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The Destruction of Sennacherib -- George Gordon, Lord Byron

Continuing the Bertie Wooster theme...
(Poem #718) The Destruction of Sennacherib
   The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
 And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
 And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
 When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

   Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green,
 That host with their banners at sunset were seen:
 Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown,
 That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.

   For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,
 And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed;
 And the eyes of the sleepers waxed deadly and chill,
 And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still!

   And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,
 But through it there rolled not the breath of his pride;
 And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,
 And cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

   And there lay the rider distorted and pale,
 With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail:
 And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,
 The lances unlifted, the trumpet unblown.

   And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail,
 And the idols are broke in the temple of Baal;
 And the might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword,
 Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!
-- George Gordon, Lord Byron
           (Pub. 1815)

One of Byron's more memorable poems - it's little wonder Bertie liked
quoting it. From its stirring rhythms to its vivid imagery, with neither a
syllable out of place in the former nor a word in the latter, the poem cries
out to be recited, memorised and quoted at random passersby.

However, after its magnificent opening, the poem lacks a certain something -
excitement, perhaps, or dramatic tension; it has the feel of a painting
rather than a narrative. To see what I mean, compare passages from Horatius,
which has not just the rhythms and images, but the *atmosphere* of a battle.
This difference may well be deliberate, for after all the destruction of
Sennacherib was not via battle; rather

     The might of the Gentile, unsmote by the sword
     Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord

Nonetheless, it robs the poem of a certain appeal, and may explain why the
beginning and ending are far better known than the poem itself.


Sennacherib is pronounced senak'rib

Here's a summary of the Biblical account on which Byron's poem is based:

  His own account of this invasion, as given in the Assyrian annals, is in
  these words: "Because Hezekiah, king of Judah, would not submit to my
  yoke, I came up against him, and by force of arms and by the might of my
  power I took forty-six of his strong fenced cities; and of the smaller
  towns which were scattered about, I took and plundered a countless number.


  Hezekiah was not disposed to become an Assyrian feudatory. He accordingly
  at once sought help from Egypt. Sennacherib, hearing of this, marched a
  second time into Palestine. Sennacherib sent envoys to try to persuade
  Hezekiah to surrender, but in vain. He next sent a threatening letter,
  which Hezekiah carried into the temple and spread before the Lord. Isaiah
  again brought an encouraging message to the pious king. "In that night"
  the angel of the Lord went forth and smote the camp of the Assyrians. In
  the morning, "behold, they were all dead corpses." The Assyrian army was

  This great disaster is not, as was to be expected, taken notice of in the
  Assyrian annals

          (somewhat elided - go read the whole thing)

The last line is noteworthy - the official Assyrian history indeed makes no
mention of the defeat...

  In 701 a rebellion, backed by Egypt, though probably instigated by
  Merodach-Baladan (2 Kings 20:12-18; Isaiah 39:1-7), broke out in
  Palestine. Sennacherib reacted firmly, supporting loyal vassals and taking
  the rebel cities, except for Jerusalem, which, though besieged, was spared
  on payment of a heavy indemnity (2 Kings 18:13-19:36; Isa. 36:1-37:37).
  The biblical narrative has been interpreted as implying two campaigns
  against Jerusalem, but this receives no support from Assyrian sources

        -- EB



    Biography at poem #169
    Other poems:
      Poem #510 There is a pleasure in the pathless woods
      Poem #62  So We'll Go No More a-Roving
      Poem #547 The Isles of Greece


  As before, if you find the relevant passages from Wodehouse where
  Sennacherib is quoted, do send them in.


37 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

ando said...

Dear Reader,
I am a student in grade 11 currently working on an assignment for english. The aim of the assignment is to compare and contrast two poems, one of which is "The Charge Of The Light Brigade" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the other, "Destruction of Sennacherib" by George Gordon, Lord Byron. I would be quite appreciative if you could prodive any extra information or even analysis' of the poems as im stuck looking for information and quite anxious to get the assignment under way so i can get it proofread by my teacher. All your help will be greatly appreciated, yours sincerely,


Trinity Living Center said...

I learned this poem in the fifth grade. My mother ,now deceased ,helped me to memorize it. In middle age I began to read the bible and lo, Sennacherib! I could only recall the first two verses and couldn't remember the author. I even asked an English professor of a nearby Christian college and he hadn't heard of the poem. I just happened onto your web site and there it was. Thanks for being a great resource.


Olaf Bode said...

Were you able to get an analysis on the poem that could be sent on to
me? I am presently after an analysis myself for my English class.

Samuel Galí said...

Help, I need (rush) an analysis of the poem "The Destruction of Sennacherib". I have to make an Essay
and I have three questions:

- How is dead view in this poem and what tone does the speaker adopt toward it. In other words,
do they seem to fear it? Do they welcome it?, etc.

If you have an analysis of this poem, please, sent it to me.

Thank You.

Samuel Gali

Brian Hall said...

I agree with the analysis; perhaps the rousing, fearsome start is in
deliberate contrast to the mysterious anticlimax of the angel's
intervention. Interesting contrast between the impression from the poem
that they died in full flight into battle and the biblical account,
which has them dying in camp. Poetic license can be blamed, of course.

