A prisoner in a dungeon deep
Sat musing silently;
His head was rested on his hand,
His elbow on his knee.
Turned he his thoughts to future times
Or are they backward cast?
For freedom is he pining now
Or mourning for the past?
No, he has lived so long enthralled
Alone in dungeon gloom
That he has lost regret and hope,
Has ceased to mourn his doom.
He pines not for the light of day
Nor sighs for freedom now;
Such weary thoughts have ceased at length
To rack his burning brow.
Lost in a maze of wandering thoughts
He sits unmoving there;
That posture and that look proclaim
The stupor of despair.
Yet not for ever did that mood
Of sullen calm prevail;
There was a something in his eye
That told another tale.
It did not speak of reason gone,
It was not madness quite;
It was a fitful flickering fire,
A strange uncertain light.
And sooth to say, these latter years
Strange fancies now and then
Had filled his cell with scenes of life
And forms of living men.
A mind that cannot cease to think
Why needs he cherish there?
Torpor may bring relief to pain
And madness to despair.
Such wildering scenes, such flitting shapes
As feverish dreams display:
What if those fancies still increase
And reason quite decay?
But hark, what sounds have struck his ear;
Voices of men they seem;
And two have entered now his cell;
Can this too be a dream?
‘Orlando, hear our joyful news:
Revenge and liberty!
Your foes are dead, and we are come
At last to set you free.’
So spoke the elder of the two,
And in the captive’s eyes
He looked for gleaming ecstasy
But only found surprise.
‘My foes are dead! It must be then
That all mankind are gone.
For they were all my deadly foes
And friends I had not one.’