Tennyson and 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' (Poetry Analysis)

'The Charge of the Light Brigade' by Caton Woodville and William Simpson

'The Charge of the Light Brigade' by Caton Woodville - copyright expired. Accessed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Charge_of_the_Light_Brigade.jpg
'The Charge of the Light Brigade' by Caton Woodville - copyright expired. Accessed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Charge_of_the_Light_Brigade.jpg
Charge of the light cavalry brigade, 25th Oct. 1854, under Major General the Earl of Cardigan - 1 March 1855 - Library of Congress - William Simpson artist, E. Walker, lithographer. Accessed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Charge_of_the_Light_Brig
Charge of the light cavalry brigade, 25th Oct. 1854, under Major General the Earl of Cardigan - 1 March 1855 - Library of Congress - William Simpson artist, E. Walker, lithographer. Accessed: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Charge_of_the_Light_Brig

Tennyson's Poem - The Charge of the Light Brigade

Does Tennyson present a 'glorified view' of battle in 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'?

"Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred."

The Crimean War was fought between October 1853 and February 1856. Britain and her allies were fighting the Russians; most of the fighting took place on the Crimean Peninsula.

One of the most famous events, from this period of history, occurred during the Battle of Balaclava, when the British Light Brigade charged against the Russians.

The latter were so impressed by British fearlessness that the charge was not as great a failure as it could have been ~ since the whole thing was based on an error.

Tennyson mentions ‘the 600’, but there were, actually, more than 600 ~ and over 500 of them survived.


'The Charge of the Light Brigade' Analysis

Certainly, in ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade', Tennyson has written a rousing poem, with a hypnotic beat. The thumping, rhythmic tempo, echoing the galloping hooves of the chargers, is alluring and has made this poem a popular favourite over the years, in spite of its description of a military failure. As well as denoting the hoof beats, the metre is also reminiscent of drum beat. The beat of the drum was ~ and still is ~ used by military forces to increase the morale of the troops and to encourage new recruits to sign up. This is illustrated in Le Gallienne's 'The Illusion of War', which described how the rousing music of fife and drum lured young men into the army. This effect of the drum is satirised in Littlewood's play / Attenborough's film, 'Oh! What a Lovely War'.

The exciting story of the charge, coupled with the attractive rousing beat, and talk of noble heroism, certainly appear to provide a glorified view. The last stanza, in particular, asks; 'When can their glory fade?' and commands; 'Honour the Light Brigade'. It is theatrical and emotional.

However, there are contradictions. The poem talks of honour and glory, but describes death and defeat. For a poem that glorified war, it is strange that Tennyson's poem should ask; 'Was there a man dismayed?' followed by the announcement that 'someone had blundered'. This drew to public attention the fact that the brigade's commander had sent these brave young men 'into the valley of death' by mistake, and without them even having the right or opportunity to question their orders ~ to 'make reply' or to 'reason why'. They had no choice but to 'do or die' ~ and die they did.

'The Charge of the Light Brigade' Poem Analysis

First impressions are of glory, excitement and heroism, but the underlying message, possibly going unnoticed, is of pointless death, caused by erroneous, fatal stupidity and an inability to question orders. The beat of hooves and drums told of the excitement of battle, but Tennyson also informs his readers of the death and suffering. It may lie somewhat hidden behind metre and rhyme, but it is there. The Biblical shadow of the 'valley of death' is recalled a number of times ~ twice in the first verse! It is a powerful psychological image, which the six hundred did not escape ~ even if they managed to return from it. The physical effects of cannon shot, fired all around them, can be easily imagined, especially as so few returned (in the poem that is ~ in fact, over 500 of the 620 survived).

It is not glorious to speak of an officer's blunder, which led his men into the 'jaws of death'. It is not glorious to speak of 'six hundred' riding into the valley, but 'not' riding back, because 'horse and hero fell'.

Tennyson speaks of honouring them. They were noble, brave and heroic as they rode to their deaths and his poem indicates that this should be honoured. The charge must have been a glorious sight, for Marshal Pierre Bosquet, a witness to the event, said 'C'est magnifique!' The poem may reflect that glory, as was fitting for the poet laureate's work, but his misgivings about the men's unnecessary deaths, because 'someone had blundered' is clear. Bosquet's complete quote goes thus: 'C’est magnifique, mais ce n’est pas la guerre: c'est de la folie' ~ translated as: "It is magnificent, but it is not war: it is madness". Tennyson could not call it folly, but he could describe the magnificence and also point out the blunder.

