Poetry Analysis of Alfred, Lord Tennyson's The Charge of by qhq29331


									Poetry Analysis of Alfred, Lord
Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light
By Chris Davidson

In his poem “Charge of the Light Brigade” Tennyson describes the valiant charge of
the light brigade into the “jaws of death.” He makes use of repetition, allusion, and
personification to paint a vivid picture of the charge, and, at the same time, he gives
the reader a glimpse into the psyche of the valiant soldiers.

The literary device Tennyson most commonly employs in this poem is repetition, but
he also makes use of allusion and personification. In the first stanza he repeats the
phrase “half a league” three times in order to convey the arduousness of the charge. It
relates the fact that each league gained was a separate feat for the brigade. In the fist
stanza he also begins the repetition of “rode the six hundred,” a phrase which
emphasizes the small number of valiant soldiers riding against the “mouth of hell”
itself. Tennyson also includes the first reference to the “valley of Death” in the first
stanza. This reference is continued throughout the poem. It functions as an allusion to
the “valley of the shadow of death” in the twenty-third Psalm of the Bible and
describes the charge. The allusion to the twenty-third Psalm serves to instil in the
reader the sense of fearlessness that the brigade has because the psalm speaks of how
evil in not to be feared, not even in the shadow of death itself. The reference to the
valley also paints in the reader’s mind an image of being enclosed by greater things
on all sides, a feeling no doubt shared by the soldiers. “Canon to the right of them,/
Cannon to the left of them,/ Cannon in front of them” is another repeated phrase in the
poem that is found in the third and fifth stanzas of the poem. The repetition of the
phrase serves to add to the claustrophobic feeling in the reader that began with the
mention of the charge into the valley. It also reminds the reader that the cannon of the
enemy are all that can be seen no matter where the valiant soldiers look. Death also
becomes personified in the third stanza when Tennyson gives it jaws. The
personification of death is meant to shift the poem’s tone to a more carnal tone. The
brigade is now pitted against the ultimate beast that threatens devour them. They must
now kill or be killed. The “jaws of death” and “mouth of hell” are also repeated
images in the poem. They paint a picture of soldiers starring into a black abyss that is
about to consume them.

In his poem Tennyson also provides the reader with some insight into the psyche of
the men of the brigade. The first glimpse of the soldiers’ state of mind given in the
poem comes in the form of the valley of death. The reader is told that the soldiers face
certain death, but the phrase, through its biblical allusion, demonstrates to the reader
that the evil is face without fear. Tennyson also gives a more direct insight into the
psyche of the brigade when he writes that the soldiers knew “Some one had
blunder’d,” and that they knew their place was not to question orders but “to do and
die.” The reader then knows that these men are blindly motivated by loyalty and a
sense of duty. “Cannon to the right of them,/ Cannon to the left of them,/ Cannon in
front of them” is another description Tennyson uses to take the reader in to minds of
soldiers. This description allows the reader to see the battle as the soldier saw it. No
matter where you looked, all that could be seen was certain death. No safety could be
found. After being taken into the psyche of the brigade and seeing a vivid picture of
the valiant charge the reader cannot hope to do anything but admire the valour of the
soldiers and “Honour the Light Brigade.”

Tennyson’s use of literary devices to paint a mental picture of a heroic charge and the
insight he gives the reader into the minds of the valiant men who made it make his
“Charge of the Light Brigade” a powerful poem. It is a fitting tribute to the soldiers
who fought the war that elicited the world’s highest military honour: the Victoria

The Charge of the Light Brigade was a disastrous cavalry charge led by Lord
Cardigan during the Battle of Balaclava on October 25, 1854 in the Crimean War. It is
best remembered as the subject of a famous poem entitled The Charge of the Light
Brigade by Alfred, Lord Tennyson, whose lines "Theirs not to reason why / Theirs
but to do and die" have made the charge a symbol of warfare at both its most
courageous and its most tragic.


        1 Events
        2 Aftermath
        3 Representation in media
            o 3.1 Film
            o 3.2 Music
            o 3.3 Fiction
            o 3.4 Other
        4 Further reading
        5 External links
        6 See also

[edit] Events
The charge was made by the Light Brigade of the British cavalry, consisting of the 4th
and 13th Light Dragoons, 17th Lancers, and the 8th and 11th Hussars, under the
command of Major General the Earl of Cardigan. Together with the Heavy Brigade
comprising the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards, the 5th Dragoon Guards, the 6th
Enniskillen Dragoons and the Scots Greys, commanded by Major General James
Yorke Scarlett, himself a past Commanding Officer of the 5th Dragoon Guards, these
units were the main British cavalry force at the battle. Overall command of the
cavalry resided with the Earl of Lucan.

