The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson

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 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 Analysis

Stanza 1

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 poem, 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 2

“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, the speaker reveals the thoughts of the soldiers as they marched on. Though they knew that someone had made a mistake which 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 3

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 canons 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 4

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, 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 5

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 canons 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 6

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 this poem is to remind readers for 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.

Works Cited:

  • “The Charge Of The Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.” The Charge Of The Light Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 June 2016.

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4 Comments

  1. Emaan naeem September 15, 2018
    • mm Lee-James Bovey September 18, 2018
  2. Hum March 15, 2019
    • mm Lee-James Bovey March 18, 2019

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