“The Destruction of Sennacherib” – A poem by Lord Byron

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!

Bildresultat för Sennacherib
From the Khorsabad Palace of King Sargon II c.722-705 BCE Relief depicting King Sennacherib 
Bildresultat för Sennacherib

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.

Sources

wikipedia.org [various entries]

 

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“A Night Scene”- A poem by Mary Shelley

Everyone knows Mary Shelley (1797-1851) as the writer of well-known Gothic novel Frankenstein – The Modern Prometheus (1818), but she wrote poetry as well. Shelley was the daughter of political philosopher William Godwin (1756-1836) and her mother the was well-known writer and “early feminist” Mary Wollonstonecraft (1759-1797). She never knew her mother who died shortly after giving birth to Mary. Her parents were liberals and her father gave her a good education even if it was informal. As a young girl Mary Shelley started to write short stories and maintained a lifelong interest in writing. She wrote novels, drama, poetry and about her travels. She married the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1816 and they travelled a lot and lived a somewhat unconventional life together until he drowned in Switzerland. They met in 1814 and Mary’s father never accepted their marriage. Mary got pregnant before they married which gave the pair social difficulties. After her husband’s death Mary focused on their young son and her writing. Mary Shelley died of a brain tumour at the age of 53 in London. She had been ill for over a decade.

Context and literary themes

This poem “A Night Scene” is about a woman called Isabel. The poem is quite lenghty and has a number of themes common to any writer of the Romantic period. Pay attention to the vivid descriptions of light, the Stars and the Night. How does they frame the story told in the poem? What can be said about the woman named Isabel? Notice how the protagonist takes on a male perspective: “That on that couch my Isabel reclines. I see yon brilliant star and waving tree,”

The Poem: “A Night Scene”

I see thee not, my gentlest Isabel;

Ambrosial night, with her mysterious spell,

Has woven shadows thick before thy face,

Drawing impervious veils athwart the space

That does divide us; thy bright eyes alone

A lucid beam into the dark have thrown,

Till the long lashes and the downcast lid

Quench it again, and the bright orbs are hid.

I see thee not: the touch of they soft hand,

And thy deep sighs, fraught with emotion bland,

Are to my sense the only outward signs

That on that couch my Isabel reclines.

I see yon brilliant star and waving tree,

Through which its beams rain down inconstantly;

I see ten thousand of those radiant flowers

Which shed light on us in dim silver showers,

High in the glorious heavens; I see full well

All other forms – not thine, my Isabel.

Sweet Mystery! I know that thou art there–

I scent the fragrance of thy silken hair;

The lines that do encircle thee I trace;

That spot is hallow’d by thy lovely face;

Thy woman’s form, in soft voluptuousness,

Enriches vacant air in yon recess;

Yet to my eyes no sign of thee appears,

And the drear blank suggests a thousand fears.

Speak, Isabel! – And yet not thus were broken

The cruel spell – for have not spirits spoken?

Are then thine eyes no nearer than that star,

Which unattainably doth shine afar?

Thy voice as immaterial as the wind

That murmurs past, yet leaves no form behind?

And is the visiting of this soft gale,

Rich with the odours of the flow’rets pale,

Which sweeps my bosom with delicious fanning,

My thrilling limbs with arms aerial spanning,

Is it as truly real, as warmly glowing

As thy dear form, rich with the life-tide flowing?

Ah, darling, quick thine arms around me throw,

Press thy warm lips upon my night-cool brow,

In thy dark eyes thy fair soul I must read –

One kiss, sweet heaven, ’tis Isabel indeed!


Sources

List of works by Mary Shelley – Information about the poem cited. 

wikipedia.org (various entries about Mary Shelley and her literary works)

“To – ” : A poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley

IN THIS post I continue to try keep you interested in the life and poetry by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). He’s a good representant of the Romantic era and his poetry is a proof of many common literary themes typical of this period. Some of these values are connected to the truth and beauty of nature, individualism, vivid imagination and strong feelings. The presence of nostalgia is also a sign of Romanticism as well as Gothic and the rise of “horror” as a theme in texts from this time.

Context and themes

Most likely the lines in “To -” are the result of an unfinished poem since it is a bit short. Surely, the message gets through anyway. It’s also been set into beautiful music. The Themes are love, anxiety, emotions, idolization of the beloved. Fear of rejection.

The Poem
(abt. 1818-1819)

I FEAR thy kisses, gentle maiden;
Thou needest not fear mine;
My spirit is too deeply laden
Ever to burthen thine.

I fear thy mien, thy tones, thy motion; 
Thou needest not fear mine;
Innocent is the heart’s devotion
With which I worship thine.

Sources

Wikipedia.org

“Ozymandias” a poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Today I’m going to write about a very famous poem called Ozymandias. This poem is so famous throughout the history of poetry it hits a high score on most lists involving any expertise on why and how it’s considered so good. Well, one may one how come any poetry written several hundred years ago. What can it possible tell us today? How can something considered to be so good be so hard to understand?