Lucan received an order from the army commander Lord Raglan stating that "Lord
Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try
to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Horse artillery may accompany. French
cavalry is on your left. Immediate." The order was drafted by Brigadier Airey and was
carried by Captain Louis Edward Nolan, who may have carried further oral
instructions, but as he was killed during the charge this remains conjecture.

The Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaklava by William Simpson (1855),
illustrating the Light Brigade's charge into the "Valley of Death" from the Russian

Survivors of the Charge of the Light Brigade following the battle.

An 1855 view of the Valley of Death, by Roger Fenton.

A 2005 view of the "Valley of Death" in which the Charge of the Light Brigade was
fought. Now occupied by vineyards, it was open ground in 1854.

In response to the order, Cardigan led 673 (some sources state 661) cavalry men
straight into the valley between the Fedyukhin Heights and the Causeway Heights,
famously dubbed the "Valley of Death" by the poet Tennyson. The opposing Russian
forces were commanded by Pavel Liprandi and included around 20 battalions of
infantry supported by over fifty artillery pieces. These forces were deployed on both
sides and at the opposite end of the valley.

It appears that the order was understood by Cardigan to refer to the mass of Russian
guns in a redoubt at the end of the valley, around a mile away, when Raglan had in
fact been referring to a set of redoubts on the reverse slope of the hill forming the left
side of the valley (from the point of view of the cavalry). Although these latter
redoubts were clearly visible from Raglan's vantage point, they were hidden from the
view of the Light Brigade on the floor of the valley.

The Brigade set off down the valley. Nolan was seen to rush across the front, possibly
in an attempt to stop them, but was killed by an artillery shell.

The Light Brigade was able to engage the Russian forces at the end of the valley and
force them back from the redoubt, but suffered heavy casualties and was soon forced
to retire. Lucan failed to provide any support for Cardigan, and it is speculated that he
was motivated by enmity for his brother-in-law. The troops of the Heavy Brigade
entered the mouth of the valley but did not advance further. The French cavalry, the
Chasseurs d'Afrique, were more effective in that they broke the Russian line on the
Fedyukhin Heights and later provided cover for the remaining elements of the Light
Brigade as they withdrew.

Cardigan survived the battle and subsequently described the engagement in a speech
delivered at the Mansion House in London, which was quoted in length in the House
of Commons afterwards:

       "We advanced down a gradual descent of more than three-quarters of a mile,
       with the batteries vomiting forth upon us shells and shot, round and grape,
       with one battery on our right flank and another on the left, and all the
       intermediate ground covered with the Russian riflemen; so that when we came
       to within a distance of fifty yards from the mouths of the artillery which had
       been hurling destruction upon us, we were, in fact, surrounded and encircled
       by a blaze of fire, in addition to the fire of the riflemen upon our flanks.
       As we ascended the hill the oblique fire of the artillery poured upon our rear,
       so that we had thus a strong fire upon our front, our flank, and our rear. We
       entered the battery - we went through the battery - the two leading regiments
       cutting down a great number of the Russian gunners in their onset. In the two
       regiments which I had the honour to lead, every officer, with one exception,
       was either killed or wounded, or had his horse shot under him or injured.
       Those regiments proceeded, followed by the second line, consisting of two
       more regiments of cavalry, which continued to perform the duty of cutting
       down the Russian gunners.
       Then came the third line, formed of another regiment, which endeavoured to
       complete the duty assigned to our brigade. I believe that this was achieved
       with great success, and the result was that this body, composed of only about
       670 men, succeeded in passing through the mass of Russian cavalry of - as we
       have since learned - 5,240 strong; and having broken through that mass, they
       went, according to our technical military expression, "threes about," and
       retired in the same manner, doing as much execution in their course as they
       possibly could upon the enemy's cavalry. Upon our returning up the hill which
       we had descended in the attack, we had to run the same gauntlet and to incur
       the same risk from the flank fire of the Tirailleurs [riflemen] as we had
       encountered before. Numbers of our men were shot down - men and horses
       were killed, and many of the soldiers who had lost their horses were also shot
       down while endeavouring to escape.
       But what, my Lord, was the feeling and what the bearing of those brave men
       who returned to the position. Of each of these regiments there returned but a
       small detachment, two-thirds of the men engaged having been destroyed? I
       think that every man who was engaged in that disastrous affair at Balaklava,
       and who was fortunate enough to come out of it alive, must feel that it was
       only by a merciful decree of Almighty Providence that he escaped from the
       greatest apparent certainty of death which could possibly be conceived." [1]

[edit] Aftermath
The brigade was not completely destroyed, but did suffer terribly, with 118 men
killed, 127 wounded, and 362 horses lost. After regrouping, only 195 men were still
with horses. The futility of the action and its reckless bravery prompted the French
Marshal Pierre Bosquet to state "C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre." ("It is
magnificent, but it is not war.") The Russian commanders are said to have initially
believed that the British soldiers must have been drunk. The reputation of the British
cavalry was significantly enhanced as a result of the charge, though the same cannot
be said for their commanders.

