Alfred Lord Tennyson

The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson

‘Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson is a historically important poem that tells of the incredible bravery of the British cavalry during the Battle of Balaclava.

Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ in response to a battle wherein the British cavalry charged over open terrain in the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War (National Center). With six hundred and thirty-seven men, the British charged against Russia in what Alfred Lord Tennyson saw as a suicidal charge. At the time, “Russia sought to control the Dardanelles” which would have “threatened British sea routes” (National Center). This particular war became well known because of Florence Nightingale, who nursed wounded soldiers during this war.

The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson



‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson captures the famous attack made by six hundred cavaliers of the British “Light Brigade” on Russian soldiers in the Crimean War.

‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Tennyson presents the heroic battle between the English Light Brigade and the Russian army. Six hundred soldiers of the English side rode gallantly to the valley of death symbolizing the battlefield. They were at “half a league” distance from the battlefield. After arriving at the zone of action they fought bravely for honoring their nation with a victory. However, on the battlefield, a soldier from the British side had made an error. They had no time to rectify it. Only two things were running in their minds, “Do or die”. The Light Brigade chose the former and held the ground till they breathed their last.

You can read the poem here or below with the analysis.


Structure and Form

‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Tennyson is divided into six stanzas. The total number of lines in each stanza varies. There are a total of 55 lines in the poem. The shortest stanza is the last one. The short but energetic lines of the poem resemble the mode of military action. The lines of the poem are swift in movement and try to imitate the rhythm of the battlefield. There is not a specific rhyme scheme in the poem. However, some lines rhyme for the sake of resonating with the military atmosphere. Hence it is a blank verse poem.

The metrical composition of the poem is also very odd. The poet mixes the trochaic and iambic meter in the poem. There are some anapestic feet and spondees too in the poem. The metrical pattern of the poem reflects the sound of the military footstep. The poet uses short lines to intensify the sound of the poem.



‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Tennyson discovers the theme of patriotism, war, and nationalism.

  • Patriotism. The theme of patriotism is the most important aspect of the poem. Six hundred cavaliers of the Light Brigade didn’t hesitate to die on the battlefield. They knew they were going in the “valley of death” and there was no way to turn their backs. They had to accept defeat or fight till their last breath. Still, they were fearless. Though there was a mistake from the English side, the soldiers were not hesitant to move further. Such courage and conviction of heart reflect their love for the country. They were true patriotic souls that had “toil’d, and wrought, and thought” with the spirit of their nation.
  • War. The theme of war is another part of the poem. Tennyson’s choice of words and military metaphors reflect the theme in the poem. However, the images depicting the incidents of the battlefield also reflect the poem’s proximity to the idea of war. The poet projects war as a glorifying chapter of his nation’s history.
  • Nationalism. The theme of nationalism is present in the last stanza of the poem. The poet tells the readers to “honour” the Light Brigade for their heroic feat in the war. The lines, “Cossack and Russian/ Reeled from the sabre stroke/ Shattered and sundered”, invoke a sense of nationalism in the poem.


Facts about The Charge of the Light Brigade

‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Tennyson is about the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. Tennyson wrote this poem on 2 December 1854. It got published on 9 December in The Examiner. During that time, he was the Poet Laureate of England.

The poet wrote the poem when the English Light Brigade suffered badly in the Battle of Balaclava. The poet read an article published in The Times about the incident. Based on the memory of this article, he wrote the poem just within a few minutes. As the Poet Laureate of England, he tried to inspire his countrymen as well as the soldiers relentlessly fighting on the battlefield for his country.


Literary Devices in the Poem

‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Tennyson contains some significant literary devices. In the first two lines of the poem, the poet uses a palilogy. In the third line, the poet uses the metaphor of the battlefield in the phrase, “the valley of Death”. The poet capitalizes the first letter of “Death” in the same phrase. It means that here he is using a personification too. In the following line by using “six hundred”, the poet refers to the soldiers of the Light Brigade. It is the use of metonymy. The poet uses the line, “Rode the six hundred” as a refrain.