Context and themes

Ozymandias is a sonnet and was published in a well-known London-paper The Examiner on 11 of January in 1818. The poet was Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822). Ask yourself who do you think would like to hear this poem? Who is Ozymandias? He presents himself as the king of kings…this title is somewhat biblical, but fact is that in antiquity, Ozymandias (Ὀσυμανδύας) was a Greek name for pharaoh Ramesses II who ruled Egypt many hundreds of years before Christianity. Shelley started to write the poem in 1817, soon after the announcement of the British Museum’s acquisition of a large fragment of a statue of Ramesses II from the thirteenth century BCE, leading some scholars to believe that Shelley was inspired by this event. Shelley wrote the poem in friendly competition with poet Horace Smith (1779–1849), who also wrote a sonnet on the same topic with the same title.

Themes: hubris and time


Ozymandias

I met a traveller from an antique land,

Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone

Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,

Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,

And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,

Tell that its sculptor well those passions read

Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,

The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;

And on the pedestal, these words appear:

My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Sources

Wikipedia.org (various entries)

“The Moon” – A poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley

Context: In this short poem Percy B. Shelley (1792-1822) reflects upon the moon as a celestial body in the Sky which sometimes appears in a “gauzy veil”. First, he likens the moon to a dying Lady on her death bed. Pay some attention to this image. Is the moon always a woman when you think about various myths and legends describing the moon? In Germany and Scandinavia the moon is sometimes an old man, not a woman. Second, he describes some of the moon’s phases and wonders if the moon ever gets tired as it keeps on wandering the night sky. The line: “Out of her chambers” possibly means the moon is about to rise. It’s not a very positive view of the moon which is presented in this poem. The moon gazes on the earth, is pale, weary and wanders without a companion (unlike other celestial bodies). It contains both personification and fine allegory.

 

Themes: The moon; the phases

The Moon

 

And, like a dying lady lean and pale,
Who totters forth, wrapp’d in a gauzy veil,
Out of her chamber, led by the insane
And feeble wanderings of her fading brain,
The moon arose up in the murky east
A white and shapeless mass.

Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

“To One in Paradise” – A poem by Edgar Allan Poe

Context: The poemTo One in Paradise” (1833) is among Poe’s most well-known lines of lyric! It was first published without a title as part of the short story “The Visionary” (later renamed “The Assignation”). It evolved into “To Ianthe in Heaven” and then into “To One Beloved” before being named “To One in Paradise” in the February 25, 1843.

Themes: Take notice how the narrator in this poem presents the events in time and place. He has lost his love, she died. In the first lines he lingers on how beautiful everything was when she was alive. She was everything to him and he uses nature as a metaphor to describe her. Throughout the lines she is only known as ‘love’. But how well is she really described? She remains pretty anonymous to the reader. Is she really a person? Why does Poe bother to hide her personality? In the seventh line our narrator tells us “the dream was too bright to last” and that he clings to the past “mute” and “motionless”. Our narrator is mourning deeply – “The light of Life is over”. Just as in his most famous poem “The Raven” the famous words no more echoes three times. Only in the final lines we learn some of her characteristics, she had grey eyes and she keeps on dancing on eternal streams as the narrator continuous to dream in trances about her.

 Key words: Lost love, death, mourning, loss

To One in Paradise

Thou wast that all to me, love,
For which my soul did pine—
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers,
And all the flowers were mine.

Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope! that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries,
“On! on!”—but o’er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies
Mute, motionless, aghast!

For, alas! alas! with me
The light of Life is o’er!
No more—no more—no more—
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree,
Or the stricken eagle soar!

And all my days are trances,
And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy grey eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams—
In what ethereal dances,
By what eternal streams.

“To Sleep” – A poem by William Wordsworth

Context: William Wordsworth (1770-1850) is considered to be one of the most influential among the Romantic poets of British literature. Wikipedia states that “Wordsworth was Britain’s Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death from pleurisy on 23 April 1850.” In the 1790’s his career as a famous poet started and he wrote a lot of poetry. He also wrote autobiographical parts of poetry. Wikipedia once again: “The year 1793 saw the first publication of poems by Wordsworth, in the collections An Evening Walk and Descriptive Sketches. In 1795 he received a legacy of 900 pounds from Raisley Calvert and became able to pursue a career as a poet.” 

Themes: The major theme of this short poem (it’s considered short since Wordsworth usually wrote lenghty poems) is beyond any doubt sleeplessness or insomina. Follow the protagonist as he tries to count the sheep! We’ve all been there, we’ve all done that! This goes on in the first five lines. As he struggles to fall asleep he thinks of other sleepless nights and sadly there is no sleep this night either. Take notice once again on how Nature is present in the lines. Nature corresponds to the protagonist’s feeling throughout the poem.

To Sleep

 

A FLOCK of sheep that leisurely pass by 

One after one; the sound of rain, and bees 

Murmuring; the fall of rivers, winds and seas, 

Smooth fields, white sheets of water, and pure sky;— 

I’ve thought of all by turns, and still I lie

Sleepless; and soon the small birds’ melodies 

Must hear, first utter’d from my orchard trees, 

And the first cuckoo’s melancholy cry. 

Even thus last night, and two nights more I lay, 

And could not win thee, Sleep! by any stealth: 

So do not let me wear to-night away: 

Without Thee what is all the morning’s wealth? 

Come, blesséd barrier between day and day, 

Dear mother of fresh thoughts and joyous health! 

Sources

wikipedia.org (various entries)

Internet Archive (Wordsworth)

Early painting of Wordsworth at the start of his career as a poet in the 1790’s.