Context

The context in which a poem was written can sometimes tell you more about its themes, message and meaning.

Some questions you might ask include:

  • are aspects of the poet’s life reflected in the poem?
  • is the time or place in which it was written reflected in the poem?

You will need to research the poet’s background to discover answers to these questions. But if you do write about a poem and its context, be careful to include only details that reveal something about the poem.

Context of 'The Destruction of Sennacherib'

A forest in the sunlight
Lord Byron was one of the leading poets from the Romantic movement

Byron was one of the leading poets of a group known as the Romantics. Romanticism was a general artistic movement (literature, music, the visual arts, etc.) which dominated European culture from the last part of the 18th century until the mid-19th century. Romanticism had many key features, including:

  • an interest in the cultures and history of the Middle East and Far East
  • the importance of liberty and freedom
  • a fascination with mystical and supernatural events

All of these are features of Byron’s poem.

The poem was originally published as part of a collection called Hebrew Melodies in April 1815. This was a time when the subject of war was of great concern throughout Europe. The wars against Napoleon had been going on for sixteen years and were quickly reaching a climax. The Battle of Waterloo, which ended the war, took place just two months after the poem’s publication. Just like Sennacherib and the Assyrians in the poem, Napoleon and the French had carved out a huge empire and nothing seemed capable of stopping them. It is estimated that the war resulted in approximately 3.5-5 million casualties. It must have seemed to Byron’s original readers that only a miracle could stop the destruction.

More about commenting on context.