Study Guide

Book of Isaiah Allusions

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Literary and Philosophical References

Matthew Arnold
The British poet and literary critic, Matthew Arnold, loved the Book of Isaiah (he thought it was even better than Shakespeare, apparently). Although he was a pretty secular reader and writer, he still thought Isaiah was a poetic masterpiece, and wrote some commentary on the book, too. It's not exactly light and fluffy bathtub reading, but worth scanning for some good observations.

"The Destruction of Sennacherib" by Lord Byron
This poem by Lord Byron is one of the classic short poems in English, fitting snugly into any anthology. It describes the Assyrian invasion of Israel and Judah and the annihilation of the Assyrians by God's angel. (Technically, it was probably inspired by the telling of the story in 2 Kings 18-19, but the same story exists in Isaiah, so it's cool.)

"The Book of Isaiah" by Anne Carson
Prize-winning Canadian poet Anne Carson wrote this avant-garde piece inspired by Isaiah. But—as a word of warning—it's really, really, really, really weird. It contains lines like "The nation stirred in its husk and slept again / Two slabs of bloody meat lay folded on its eyes like wings."

"The Wasteland" by T.S. Eliot
T.S. Eliot's modernist masterpiece contains references to (and direct quotes from) about a trillion other works of literature. So it's not surprising that Isaiah is one of them. The line "Come in under the shadow of this red rock," specifically, seems to refer to Isaiah's description of a righteous king as "the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
Apparently, the White Witch from Lewis's all-time fantasy classic is actually related to the character of Lilith. This was inspired by George MacDonald's novel Lilith, but the original Lilith herself (Adam's first wife and, later, a trouble-making demon) first appeared (really briefly) in Isaiah.

Lilith by George MacDonald
MacDonald was both a Christian minister and a famous fantasy author—the nineteenth century's C.S. Lewis. This book—one of his major books—involves Lilith (the demonic presence who first appears in Isaiah) as a main character.

Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
Isaiah 40:6 says, "All flesh is grass." The title of Walt Whitman's epic book of poetry launches off from this verse, using the grass metaphor—most prominently in "Song of Myself"—to meditate on mortality, immortality, and the destiny of humankind.

"Vacillation," by W.B. Yeats
The great Irish bard's poem "Vacillation" features a section that references the scene in Isaiah where Isaiah gets his mouth purified with a burning coal, allowing him to speak with the voice of God. In the poem, Yeats' soul and heart argue over what his approach to life should be. The soul wishes Yeats would seek the fire from Isaiah's coal, to speak purely of divine truths. The heart wants him to stick with the world of sin, and sing about it in an inspired way.

Pop Culture References

"All Along the Watchtower" by Bob Dylan
In writing one of his most famous songs, Bob Dylan was inspired by Isaiah 21:5-9, where two riders approach a watchtower, carrying the news that Babylon has been destroyed. This reappears in Dylan's song as "Two riders were approaching / And the wind began to howl."

Lilith Fair
The Biblical figure of Lilith (mentioned only in Isaiah) got a bad reputation in later folklore. Adam's first wife, she ends up becoming a baby-murdering demon and all around trouble-maker. But in the late 1990s, the all-female music festival "Lilith Fair," recaptured Lilith as a feminist icon. Here's a full video of one of the shows from the festival.

The name of Stryper—one of the first Christian rock bands to gain mainstream notice—was Isaiah 53:5, a passage about the Suffering Servant: "But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed." As you can judge by this photo, they were pretty intensely '80s.

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