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“The Destruction of Sennacherib” is a poem written by Lord Byron. It revolves around the tale of the failure of the siege of Jerusalem by the Assyrian King Sennacherib.
About the Poet:
George Gordon Byron, formally known as Lord Byron (1788-1824) was one of the greatest English poets. He was an important pioneer of the Romantic Movement. Famous works of his include “Don Juan”, “She Walks in Beauty”, and “Manfred”.
This poem is divided into 6 stanzas consisting of 4 lines each. Each of these stanzas follows the rhyme scheme “aabb”.
Explanation of the Stanzas:
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.
The first stanza of the poem brings out the Assyrian army. It brings out how the Assyrian king “came down like the wolf on the fold” and how the Assyrians were adorned in royal colours of “purple and gold”. Further, the poem brings out how their spears gleamed “like stars on the sea” on 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.
This stanza brings out how the army’s banners looked green “Like the leaves of the forest” at sunset in Summer. However, the next day, the very same leaves resembled Autumn leaves that were “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!
This stanza is a continuation of the sentiments seen in the previous one. It states that they looked “withered and strown” because death and destruction by means of “the Angel of Death” had run rampant there. Because this Angel “breathed in the face” of them, the “foe”, they ceased to exist, their eyes becoming “deadly and chill” and their once beating heart becoming “still” in death.
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.
This stanza focuses on a “steed” or horse lying on the battlefield. The poem reveals how his nostrils were “all wide”, stating that it was so not because the horse was breathing with “pride” but because he was dead. Foam “as cold” as foam from the sea formed from his last, dying breaths and gathered on the ground below.
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.
The rider of the horse from the previous stanza is described here to be lying equally dead, his form “distorted and pale”. Morning “dew” seems to have already gathered “on his brow”, his armour already rusting. The army tents had all gone silent with their banners flowing alone, the victorious “lances unlifted” and “trumpet unblown”. The Assyrian army was thus defeated.
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!
The widows of the fallen soldiers of Assur lamented. Their Assyrian Gods were broken in “the temple of Baal”. With the end of the war, the “might of the Gentile” or non-Jewish people seemed to have disappeared, untouched by human weapons, melting “like snow” with a mere “glance of the Lord”.
This is a deeply meaningful poem. It brings out the might of God, and how He protects his people in their times of distress.