What is the meter scansion of "The Destruction of Sennacherib"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It is ironic that the poem of the "freethinker" Lord George Gordon Byron, "The Destruction of Sennacherib," has become more famous than any written by his contemporaries William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, both of whom were professed Christians. This poem is, indeed, uncharacteristic of Byron as his works are usually satirical or in the form of mock epics.

"The Destruction of Sennacherib" comes from a collection of poems called Hebrew Melodies Ancient and Modern that were published in 1815. In imitation of the Jewish tunes, Byron gave his verse musicality by writing his verses in anapestic meter. The anapestic foot is written with two unaccented syllables that are followed by an accented syllable. This type of meter, in contrast to the conversational tone of iambic pentameter which imitates English speech, lends a musicality to the line with a lilting tone. [TA TA DUM, TA TA DUM, TA TA DUM....] For example, the words "underfoot" and "overcome" are anapestic.

An examination of the first verse should serve as an example for the others that follow the pattern established in the first. Each line has four poetic feet of anapests. This, then, is called anapestic tetrameter.

The Assyr/ian came down /like the wolf /on the fold,
And his co/horts were gleam/ing in pur/ple and gold;
And the sheen/ of their spears/ was like stars/ on the sea,
When the blue/ wave rolls night/ly on deep/ Galilee.
The musicality of these lines with anapestic is also enhanced by Bryon's use of alliteration, a literary technique using the repetition of initial consonant sounds that speeds the pace of the line. e.g. "sheen of their spears." [repetition of /s/].

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