In the second stanza, the poet uses a rhetorical question or interrogation. There is an anaphora in the lines starting with, “Theirs not to…”. Likewise in the third stanza, there is an anaphora in the first three lines. The poet uses a metaphor in the phrase, “mouth of hell”. It is a personification too. There is a metonymy in the line, “…the world wondered”. The “w” sound gets repeated here, so it is also an example of alliteration. The poet uses an interrogation in this famous line, “When can their glory fade?”


Analysis, Stanza by Stanza

Stanza One

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.

The speaker reveals the subject of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade,’ which is the six hundred men who rode to their deaths. He claims that they were marching straight into the Valley of Death. The Valley of Death, of course, is a biblical reference to Psalm 23. This could perhaps offer hope because Psalm 23 states, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me”. The speaker suggests that the men knew that they were marching to their deaths. However, by referring to the place as the Valley of Death, he also suggests that the men took comfort in knowing that their God was with them, even as they marched to their deaths.


Stanza Two

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”

Was there a man dismayed?

Not though the soldier knew

  Someone 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.

With this stanza of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade,’ the speaker reveals the thoughts of the soldiers as they marched on. Though they knew that someone had made a mistake that would cost them all their lives, they pressed onward anyway, to do the duty that they came to do. They did not think that it was their place to respond to the mistake that was made, nor to even try to reason through why they were marching to sure deaths. Rather, they simply saw it as their duty to follow commands and to do what they came to do.


Stanza Three

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.

The speaker attests to their boldness as they rode “into the mouth of hell”. He speaks as one who was there and saw it all. The men knew that they were trapped. There were cannons on all sides of them, but still, they rode into the battle, and the speaker says that they “rode well”. The reader can imagine the brave young men, riding with their heads held high into a battle they were sure to lose. The six hundred men rode “into the jaws of death” with the proud valor of soldiers willing to die for their country.


Stanza Four

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.

The speaker reveals that while this army of six hundred charged to their deaths, the rest of the world wondered why they were ordered into that death trap. The only people not wondering, were the soldiers themselves who simply knew that it was their duty to go to battle, though most were sure to die. At the end of this stanza of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade,’ the speaker reveals that some did make it out alive. These were the ones who “rode back”. However, he clarifies that it was “not the six hundred” who returned. He does not reveal how many made it out alive, but history reveals that two hundred and forty-seven of the men returned home from that battle.


Stanza Five

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.

The speaker again states that there were cannons on all sides of these men and that both “horse and hero fell”.  He again attests to their bravery, saying that “they had fought so well”. He says that they “came through the jaws of death” and “back from the mouth of hell”. The speaker clearly finds it miraculous that two hundred and forty-seven of the men lived through the battle.


Stanza Six

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!

The speaker calls to honor the six hundred men who marched with the light brigade at the Battle of Balaclava. He asks the rhetorical question, “When can their glory fade?” suggesting that they would be forever remembered for their honor in marching so bravely into the Valley of Death. The speaker repeats, “All the World Wondered” causing readers from all generations to understand the intensity of the danger they faced. The whole world knew that it was a death trap, and they all wondered why they were sent to fight. The speaker calls for the honor of the “noble six hundred”. The purpose of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ is to remind readers of generations of the honor and glory of the men who marched into the battle. The speaker honors the dead and the living of the six hundred. He calls for the honor of them all for the sacrifice they made in boldly marching into a battle where many were sure to die.


Similar Poetry

Like ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Tennyson there are some poems that reflect the theme of nationhood and war. Here is a list of a few of the poems.

You can read about 10 of the Best War Poems here. You can know more about 10 of the Best British Wartime Poets here.

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Allisa Corfman Poetry Expert
Allisa graduated with a degree in Secondary Education and English and taught World Literature and Composition at the high school level. She has always enjoyed writing, reading, and analysing literature.
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