Violent Imagery

Loading Likes...

Our discussion about the violent imagery in Byron’s “The Destruction of Sennacherib” got me thinking about a similar discussion I had in my History of Communication class.

According to Walter Ong, there are 9 characteristics of oral cultures. I believe poetry falls under the oral culture because the way words sound spoken out loud affect the understanding of the poem.

One of the criteria states that oral culture is agonistically themed. It is often related to combat, which exists in Byron’s poem. The reasoning behind this is that violence is memorable and attracts readers.

Yet, I can’t imagine this being the only purpose behind this imagery. I believe these brutal descriptions are packed with emotion–the same emotion that Shelley has for the wind’s ability to create a destructive storm.

Byron writes, “And there lay the rider distorted and pale” (17). This description shows the awe and fascination towards describing very disturbing images. I think Byron can’t help but be captivated by seeing a twisted image, a visual that is different from what he is used to seeing. The way a horse’s nostrils look as it breathes its last breath is very shocking and disturbing; it goes without saying. Yet, it’s an image that can ingrain itself into your mind so vividly that it can become poetic. You cannot erase it, and the shock of it makes the description so vivid.

The inclusion of a graphic image in a poem should not put the writer under suspicion for not feeling remorse or sensitivity to it. It is quite possible that there is an emotion behind that violent imagery.

Source: Ong, Walter J. Some Psychodynamics of Orality. Print.

Happy almost spring break!

Loading Likes...

Our class discussion last week on Wordsworth’s “Lines” was really interesting to me because I could never have reached that in-depth of an analysis just by reading it on my own. I read the poem extremely literally and just let it paint a picture in my mind. I imagined the environment to be like a train-ride-to-Hogwarts+Cliffs of Moher+my grandparents house on Lake Winnipesaukee vibe. But then the Hudson River School 19th century aesthetic was also pretty accurate too. I think Wordsworth’s focus on nature as an escape and pastoral imagery is particularly intriguing today.

My joke about moving to a cabin alone in the middle of the wilderness has been getting increasingly realistic over the past year because technology pisses me off so much. Even though I know I want to work in the advertising/marketing/communications field with a focus on digital media, technology/social media are undoubtedly ruining my life. I want to chuck my computer out the window at least four times a day and nothing grinds my gears more than the constant “Storage Almost Full” notification that I get even after I wipe my phone entirely clean. This can only happen when I have full battery charge though because my iphone 6 dies when it hits 74%. Anyway, I can totally understand Wordsworth’s desire to get away from people and find an escape in nature so I wouldn’t have to deal with running out of data, but then thinking about the whole Thoreau isolation situation also freaks me out.

In reality, my version of an escape is watching Netflix for a few hours or to take a nap. Maybe go for a job on the treadmill if I’m feeling super motivated. My instinct isn’t usually to hit the trails or get outside.  I love technology and am entirely addicted to it even though I hate it!!

I think the nature-as-an-escape-Wordsworth perspective and the 21st century-send-everything-to-the-cloud mindset both have their advantages and disadvantages, I guess there just needs to be more of a balance of the two perspectives in my own life.

As usual, I don’t really know where I’m going with this post. I don’t agree with Wordsworth’s elitist beliefs that you’re doomed if you don’t grow up in the beautiful rural natural landscape. I also grew up in a country-side woodsy rural area and still feel pretty doomed as I sit in the library for hours during midterms pretending to do work while watching Tasty videos on instagram.

The destination-poetry topic is pretty appropriate right before break.

Bowie just SCREAMS Byron

Loading Likes...

In class on Monday we discussed Lord Byron and his status as a kind of rockstar. Byron was popular, fashionable, loved by men and women alike. Not only that, but Onno explained in class that Byron created a unique, iconic Romantic hero that was–to some extent–based on himself. This basic description reminded me of another beloved rockstar with his own cadre of fictional heroes whose last name also started with a “b,” David Bowie! Apparently, I’m not the first to draw that comparison. In Julien Temple’s short film based on Bowie’s single “Blue Jean,” he has Bowie play two characters: Vic, an unsuccessful but very persistent ladies’ man, and Screaming Lord Byron, a theatrical and thoroughly doped-up rockstar.

The video:

The connection between the actual Byron and the Screaming Lord Byron character is pretty explicit. Here are both Byrons, hopefully you know which one is which:

Lord Byron in Albanian dress

I would argue that the hapless, hopeless character of Vic is also a romantic hero in his own right. He goes to extreme lengths to win the love of a girl that he falls for, quite literally. Vic is less moody and melodramatic than the typical romantic hero, but his dogged pursuit of perfection is quintessentially romantic, it is necessarily self-centered and radical. Vic’s pursuit is self-centered because his interest in the Dream, as she is called, has little to nothing to do with the woman herself and much more to do with his own identity as the man who can capture a dream. His pursuit is also radical in that Vic breaks social norms as well as actual rules (cough, trespassing, cough cough), rejecting convention.

