George Gordon Byron
The Vision of Judgement (1822)
Stanzas XVI, XVII, XVIII, XIX, XXII
The Vision of Judgement is one Byron’s latest work, and a beautiful example of satiric
Conceived as a response to a personal attack against Don Juan, it mocks and ridicules the poor, pompous style of the Poet Laureate Robert Southey
[ES1] , whose celebrative poem A vision of Judgement was composed short after King George III’s
death in 1820.
Apart from its personal motivations, The Vision provides an “unofficial”, hilarious version of some pillars of the Christian faith: Heaven, in particular, has nothing more to do with the idealised garden of many orthodox representations, since it is populated by very down-to-earth characters and it is the stage of many a sharp dialogue on contemporary society and politics.
Byron does’t spare energy and humour in depicting the angels and a more than human St. Peter and throws himself in a sharp invective against the status quo of Britain in the age of the Restoration.
Read the text
Saint Peter sat by the celestial gate,
And nodded o'er his keys ; when lo ! there came
A wond'rous noise he had not heard of late
A rushing sound of wind, and stream, and flame
In short, a roar of things extremely great,
Which would have made aught save a saint exclaim;
But he, with first a start, and then a wink,
Said, " There's another star gone out, I think !"
But ere he could return to his repose,
A cherub flapp'd his right wing o'er his eyes —
At which St. Peter yawn'd, and rubb'd his nose :
" Saint porter," said the Angel, "prithee rise I"
Waving a goodly wing, which glow'd, as glows
An earthly peacock's tail, with heavenly dyes;
To which the Saint replied, " Well, what's the matter?
Is Lucifer come back with all this clatter ?
"No," quoth the cherub ; " George the Third is dead,"
" And who is George the Third ?" replied the Apostle
What George? What Third? "The King of England," said
The Angel. " Well ! he wont find kings to jostle
Him on his way ; but does he wear his head ?
Because the last we saw here had a tussle,
And ne'er would have got into heaven's good graces,
Had he not flung his head in all our faces.
He was, if I remember, king of France :
That head of his, which could not keep a crown
On earth, yet ventured in my face to advance
A claim to those of martyrs— like my own :
If I had had my sword, as I had once
When I cut ears off, I had cut him down
But having but my keys, and not my brand,
I only knock'd his head from out his hand.
The Angel answer'd, " Peter ! do not pout
The king who comes has head and all entire,
And never knew much what it was about—
He did as doth the puppet —by its wire,
And will be judged like all the rest, no doubt
My business and your own is not to enquire
Into such matters, but to mind our cue
Which is to act as we are bid to do.
Comprehension and interpretation
Although he is the Porter of Heaven, Byron’s St. Peter is far from being a celestial creature. Scan the text and underline the words that refer to his way of behaving.
Stanzas XVII and XVIII
- What news does the cherub bring?
- How does the angel behave?Is there a difference between his behavior and St. Peter’s?
- What is the St.Peter’s reaction to the arrival of the messenger? How would you define his attitude?
- Can you guess what St. Peter is referring to when he asks the cherub whether the dead king wears his head?
When complaining about not having his sword with him, St. Peter makes reference to a well-known episode of the Gospel. Can you guess which one?
What does the poet mean when he says that King George “never knew much what it was about” (speaking of his head) and that “he did as doth the puppet - by its wire”? Do these statements imply any political considerations?
Textual and linguistic analysis
1. Rhytm and rhyme
Go through Stanza XVI and work out the features of the Ottava Rima:
- How many lines are there?
- What is the rhyme scheme?
- Can you identify the stress pattern?
Look again at Stanza XVI: the author makes use of three main sound devices here: alliteration and onomatopoeia. Scan the text and list some examples.
What is the effect he wants to convey? Are there any other examples in the following stanzas? Choose one and analyse it.
- In this composition, the satirical tone is reinforced by a language device called “deflation”: think about the way the author “treats” St. Peter and guess what this term means.
- There are also archaisms and similes in the text, and all add to the particular tone of the poem. Find some examples of both typologies and list them.