Tennyson shows that, like the journalist, Russell, upon whose news article the poem was based, he considered these soldiers to have been a 'band of heroes'. However, I think that he makes it clear that the heroes were also fodder, who followed orders without question, even if it resulted in certain death.

William Howard Russell

The journalist, William Howard Russell witnessed this battle of the Crimean War in October 1854 and described it in the Illustrated London News. His words inspired Alfred, Lord Tennyson, then poet Laureate, to pen his famous poem.

Edit: The War - Another Poem

I understand that this poem, 'The War' by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, was written in an attempt to encourage men to volunteer to sign up and fight. It was published in the Times Newspaper, in 1859.

*

"Form! form! Riflemen form! Ready, be ready to meet the storm!"

"Form, be ready to do or die! Form in freedom's name and the Queen's!"

*

This is a call to arms.

It would appear, from this, that Lord Tennyson could not, at the time, have been anti-war.

*

History and poetry seem to have been inextricably intertwined.

'Charge of the Light Brigade', Verses 1-4

'Charge of the Light Brigade', Verses 5+6 and 'The War'

Alfred Lord Tennyson
Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Crimean Peninsula

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Comments 21 comments

manlypoetryman profile image

manlypoetryman 6 years ago from (Texas !) Boldly Writing Poems Where No Man Has Gone Before...

Trish_M: Yes...there was a glorified view...but also tragedy...along with the heroism...in what Tennyson wrote. There was bravery...and there was magnificence...and there was madness. The "Light Brigade" rode into insurmountable odds...and displayed tremendous courage...yet in the midst...there was almost certain defeat...pretty much like every battle...ever fought. So...there is also realism! I liked the history background and account you gave surrounding this poem...a lot. But...I would have to lean towards giving this poem a "thumbs up" for the glory side of this encounter that it portrays. I say this knowing how terrible War is. I think this Poem captures the sense that this Charge was a hopeless cause....really well. No one would want to be at the tip of the spear...in the "Light Brigade". Yet...there is always similar soldiers and warriors in battles like the "Charge of the Light Brigade". Down through History...there has been many a valiant charge lead against hopeless odds. Thus...the brilliance to this poem: "The Charge of the Light Brigade"! Can you tell I like this poem?


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Hi manlypoetryman.

Thanks for the comments.

Yes, glory, heroism, madness, stupidity, nobility, desperation ~ the lot.

I like it too! :)


loua profile image

loua 6 years ago from Elsewhere, visiting Earth ~ the segregated community planet

It's a bit melodramatic,these words, the thoughts of the cavalier and supercilious this chivalry that at the end of the day serves no purpose but that of the ego from which one needs to protect its self...

The words are heroic;but the deed was imbecilic; only brain washing can accomplish these ends...

I guess that's where the media realized humans like gore and they could propagate the illusion...

Thanks for sharing...


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Hi Loua :)

'The words are heroic; but the deed was imbecilic'

Yes, indeed!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

The sad part is that soldiers in most every war have no voice but need to follow their commander's orders. Without that type of discipline, there would be chaos and no order. That being said...wars sometimes accomplish short term goals...but seldom turn out as imagined. Too bad that wars ever have to take place.

Love the cadence and wording of this poem by Tennyson. You also did a great job of elaborating on this subject. Enjoyed it immensely. Thanks!


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 6 years ago from The English Midlands Author

'Too bad that wars ever have to take place.'

I second that!


Joshua Kell profile image

Joshua Kell 5 years ago from Arizona

I enjoyed your hub. Thanks.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Thank you Joshua ~ glad you liked it :)


Learn Things Web profile image

Learn Things Web 5 years ago from California

Great hub! I was wondering while reading it if anything is known about Tennyson's views of war from other poems or sources.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Hello 'Learn Things Web' :)

Thanks for your comments!

I don't know what Tennyson thought about war, but he did write another poem on the subject, which was, apparently, a call for men to join up. It is called 'The War'. I have edited this hub, in order to make a comment about it.


thejeffriestube profile image

thejeffriestube 5 years ago from United States

Excellent Hub. Those of us that served in battle can certainly appreciate this.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Hello thejeffriestube :)

Thank you for your comment ~ and for very interesting perspective!


hanwillingham profile image

hanwillingham 5 years ago

I love the versions.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Thank hanwillingham :)


naturalsolutions 5 years ago

War story is still one of the best story, the story of brave warriors. Awesome, this hub are greatly appreciated.


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Thanks


Joe 5 years ago

inspirational!


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 5 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Thanks Joe


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 3 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Thank you Samita Jassi :)


nandhini 2 years ago

great poem


Trish_M profile image

Trish_M 2 years ago from The English Midlands Author

Yes, I agree, it is a great poem, nandhini :)

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