Another argument could be that Vic and Screaming Lord Byron do not classify as romantic heroes on their own, but together they constitute the kind of hero the actual Lord Byron created/has come to represent. Romantic heroes are characters made up of extremes. Vic and Screaming Lord Byron represent two ends of a vast spectrum of “men of the world,” an identity Byron explored in much of his poetry.

Photo credits:

Percy Shelley

Loading Likes...

Having taken the course “Monsters in Literature” last semester, Professor Hall gave us a little bit of background on the Shelley family tree when we started to read Frankenstein, and it has stuck in the back of my mind ever since. Upon reading Percy’s two poems for class, I decided to delve a little deeper into researching his life, and thought I would share a little bit about his fascinating family.

After starting at Oxford, Percy was kicked out for publishing a work called “The Necessity of Atheism” with his peer Thomas Jefferson Hogg. Coming from a family of devout Christians, he was essentially disowned, which left him pretty poor until he was able to claim his inheritance.

In the meantime, Percy married a woman named Harriet Westbrook, only to later have an affair with Mary Shelley (author of Frankenstein and daughter of famous feminist Mary Wollstonecraft and well-known philosopher William Godwin), with whom he bore a child out of wedlock. Two years later, after the suicide of Percy’s wife Harriet, Mary and Percy officially tied the knot.

The aspect of the Shelleys’ life that I find most interesting is the famous summer the two spent with Lord Byron and George Gordon at Lake Geneva, where Mary notoriously came up with the concept of Frankenstein when Lord Byron suggested that everyone write their own ghost story (I picture the four poets gathered around a campfire/crystal ball telling ghost stories and talking to spirits, but it’s unlikely that’s how it actually went down). After reading and analyzing Byron’s work last class, especially “She Walks in Beauty”, I found it interesting to draw parallels between the themes of darkness explored in his poems and his apparent obsession with the undead. Similarly, with Shelley’s “Ozymandias” there are many allusions to death-was this group of poets really a quintessential representation of the Romantic period, or were they just a bunch of poets trapped in the minds of angsty teens?

Percy eventually met his untimely end in 1822 when he drowned in a sailboat on his way back from a visit with Lord Byron, leaving Mary on her own.

Historical context of Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias”

Loading Likes...

I wanted to know if Ozymandias was a real person so I did a little research on what inspired the poem.

Some critics believe “Ozymandias” was inspired by Ramses II, also known as “Ramses the Great… whose reign (1279–13 BCE) was the second longest in Egyptian history.” He was known for wars with the Hittities and Libyans, extensive building programs, and colossal statues of himself (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Shelley’s “Ozymandias” reflects upon the idea that time eventually erodes everything away and uses Ozymandias (or Ramses the Great) to illustrate that even someone as influential and powerful during his time was reduced to merely a lifeless pair of “legs of stone” and a “shattered visage”.  Shelley points out the baseless confidence people have in their hopes that they will one day be remembered when even someone considered a great ruler of ancient Egypt is left abandoned and forgotten in the middle of the desert.

Of course, if the statue were really of Ramses II, it would defeat Shelley’s purpose since Ramses is actually remembered in history as one of the greatest rulers of ancient Egypt. Shelley purposely made up a ruler that physically can not be remembered – because he never existed. Furthermore, the effect of having the speaker meet “a traveller from an antique land” to tell him the story, further emphasizes Ozymandias’ lack of importance as the telling of the story comes off as almost a second thought. Instead of going to see the statue’s remains for himself, the speaker takes the traveller’s word for it and repeats the story as he heard it.

Ozymandias used art, specifically statues, in order to immortalize himself and his glory but Shelley shows just how ineffective this attempt is against the force of time. Interestingly however, Shelley’s poem itself can be thought of as a way of attempting to immortalize himself as “Ozymandias” is now considered one of Shelley’s best-known works and a testimonial to his poetic eloquence.

Picture to help you visualize:

Image result for ozymandias



susansenglish –


Lord Byron “The Destruction of Sennacherib”

Loading Likes...

“The Destruction of Sennacherib” by Lord Byron is a narrative poem that retells the story of how God destroys King Sennacherib’s Assyrian army as they attack the city of Jerusalem. The dominant themes are death and God’s power.

The story is found in the Old Testament. “In the Bible, Kings 2 Chapter 19 Sennacherib attempted to besiege Jerusalem; when his soldiers came upon ‘all the fenced cities of Judah’, they took them, and so Hezekiah, the King of Judah, prayed to God, and received the reply – through the prophet Isaiah – that he would ‘defend this city, to save it, for mine own sake, and for my servant David’s sake’.”

The poem takes its events chronologically. It starts with the Assyrians besieging Jerusalem, and moves on to Angel visiting the camp who “spread his wings on the blast/ and breathed in the face of the foe as he passed” (5-6).  Byron uses his imagination to describe the siege and the magnificence of the Assyrian army. The ending could not be more satisfying. The simple phrase that “the glance of the Lord” (24) resolves all the violence of conflicting soldiers.

The most striking aspect of the poem is the vivid use of descriptive language. It appeals to the senses with the sound of trumpets and the “wail” (21) of grief. The Assyrian’s aggressive might is nothing compared to God’s power. God merely has to “glance” at the enemy to destroy them. This is an interesting poem because of the major themes that it deals with. I am fascinated by Lord Byron’s approach to writing this poem.