Slow communications meant that news of the disaster did not reach the British public
until three weeks after the action. The British commanders' despatches from the front
were published in an extraordinary edition of the London Gazette of 12 November
1854. Raglan blamed Lucan for the charge, claiming that "from some misconception
of the order to advance, the Lieutenant-General (Lucan) considered that he was bound
to attack at all hazards, and he accordingly ordered Major-General the Earl of
Cardigan to move forward with the Light Brigade."

In March 1855, Lucan was recalled to England. The charge of the Light Brigade
became a subject of considerable controversy and public dispute on his return. He
strongly rejected Raglan's version of events, calling it "an imputation reflecting
seriously on my professional character". In an exchange of public correspondence
printed in the pages of The Times of London, Lucan blamed Raglan and his deceased
aide-de-camp Captain Nolan, who had been the actual deliverer of the disputed order.
Lucan subsequently defended himself with a speech in the House of Lords on 19

Lucan evidently escaped blame for the charge, as he was made a member of the Order
of the Bath in July of that same year. Although he never again saw active duty he
reached the rank of General in 1865 and was made a Field Marshal in the year before
his death.

The charge of the Light Brigade continues to be studied by modern military historians
and students as an example of what can go wrong when accurate military intelligence
is lacking and orders are unclear. Sir Winston Churchill, who was a keen military
historian and a former cavalryman, insisted on taking time out during the Yalta
Conference in 1945 to see the battlefield for himself.

There was some personal aminosity between the various commanders: Lucan and
Cardigan were brothers in law and detested each other.
The Crimean War (1854–1856) was fought between Imperial Russia on one side and
an alliance of France, the United Kingdom, and the Ottoman Empire on the other. The
majority of the conflict took place on the Crimean peninsula, with additional actions
occurring in western Turkey, the Baltic Sea region, and in the Russian Far East.

The war is generally seen as the first modern conflict and "introduced technical
changes which affected the future course of warfare."[1]

Literary Criticism of 'Disabled'
   1. Disabled (title)
      Owen remarks in a letter to Sally Owen (14th October 1917) that he showed
      this poem to Robert Graves who had come to Craiglockhart to visit Sassoon.
      Owen was struck by the fact that Graves was very impressed by the piece.

       In mid-1918 Owen drafted his famous Preface to a proposed collection of
       poems (never published in his lifetime) which apparently he intended to call
       'Disabled and Other Poems' (thus emphasising the importance of the piece in
       his eyes). Fussell (1977) notes that the poem strongly echoes Housman's poem
       'To an Athlete Dying Young', whose patriotic enthusiasm for war is strongly
       attacked by Owen:

       '...a poem in which Houseman has also made certain that we see and admire
       the boy's eyes, ears, foot, head, and curls. Owen's former athlete, both legs and
       one arm gone, sits in his wheelchair in a hospital convalescent park listening
       to the shouts of "boys" playing at sunset. He can't help recalling the
       excitement of former early evenings in town before the war, back then "before
       he threw away his knees".'

       GWMM, P. 292

       Return to poem

   2. 'He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark' (L.1)
      The immediate appearance of 'dark', 'grey' , and 'shivered' sets up the isolation
      of the wounded soldier. It strikes a strong comparison to the warmth of the
      second stanza.
      Return to poem
   3. 'used to swing so gay' (L.7)
      The next few lines mirror the elegiac tone of such poems as 'The Ruin', an Old
      English poem, in which the poet (anonymous) looks on a ruined building, now
      frost-bitten and decrepit, imagining the sound and warmth that once rang
      through its walls.
      Return to poem
   4. 'glow-lamps' and 'girls glanced' (L.8 & L9)
      Both are linked effectively by the use of alliteration.
      Return to poem
   5. 'before he threw away his knees' (L.10)
      The implication that this was a needless loss (sacrifice) is reinforced by Ll.23-
      4 where the wounded soldier fails to remember why he joined up, pointing
   only to a distant sense of duty, and euphoria after the football match. Fussell
   notes that: 'Owen's favourite sensuous device is the formula 'his - ', with the
   blank usually filled with a part of the body.' (p. 292).
   Return to poem
6. 'Now he will never feel again how slim/Girls' waists are' (L.11 & L.12)
   Showing not only the physical loss of his arm, but also the psychological scars
   as the soldier knows he will be shunned by women from now on.
   Return to poem
7. 'younger than his youth' (L.15)
   The reversal is total. The implication is that his face is now older than his
   Return to poem
8. 'He's lost his colour very far from here' (L.17)
   C. Day Lewis cites this line as an example of one of the great memorable lines
   written by Owen. It is an example of 'deliberate, intense understatements – the
   brave man's only answer to a hell which no epic words could express...more
   poignant and more rich with poetic promise than anything else that has been
   done during this century.'

