golden strand.

Down! down! down!
Beneath the castle's frown!
Surely, I fell!
For blood is flowing, and wounds are wide:
I know it, I know it, 'tis life's full tide,
In crimson swell!
The boat is empty, I lie on the sand,
Far from those bells of my own dear land!
I am dying, alone, but free!
Out in God's glorious sun and light,
Loyal in heart, and true in hand,
To the royal flag of my native land!
Dying, but free,
By the solemn sea!
Mother, good-night!