In previous posts you learned more about the Romantic poets and I continue today with Lord Byron (1788-1824). He has been mentioned here before and was one of the leading poets of the Romantic Movement. Lord Byron may have lived a very adventurous lifestyle, but his time and place in history was also a more religious one than today. Therefore, many of his poems contains religious references to the Bible and Christianity. One such well-known poem is called “The Destruction of Sennacherib” and was published in 1815. In this poem Lord Byron manages to re-tell the biblical story (2 Kings. 18-19) on how the Assyrian king tried to capture Jerusalem. The Assyrian Siege of Jerusalem is historical (dated 701 BC), but the Assyrian annals report that the result was the payment of tribute by Jerusalem, with king Hezekiah remaining in office as a vassal ruler. Pay attention to how he builds up the story! Can you hear the horses while you’re reading?
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!
The Biblical References
According to the story as related in 2 Kings, the Assyrian army came “against all the fenced cities of Judah, and took them.” When the Assyrians were besieging Jerusalem, Hezekiah prayed to the Lord in the Temple, and Isaiah sent the reply from the Lord to Hezekiah to the effect “I will defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake” (2 Kings 19:34), and during the following night the Angel of the Lord (מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה) “smote in the camp of the Assyrians an hundred fourscore and five thousand” (i.e. 185,000), so by morning most of the Assyrian army was found to have died, mysteriously, in their sleep (2 Kings 19:35), and Sennacherib went back to Nineveh.
wikipedia.org [various entries]