Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson
The poem in a nutshell…. This poem follows the journey of a light brigade of some 600 British soldiers as they charge head-first into the cannons and gunfire of a much-larger Russian army. The tone of the poem is one of pride; the poet does not mourn the loss of these soldiers nor does he show anger towards the men who gave these wrong orders. Instead, their bravery is celebrated. The poet uses repetition, imagery and a strong rhythm to highlight the army’s gallant charge into battle.
Tennyson wrote “The Charge of the Light Brigade” in a few minutes on December 2, 1854. It is based on the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War which was fought from 1853 to 1856. On 25 October 1854, Lord Raglan decided to attack the Russians. He sent an order but it was fatally misinterpreted and 673 Light Brigade cavalrymen were sent charging down the valley with Russian guns all around. Between 100 and 200 soldiers are thought to have died.
The Crimean war saw British troops fighting in Russia. At this time, while there were basic guns and cannons, people would still also fight or horses, to rush in and attack before they could reload or stop them. However the light brigade were very lightly equipped, more for scouting or attacking from the back or sides rather than charging straight in.
During a battle, a miscommunication sent the light brigade charging head first into the cannons of the other side, it was a huge catastrophe and many died. It showed to the British that even mistakes can happen. The men were respected for following orders, even though they knew they may be wrong. Some however have criticised the way they blindly followed orders. Lord Tennyson was the poet who was asked to write about their glorious sacrifice.
The poem is about war, life and death, sacrifice and folly. It naturally links to conflict and is effective at showing people’s views on war of the time. The poem also contains a lot of reference to biblical/religious ideas as well as bravery and fear.
Written in dimeter and dactylic. Basically that means there are two (di-) stresses in each line, that means two beats or syllables which you read with a bit more force. The syllables after are then unstressed. So when there are six syllables you would read it ONE-two-three, ONE-two-three. The drop in stress is perhaps to show the sudden charge and then collapse, or the sound of horses galloping.
The poem is divided into 6 stanzas and uses a lot of repetition. Some of this is to show the different stages of the battle but also give it a structure. It has a very military rhyme and can be similar to the sound of marching drums of horse hooves. This is used to reflect the military nature of the conflict in the poem.
Valley of Death:
The Christian prayer, ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ contains the line “though I may walk through the valley of death”. This phrase being used in the poem is used to show the scale of importance and give the poem and epic quality.
BY THE END OF THIS YOU SHOULD KNOW:
|HIGHER MARKS||LOWER MARKS|
|-The repetition within the poem helps capture the galloping military rhythm. This indicates the conflict and power building through the poem itself.
-The poet is clearly distinguishing between the bravery of the men and the foolish ‘blunder’ of the orders and suggests the six hundred should be seen as heroes.
-The military language is mixed with religious allusion to suggest an epic scale, emphasising the risk and bravery.
|-The poem repeats a lot to remind us the charge and then the retreat.
-The poet thinks the men are brave calling them ‘heros’
-The poem is full of violence shown through the use of language like ‘sabres’ and ‘cannons.’
3 Key Quotes
Quote 1: ‘Into the jaws of Death, into the mouth of Hell’
What effect is created? The reader pictures the death and destruction that awaits the soldiers as they ride towards the Russian army. It is as if they are being swallowed by Hell and Death itself.
Quote 2: ‘Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon behind them’
Method: Repetition. Rhythm
What effect is created? The repetition of the cannons gives the feeling of being surrounded on all sides. The rhythm created by the repetition and beats of the syllables mimics the rhythm of the horses’ feet as they ride towards the Russians.
Quote 3: ‘Reel’d from the sabre-stroke Shatter’d and sunder’d’
Method: Alliteration (sibilance). Effective language
What effect is created? The alliterative ‘s’ sounds (sibilance) mimics the sound of the sabres (swords) swooshing through the air. Could also be sharp intakes of breath of men in pain and shock. ‘Shattered’ means broken and destroyed. ‘Sundered’ means to break into parts. This could refer to the army as a group or to men as individuals.
Aspects of Power or Conflict: This poem highlights the reality of conflicts and the deaths that are often a result. It celebrates the bravery of soldiers and seeks to honour and glamorise the sacrifices these men made.
Poems that can be linked: Bayonet Charge, Exposure