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The Destruction of Sennacherib

The Destruction of Sennacherib

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Summary

The Destruction of Sennacherib

​​In a nutshell

Lord Byron was one of the most important members of the 'Romantics'. This poem, The Destruction of Sennacherib was published as part of a collection called Hebrew Melodies in 1815. This poem is a short narrative about a biblical story from the Old Testament. In this summary, you will learn the context, overview, structure, language and ideas of this poem. 



Content

Stanza one

In the first stanza the speaker talks about the Assyrian army and their power. He mentions the colours purple and gold, which are also known as the colours of royalty. 


Stanza two

In the second stanza, the speaker highlights the ease with which the army was destroyed. Their defeat is shown by changing a few words: "Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green" turns into "Like the leaves of the forest when Autumn hath blown".


Stanza three

In the third stanza, the speaker introduces a biblical figure: the Angel of Death. The author also creates more drama by describing this Angel as very powerful: "And breathed in the face of the foe as he passed". 


Stanza four

The fourth stanza focuses on a horse that is laying lifeless, just like the soldiers. Byron refers to the horse as being "cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf"


Stanza five

The fifth stanza is a description of a rider. The speaker refers to the rider as "distorted and pale" in a contradistinction with the royal colours mentioned in the beginning. This stanza also describes the deaths in the army by creating a pause in the poem. Here, the reader realises the destruction caused by the war. 


Stanza six

The final stanza begins by describing the grief of the widows of Ashur by referencing their "wail". The speaker also mentions that the physical representations of the God Baal are all destroyed. This means that God's anger broke the false idols that these people praised. Next, Byron writes that the anger of the Assiryan's is nothing compared to God's power, so much so that "Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord"



Structure

​​Form

This poem has six rhymed quatrains and they each have two rhyming couplets. Quatrains are usually used to tell stories.


​​Rhythm

The rhythm of the poem, mainly due to the quatrains, is simple and easy to read. However, this does not mean that it's easy to understand. This poem is also associated with ballad stanzas which are used to tell a story and are more commonly associated with music.


Metre

This poem contains an anapest. This is a three-syllable metrical pattern where two unstressed syllables are followed by a stressed syllable. The poem only varies in metre by switching an anapest for an iamb, which is a short syllable that is not stressed followed by a long one that is stressed. 


Example

"That host with their banners at sunset were seen".


Rhyme

Each of the poem's stanzas have two rhyming couplets. Which translates into a scheme like: AABB. This type of rhyme is known for catching the reader's attention by giving more intensity to the poem.


Example of the rhyme scheme

Like the leaves of the forest when Summer is green\rightarrow A

That host with their banners at sunset were seen:    \rightarrow  A​​

Like the leaves of forest when Autumn hath blown,   \rightarrow B

That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.   \rightarrow B



Language

When it comes to its language, this poem purposefully uses archaic vocabulary. Some words may also seem old-fashioned. These two characteristics are similar to the language found in the original Biblical story, transporting the reader to a specific place and time. 


Similes

The author also uses a lot of similes when comparing the Assyrian army to certain elements of nature, showing that humans can disappear easily but nature will always be strong.


Alliteration

Alliteration is the use of the same sound at the beginning of words. Byron uses alliteration in lines such as: "The sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea". The repeated 's' sound is harsh and could imply a sense of evil.



Themes

Death

This poem describes the horrors of death as the Assyrian army attacks the city of Jerusalem. Even though it's based on a religious story, this poem talks about the inevitability of death. The Assyrian army is killed in the first part of the poem and the rest of the stanzas describe the effects of their deaths. An entire stanza is dedicated to the death of the horse to show that God's power is even capable of ending the life of a powerful animal. 


God's power

This poem recalls a story in which God sends an Angel to destroy the Assyrian army. God's power can be considered the central theme of the poem as the deaths of an entire army are caused by Him. However, the poem only mentions God at the end: God's power and its consequences speak for themselves. By the end of the poem, when God is mentioned, the army and their tools (armour and swords) melt just at the "glance of the Lord". 



Key quotations


Stanza

​​Quote

Theme

6
"And the widows of Ashur are loud in their wail"
Death
This quote shows that war always brings destruction and death. As a consequence the ones that are still alive are left mourning the loss of their loved ones. 
6
"Hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!"
God's power
God's power is strong enough to make him protect the people he chooses, whenever he chooses to do so. The Assyrian's power is nothing compared to God and so just by looking at them, God has the power to kill.


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