The Charge of the Light Brigade (poem)
"The Charge of the Light Brigade" is an 1854 narrative poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson about the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. He was the poet laureate of the United Kingdom at the time of the writing of the poem.
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Tennyson's poem, published December 9, 1854 in The Examiner, praises the Brigade, "When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made!", while mourning the appalling futility of the charge: "Not tho' the soldier knew / Some one had blunder'd ... Charging an army while / All the world wonder'd:". According to his grandson Sir Charles Tennyson, Tennyson wrote the poem in only a few minutes after reading an account of the battle in The Times. As poet laureate he often wrote verses about public events. It immediately became hugely popular, even reaching the troops in the Crimea, where it was distributed in pamphlet form at the behest of Jane, Lady Franklin.
Each stanza tells a different part of the story, and there is a delicate balance between nobility and brutality throughout. Although Tennyson's subject is the nobleness of supporting one's country, and the poem's tone and hoofbeat cadences are rousing, it pulls no punches about the horror of war: "Cannon to right of them, /Cannon to left of them, / Cannon behind them / Volley'd & thunder'd". With "into the valley of Death" Tennyson works in resonance with "the valley of the shadow of Death" from Psalm 23, then and now a Psalm often read at funerals. Tennyson's Crimea does not offer the abstract tranquil death of the psalm but is instead predatory and menacing: "into the jaws of Death" and "into the mouth of Hell". The alliterative "Storm'd at with shot and shell" echoes the whistling of ball as the cavalry charge through it. After the fury of the charge, the final notes are gentle, reflective and laden with sorrow: "Then they rode back, but not / Not the six hundred".
Tennyson recited this poem onto a wax cylinder in 1890.
The actor Laurence Harvey recited the poem on The Ed Sullivan Show, and both he and Ed Sullivan presented, so Ed said, the actual bugle used in the charge to a British officer, who then blew the call. The clip is on the DVDs of the Rolling Stones appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show.
In the episode Sacrifice of Angels of Star Trek Deep Space Nine's sixth season, the third verse is recited by Chief O'brien and Doctor Bashir as the Federation fleet is about to enter battle.
Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Last of the Light Brigade", written some forty years after the appearance of "The Charge of the Light Brigade", in 1891, focuses on the terrible hardships faced in old age by veterans of the Crimean War, as exemplified by the cavalry men of the Light Brigade, in an attempt to shame the British public into offering financial assistance.
- Brighton, Terry, Hell Riders: The Truth about the Charge of the Light Brigade? Penguin, 2005
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poems, ed. Hallam Lord Tennyson and annotated by Alfred Lord Tennyson (London: Macmillan, 1908), II, 369.
- Brighton, Terry, Hell Riders: The Truth about the Charge of the Light Brigade, Penguin, 2005
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