The Byronic Hero

John Wilson wrote, "It is in the contrast between his august conceptions of man, and his contemptuous opinions of men, that much of the almost incomprehensible charm, and power, and enchantment, of his poetry consists." The abstruse "he" that Wilson refers to is Lord Byron. This famed poet developed an unmistakable style that both praises and admonishes man. Byron was not a misanthrope, but he never forgot manís faults. Through his poetry, Byron developed his views and expanded them. In fact, Byron developed a hero; a hero that would not back down to a challenge, rather, a hero that would stand up courageously and fight for what was good and true. In "The Destruction of Sennacherib," Byron represents a hero who faces defeat. This poem serves as an example of Byronís unique style, philosophy, and ideals.

The title of the poem, "The Destruction of Sennacherib," serves as a synopsis for the subject; the poem entails the death of Sennacherib. The first stanza describes the entrance of Sennacherib onto a battle scene. It is clear that he is a cunning military strategist as Byron describes him as a "wolf on the fold." Sennacherib and his "cohorts" are regal "in purple and gold." They seem to be a well-organized army with weapons and courage to spare. In the second stanza there is a foreshadowing of the end of Sennacherib with the reference to leaves being green in summer, but blown away in the autumn. Quickly, much like death in real life, the Angel of Death appears and breathes in the face of Sennacherib and his men. Their lifeless bodies appear waxen in their cold state, as their hearts "for ever grew still." As the poem continues, Byron points out that Sennacheribís pride is lost in death. The image of Sennacheribís last breath overlaps with one of waves crashing against a shore in lines seventeen and eighteen. The fifth stanza ends great Sennacheribís life. In the last stanza the people of Assyria mourn the demise of their leader, and in effect, the demise of their civilization. All that was great of their nation "hath melted like snow in the glance of the Lord!"

The poem is made up of six stanzas and twenty-four lines. The third line stands out for its alliteration, "and the sheen of the spears was like stars on the sea." From the beginning of the poem and throughout there are allusions to the ocean and beaches. Byron uses natural images to depict the scenes. In the second stanza, the alliterated phrase, "Like the leaves," is repeated, however, in line five the leaves are green in summer and in line seven, the leaves have been blown away in autumn. True to the Romantic Movement, the poem impresses the image of seasons changing as an analogy for life and death. The rhyme scheme is AABBCCDD and so on until the last stanza, in which Byron repeats the rhyme from the preceding stanza. This creates a shift from the death scene to the reaction of Sennacheribís people. In the last line, Byron introduces another shift with a new rhyme. This shift moves from the immediate response to the death of Sennacherib to the overall end of the Assyrian nation.

Sennacherib was an interesting choice of subject for Lord Byron..According to Columbia Encyclopedia, Sennacherib "constructed canals and aqueducts and built a magnificent palace at Nineveh." From this aspect, Sennacherib was not the Byronic hero. Byron would have preferred a more hidden ideal as he favored the brooding loner for his hero. As a king with such legendary identifications, Sennacherib drifts from the mold. However, it is clear that Byron holds great respect for Sennacherib. Rather than shame Sennacherib with a cowardly death (he was actually murdered by two of his sons) Byron chooses to glorify his last stand in battle, thereby leaving the memory of Sennacherib one of man, conqueror, hero.