Gateway to the Classics: Historic Poems and Ballads by Rupert S. Holland
Historic Poems and Ballads by  Rupert S. Holland

The Destruction of Sennacherib

S ENNACHERIB was King of Assyria from 705 B.C. to 681 B.C. He was a very proud and warlike ruler, but also a great builder, and during his reign Assyria became famous for her art and architecture. He seized and destroyed Babylon, conquered Chaldea, and marched into Egypt. City after city of Judah fell before his arms, and Hezekiah, Prince of Judah, was forced to retreat into Jerusalem. The Assyrian king pursued, wasting the land with fire and sword, and taking the people for slaves. As Sennacherib swept up to Jerusalem the Prince of Judah tried to ransom his city with gold, but the invader would not listen to his offer, and prepared to attack the walls. Then suddenly a plague fell upon the great Assyrian host. It is said that 185,000 men died in a single night. The rest, terrified at what seemed retribution for their destruction of Babylon, fled in a panic, pursued by their enemies. The king himself escaped, but was killed in 681 B.C. in the temple at Nineveh by two of his sons.

Byron wrote a number of poems dealing with Hebrew history, and this is one of the most spirited of them. It describes how the great Assyrian army, flushed with scores of victories, came to Jerusalem, ready to conquer on the morrow. That night came the plague, and the army melted away before its breath. The widows of Ashur, which means Assyria, bewailed the lost soldiers, and the priests who tended the altars of the god Baal broke the idols in despair, for the Gentiles, or heathens, who had been so powerful before, had fallen, not by men's swords, but at the will of the God of Jerusalem.

The Destruction of Sennacherib

by George Gordon Noel, Lord Byron

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 flown,

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 forever 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!

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