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Romeo and Juliet | The Charge of the Light Brigade

Steph Atkinson | Sunday September 22, 2019



Guide Navigation

Part 1 Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet | Part 2 Marvel’s To His Coy Mistress
Part 3 Browning’s Sonnet 43 | Part 4 Owen’s Futility
Part 5 Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade

Alfred Tennyson’s The Charge of the Light Brigade

Overview and Context

Written following the disastrous 1854 Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War, this poem can be read as both jingoistic and as highlighting the horrors of war. Whilst Tennyson was Poet Laureate at the time and might have been expected to produce patriotic poetry, there is a certain sorrow in the closing lines.

Some Initial Notes

One of the most notable features of this poem, and one of the reasons that it is so commonly taught, is its distinctive rhythm. The dominant dactylic meter replicates the pounding of the horses’ hooves, whether in attack or in retreat. It can be seen to glorify the bravery of the soldiers in the face of death, although the chaos of the battle seems to have been somewhat glossed over. Apparently written very shortly after news of the defeat, this poem may seek to replicate the patriotic impetus which sent them to war in the first place.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Stanza 1: The phrase ‘valley of Death’ is redolent of the valley of the shadow of Death in Psalm 23. This biblical allusion and imagery suggests that, whilst these soldiers are fated to die, God is ‘on their side’. The imperatives spoken by the anonymous ‘he’ evoke the hoped-for glory and splendour of war. The ‘six hundred’ are equally respected, by being mentioned, but are anonymised; in contrast to Futility which uses the death of one soldier to contemplate existence, The Charge of the Light Brigade uses the death of many as a patriotic catalyst.

Stanza 2: The rhetorical question which raises the possibility of the soldiers being ‘dismay’d’ at the command to charge is negated by the following ‘Not’, despite the apparent ‘blunde[r]’. The anaphora of ‘Their not/but to’...

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