Poetry Analysis of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Tennyson

Charge of the Light Brigade“The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Tennyson, 1st Baron Tennyson aka Lord Tennyson was originally published on December 9, 1854 in “The Examiner” but underwent several revisions throughout his lifetime. He wrote this poem as a remembrance of the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War which lost countless British lives. Tennyson was the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom during the time of its writing. Due to the differing style used, he wrote this poem with a pen name instead.

This war poem goes through the events of Charge of the Light Brigade. This event happened after British troops were severely outnumbered by the Russian military, but they regrouped in the South Valley and held their positions with The Thin Red Line. Likely the allied forces of the British would have won easily after this point, but there was massive miscommunication which sent the Light Brigade to the wrong artillery formation, leading to many deaths among the cavalry. They sent 670 light cavalry up against 20 battalions of Russian soldiers with 50 artillery pieces instead of towards the abandoned cannons.

In 1890 Thomas Edison sent agents to Lord Tennyson’s home in order to get a wax cylinder recording of Tennyson reading the poem. About halfway through, we can hear knocking as if Tennyson was giving his own sound effects.

Let’s take a quick look at a summary of Alred, Lord Tennyson’s “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and then have a look at a line-by-line analysis.

Summary

The cavalry is riding towards the artillery formation, but soon something goes wrong. They notice that they are going towards certain death. No man questioned the orders, however. And they rode on. When they get to the guns firing, they pull their swords and attack as hard as they possibly can. But soon they failed and retreated. The majority of the cavalry died.

Analysis

Title: The Charge of the Light Brigade – named after the historical event
Style: Narrative written in 6 stanzas in dactylic dimeter
Theme: War
Tone: Somber
Rhyme scheme: None, but it does rhyme in places to give more rhythm

Line-by-line Analysis and Figurative Language

    • League – a form of distance. Its original meaning meant “the distance a human can walk within one hour. During the 1850s, this term was meant to be 3 miles.
    • valley of Death – the place where people die easily. Tennyson uses this term for a duel purpose. The second defensive line of the British was in a place called South Valley.
    • Charge for the guns – Charge towards the artillery.
    • Blundered -Made a mistake. This is referring to the small amount of troops in British command that were supposed to charge towards Russian light artillery that had been abandoned. However, due to miscommunication the soldiers were ordered to charge towards the wrong artillery.
    • Was there a man dismayed? – This line gives the start of questions about not replying or denying. It is used to give the sense of duty that the soldiers knew they were being sent off to death but did so anyway out of duty.
    • Cannon to right of them, / Cannon to left of them / Cannon in front of them – The cavalry was surrounded by artillery.
    • Volleyed and thundered; – Shot at
    • Into the jaws of Death, / Into the mouth of Hell – They continued riding towards the artillery, knowing they would all soon die.
    • Flashed all their sabres bare, – They pulled out their swords.
    • Sabring the gunners there, – Killing the infantry with their swords.
    • Plunged in the battery-smoke – They rode into the smoke from the artillery.
    • Cossack – Eastern European
    • Not the six hundred – They perished.
    • Honour the charge they made! / Honour the Light Brigade, / Noble six hundred! – The 600 men who died are honorable.

Poem: “The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Tennyson

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Some one had blundered:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and 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
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.
Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre-stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came through 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 wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

Reader’s Reaction

This is one of Tennyson’s most famous writings. It was interesting to find out that originally he didn’t want anyone to know he was the author. He used a pen name.
Overall, this writing is explicit. It is easy to see the imagery of what is happening. The rhythm of the poem gives us a feeling of marching troops or galloping. Needless to say, the events surrounding the writing are horrific. There are many pointless deaths throughout history, yet some are seen as still honorable. The men Tennyson wrote about in this case were honorable but still insane.

Gary R. Hess

Gary was born and raised on a small farm in rural Kansas. Today, he is teaching various nationalities English in Southeast Asia. Get his newest poetry eBook here.