Let the Poetry Begin!
When I was about twelve years old, my class had to learn poems by heart. These poems have stayed with me and remain vivid. One was called ‘The Destruction of Sennacherib’ and was written by Lord Byron, about the siege of Jerusalem in 701 BC, in which the Assyrians not only lose their battle, but also one hundred and eighty-five thousand men. The first two verses of the poem describe the massed forces of the invaders and their pitiful state after the fight.
“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 blown,
That host on the morrow lay withered and strown.”
There was a field of sunflowers growing behind our house this Summer, which reminded me of the tale of Sennacherib. Over a period of months, I watched the thousands of plants grow and flourish and the flowers become more and more prominent, until they opened. By Summer there were thousands of splendid sunflowers. Come Autumn they ‘lay withered and strown’, awaiting the harvester.
I love sunflowers. I think that they are magnificent flowers. But it didn’t take too much imagination to compare their rise and fall to that of countless populist armies over the centuries.
I was born in England soon after the war. I moved , with my family to Australia in 1966, where I was a soldier (briefly), a public servant, an opera singer, and an English teacher.