“The Sestos and Abydos of Her Breasts”

Loading Likes...

In his “Elegy XIX,” John Donne writes:

O’erpast, and the straight Hellespont between
The Sestos and Abydos of her breasts,
Not of two lovers, but two loves, the nests,
Succeeds a boundless sea, but yet thine eye
Some island moles may scattered there descry ;
And sailing towards her India, in that way
Shall at her fair Atlantic navel stay.
Though there the current be the pilot made,
Yet, ere thou be where thou shouldst be embay’d,
Thou shalt upon another forest set,
Where many shipwreck, and no further get.

The first reason I chose to write about this poem for my post this week is that it’s absolutely hilarious, absurdly oversexed, and very, very quintessentially Donne.

The second reason I included it is because I think there’s a point to be made about Sestos and Abydos. Donne’s utilization of the two towns in his erotic rambings has no obvious connection to Lord Byron’s “Written After Swimming From Sestos to Abydos,” although I think the ocean (ha ha) of difference between the two poems is what is actually most notable about them.

We’ve talked a lot about satire. Byron’s “Sestos to Abydos” and Donne’s “Elegy XIX” can both be seen as satires, though of a very different kind– Byron toying with the myth that made the two towns and the strait between them infamous, and Donne evoking their melodramatic romanticism in an unapologetically raunchy context. What these poems represent to me is a kind of window into the storied roots of discomfort with trope-y, generic poetic imagery. Even in the day of Donne and certainly Byron, it’s clear that there’s a discomfort with the staleness of Sestos and Abydos, and their poetry seeks to mock and evade that staleness by satirizing with it.

“London”: Beautiful City & Haunting Poem

Loading Likes...

Blake’ s poem London is by far one of my favorite we have read so far. I’m not sure why and the only thing I can put my finger on is the over-used vague word “flow.” I like the way it “flows.” The iambic tetrameter is different from what we have been seeing: this lack of a last foot might be what makes it seem more accessible. The start of the poem also starts on two unstressed syllables, which makes it seem almost comforting. Interestingly, this comfort  juxtaposes with the deep content within the poem. Blake is unafraid to tackle the problems that are below the surface of the people whom he passes by on the street. He does not simply walk by the people but rather sees the threads that connect their humanity– pain. He shows that suffering is part of the human experience from the infants first cry to the “hearse.” The fact that he notes that the infant cried of fear says both that humans are born with the innate response to fear things and also that the world around the infant, the world in which he walks though London, is one we should fear. His anti-institution views come through when he calls Marriage the hearse because he suggests that loving freely (not taking just one lover) was a thing of life and contracting yourself is really the disease that hurts people. Ironically, the  diseases transmitted sexually we also the things that brought death to harlots and newborns alike. No matter if it be both r one of these causes, Blake shows it as universal in his first stanza. Despite the “weakness” and “woe” he does on to describe later, here is something hauntingly beautiful to know it effects everyone. No matter status, age, nor gender, the hardships of life in London made for a hard fought battle.

“The Destruction of Sennacherib” and the Napoleonic Wars

Loading Likes...

Lord Byron’s poem “The Destruction of Sennacherib” tells the Biblical account of Sennacherib’s attempted siege of Jerusalem. Although this wasn’t a particularly well known Bible story, Byron published his poem in 1815, which was a time when was was a great concern in Europe. This was about when the Napoleonic wars were coming to the end. In fact, the Battle of Waterloo, which ended the war, took place a few months before the poem’s publication.

Furthermore, there are distinct similarities between the French and the Assyrians. Just like Sennacherib and the Assyrians, Napoleon and the French had created a large empire and little seemed capable of stopping them. With millions of lives already lost to the war, it must have seemed to Byron and his readers that only a miracle (like the plague) could stop the carnage.

Also, bonus fact: The Destruction of Sennacherib” was popular in Victorian England, so when the first Australian cricket team to tour England defeated their team in 1878, a satirical magazine apparently published a parody of the poem:

The Australians came down like a wolf on the fold,

The Marylebone cracks for a trifle were bowled;

Our Grace before dinner was very soon done,

And Grace after dinner did not get a run.

The Assyrian as the Protagonist

Loading Likes...

In “The Destruction of Sennacherib,” Lord Byron describes Death cracking down on an Assyrian army invading Jerusalem. Though Death is traditionally the force that takes lives, Byron could just as easily have given that role to God, who has the final say (based on what I know of Christianity). Though Death is generally considered neutral as far as Godly vs. Satanic, he has a considerably ominous presence. Thus, Byron paints the Assyrians as the protagonist, by portraying Death as the one who takes them.

This evokes the question: in history that stretches far enough so that we have no personal connection to either side, why do we lean towards one side or the other? There are some cases in which brutality guides us to choose a side (ie conquering the Belgian Congo); or, we will be more invested in one side, because the implications of the battle still affect us today (ie the Civil War). But for historical wars that took place in the Greek empire, or even further back, what inspires us to take one side over the other?