Brian Hall
Web editor

For anyone who wants to make a success of a
Web site, there is one decision that must be
made before any other: Hire an editor.
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If you do not use correct grammar, people will
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- Dave Barry

AnwKh3 said...

hi am in year 11 and i need to contrast and compare the two poem one is The
Charfe Of The Light Brigade and the other is The Destruction Of The Sennacherib
please may i have ur help plz i really need it to complete the work

ashok patel said...

i am a yaer 10 student and im currently doing an essay on analysing poems. please can u help me as i have to compare the destruction of sennacherib, the charge of the light brigade and come up from the fields father... i have to write how these poems get over the reality of war! so please help me!!
from chiz

Tararyan91 said...

I need to map out the meter of this poem for an assignment. I need some help
because I am so confused when it comes to this. I've tried and tried to
figure it out, but there must be something I'm missing because I don't even know
where to start.

Thanks in advance!

SARA GREEN said...

i am also comparing to poems which are the destruction of sennacherib and the charge of the light brigade. i was wondering if you could help me by telling me what striking feature does the destruction of sennacherib use i was thinking on the lines of anti-war or something. thanks

SSRA said...

The As 1 came 2 like the 3 on the 4,
And his 1 horts were 2 ng in 3 ple and 4;
And the 1 of their 2 was like 3 on the 4,
When the 1 wave rolls 2 ly on 3 Gali 4.

Bill Brusick said...

This is such a powerful poem - Byron's imagery is astounding. For those of you who enjoy this work and want to take it another level, you need to check out the seldom heard but truly awesome choral and orchestral setting of this poem, The Destruction of Sennacherib" by the Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky. The middle two stanzas (the Angel of Death) are set in an 8 part chorus that will definitely give chills. It is included on a CD of Mussorgsky works conducted by Claudio Abbado. You won't be disappointed.

Bill Brusick
St. Petersburg, Fla.

Geraldine Van De Kleut said...

Why are all of you high school students trying to get other people to do
your homework?

Anonymous said...

I'm leading a Men's Bible study and am so happy to have "chanced," or be it providence, on this fine poem. It is certain to bring extra life to our study. Thanks to the poster.

Anonymous said...

I heard the quote in a movie so typed it on Ask jeeves and am glad to know now where it came from
thank you for your information and work

Anonymous said...

I am stuck on the modern english translation of the text: "The Destruction of Sennacherib" I would be forever greatful for any translation or information
thanks sincerely

Anonymous said...

hey i need help for extension english....

in what ways is this poem exploring romanticism?

more generally: how is it exploring orientalism?

Anonymous said...

Dave,in your comment of April 23,2004: "If you do not use correct grammar, people will
lose respect for you, and they will
burn down your house." -why the comma after 'grammar' and the one after 'you'? By setting this phrase off as a parenthetical expression one is left with the 'sentence': If you do not use correct grammar and they will burn down your house. Which can not be grammatically correct.
- Mordax

April 23, 2004 4:26 PM

Anonymous said...

you seriously correct something that hapenned 7 years ago... mordax you are a fool and an asshole. I say good day

Anonymous said...

Hey I love this poem! It would be awesome if this blog was still going. Just to be persnickety, I'd like to point out that actually the poem does have one syllable out of place and it appears in the first few words! For the meter to flow, it should read, 'The Assyr'an came down...' Just read it slowly and you'll find it. I'm not sure why Byron made this decision, unless in his day the 'ia' was pronounced as a single syllable.

Anonymous said...

"These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed thier robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb."the bible vii 14,15. its not the same as
The last dervish ..lion's roar. they took M colvin listen to Stuart Ramsay.They have freedom,he can't stop them, and look what they do with it.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

i need help please explain poem from an 11th grader erin kevin pat

Anonymous said...

Point 1: for the last post, I, when used as the first personal pronoun, must always be a capital letter. get that wrong and you haven't a hope of getting the GCSE.
Point 2: for 'Camostar', the word "Assyrian" is pronounced with only three syllables even nowadays.
Point 3: to all the students who are asking for urgent help with their assignments, you should actually pay attention. Listen to your teacher who, given half a chance would explain the poetry to you and save you the panic and frustration you are feeling now as well as the depression you will experience when the results appear!

Anonymous said...

From the Unread: All very interesting comments; some good advice, too. My advice is, go to the source of the poem, and you will receive abundant clarification--or analysis, as you say. That source is found in 2 Kings capter 19 , in the Bible. It would be unreasonable to expect to find this in Assyrian history; why would a pagan king immortalize[so to speak] the power of a God he refuses to asknowledge? 185,000 of his soldiers were annihilated,by one angel sent from God, and he could never explain it. A Great demonstration of God's love for those who trust and believe.

Anonymous said...

I, also, am totally deligted to have found this site. I have often had a yearning to remember all these wonderful poems; thank you so much for this site. You won't, by any chance, know of one titled, " The wreck of the Hesperus," would you?

Anonymous said...

"It was the schooner Hesperus that sailed the wintry sea, and the Skipper had taken his little daughter to bear him company."
I read and memorized this poem in the sixth grade. Today is my 80th birthday,and only parts of this work remain in my memory. However,I am still overwhelmed by the sadness of the story.
Scary stuff for a 6th grader.

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