   HFP, P.17

   Return to poem

9. 'spurted from his thigh' (L.20)
    Clearly a parody of sexual ejaculation. Owen uses erotic language at this point
    but referring to blood instead of semen. The irony being that here we have the
    loss of life (the soldier loses his limbs, and his senses) as opposed to the
    creation of life. The sexual imagery plays on the continual point that his
    injuries, resulting from his enlisting in order to please his girlfriend and other
    admirers (ll. 25-6), has resulted in him being abhorrent to women.
    Return to poem
10. ' a bloodsmear down his leg,/After the matches, carried shoulder-high'
    (L.21 & L.22)
    Again Owen uses irony effectively here. We are already aware that the soldier
    has lost an arm and his legs, yet here we are told that before the War he felt
    proud to have an injury (albeit obtained on the football field), and to be carried
    shoulder-high (for reasons of celebration as opposed to helplessness). The
    concept of reversal is again used: sporting hero to cripple, handsome to 'queer
    disease' (L.13), colour to dark, warmth to cold.
    Return to poem
11. 'a god in kilts' (L.25)
    An indication that the soldier was a member of one of the Scottish regiments
    (repeated in ll.32-6). This also implies that the soldier joined up for reasons of
    Return to poem
12. 'giddy jilts' (L.27)
    A Scottish term for a young woman.
    Return to poem
13. 'Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years' (L.29)
    The sadness of the soldier's plight is heightened. Clearly he was under-aged
       when he enlisted and therefore is still young.
       Return to poem
   14. 'Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal' (L.37)
       Recalls the image of the football match earlier. L.22 implies that he was
       carried from the field shoulder-high, possibly as the result of scoring the
       winning goal. Here, despite having achieved far more, for far greater a loss
       than a 'blood- smeared leg', the crowd's reception is more hollow.
       Return to poem
   15. 'do what things the rules consider wise' (L.41)
       The soldier's passivity is complete. The fine young athlete has been reduced to
       a state of dependency on others and helplessness (heightened by the pitiful
       closing repetition of 'Why don't they come?'). The stanza has him waiting for
       others to do things for him, he 'spends a few sick years', 'takes whatever pity'
       others choose to offer him; he is passed over by the women's attentions, as he
       bemoans the cold and hopes that someone will put him to bed.
       Return to poem
   16. 'Tonight he noticed how the women's eyes/Passed from him to the strong
       men that were whole' (L.43 & L.44)
       Repeating again the loss of the soldier, this time in his attractiveness to the
       opposite sex. 'Whole' implying that he is incomplete, less than a man.
       'Ironically he is now dependent on young women to put him to bed, in contrast
       with his prewar virile manhood when he could expect to take women to bed' .

        SPP, P.215

        Return to poem

   17. '...Why don't they come' (L.45 & L.46)
       Dominic Hibberd has noted that this line can be linked to the recuiting poster
       of 1914, 'Will they never come?' (see 'Some Contemporary Allusions in
       Poems by Rosenberg, Owen and Sassoon', Notes and Queries August (1979),
       p.333. Several recruiting posters used the motif of linking sport to the army,
       and there were numerous recruiting drives at soccer matches.
       Return to poem


        1 DULCE ET DECORUM EST - the first words of a Latin saying
        (taken from an ode by Horace). The words were widely understood and
        often quoted at the start of the First World War. They mean "It is sweet
        and right." The full saying ends the poem: Dulce et decorum est pro
        patria mori - it is sweet and right to die for your country. In other
        words, it is a wonderful and great honour to fight and die for your

2 rockets which were sent up to burn with a brilliant glare to light up men and other
targets in the area between the front lines (See illustration, page 118 of Out in the
3 a camp away from the front line where exhausted soldiers might rest for a
few days, or longer
4 the noise made by the shells rushing through the air
5 outpaced, the soldiers have struggled beyond the reach of these shells which
are now falling behind them as they struggle away from the scene of battle

6 Five-Nines - 5.9 calibre explosive shells
7 poison gas. From the symptoms it would appear to be chlorine or phosgene
gas. The filling of the lungs with fluid had the same effects as when a person
8 the early name for gas masks
9 a white chalky substance which can burn live tissue
10 the glass in the eyepieces of the gas masks
11 Owen probably meant flickering out like a candle or gurgling like water
draining down a gutter, referring to the sounds in the throat of the choking
man, or it might be a sound partly like stuttering and partly like gurgling
12 normally the regurgitated grass that cows chew; here a similar looking
material was issuing from the soldier's mouth
13 high zest - idealistic enthusiasm, keenly believing in the rightness of the
14 keen
15 see note 1

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