Wednesday, 26 September 2007

The Charge of the Light Brigade

The Charge of the Light Brigade
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Written 1854


Half a league half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred:

'Forward, the Light Briga
de!
Charge for the guns' he said:

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.


'Forward, the Light Brigade!'
Was there a man dismay'd?

Not tho' the soldier knew

Some one had blunder'd:

Theirs not to make reply,

Theirs not to reason why,

Theirs but to do & die,

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.


Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them

Volley'd & thunder'd;

Storm'd at with shot and s
hell,
Boldly they rode and well,

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of Hell

Rode the six hundred.


Flash'd all their sabres bare,

Flash'd as they turn'd in air

Sabring the gunners there,

Charging an army while

All the world wonder'd:

Plunged in the battery-smok
e
Right thro' the line they broke;

Cossack & Russian

Reel'd from the sabre-s
troke,
Shatter'd & sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not

Not the six hundred.


Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse & hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

The first couple of lines throw the reader straight into the action, largely thanks to an exhilarating chant which mimics the sound and rhythm of horses galloping. While the audience at the time would have known that the battle was futile, Tennyson makes it clear to modern or uneducated audiences with the repeated “Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred”.

The second stanza continues the story and explores the theme of soldiers’ bravery in times of hopelessness. Despite only being six hundred of them, it was “theirs but to do & die”, reflecting both the courageousness of the soldiers and the lack of thought on behalf of the generals (“Some one had blunder’d”).

Tennyson develops this idea in the third stanza, praising the soldiers on how “Boldly they rode”, then immediately describing their bravery as being wasted since they are riding straight “Into the jaws of death”. Once again, this can be looked at in two ways. A straightforward, literal reading of the poem would suggest that Tennyson is being patriotic and admiring of England’s army, while a more in depth reading would reveal a subtle criticism of the Victorian Era’s Bourgeois culture.

The third and fourth stanzas both recount the details of the battle in vivid detail, for instance the “battery-smoke”. The fourth stanza is more tragic than the third, which suggests there may be a little hope (“Right thro’ the line they broke”), in that it recounts the sadder details rather than the more heroic ones. For instance, it mentions the “horse and hero [falling]” and the cannons firing at them from every direction. It is also important to note that the third stanza is the only one so far which omits the recurring idea of the six hundred charging into the “jaws” or “valley” of death. This stanza is the one Tennyson has chosen to use to pay tribute to the soldiers which fought bravely in the battle, thinking it rude to soil their memory with talk of death.

Tennyson concludes the poem very nicely with his last stanza by ordering the world to “Honour the Light Brigade”, much like they were ordered to “Forward the Light Brigade” in the second stanza. This is a tribute to the lives that were lost in the battle, and although they fought for a senseless cause, there is no doubting their bravery in face of death, “Noble six hundred”.

1 comment:

Don said...

This is a good analysis. Say something about the time of composition.