The Charge of the Light Brigade (poem)

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Alfred, Lord Tennyson
The Charge of the Light Brigade

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.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismay'd?
Not tho' the soldier knew
    Someone had blunder'd:
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.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
    Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
    Rode the six hundred.

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turn'd in air,
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
    All the world wonder'd:
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre stroke
    Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not
    Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
    Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro' the jaws of Death
Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
    Left of six hundred.

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 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 he wrote the poem.


1890 recording by Alfred, Lord Tennyson on Edison wax cylinder

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Tennyson's poem, written on December 2, 1854, published December 9, 1854 in The Examiner,[1] 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." 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.[2] 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 in front of 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.[citation needed]

Kipling's postscript[edit]

Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Last of the Light Brigade" (1891), written some 40 years after the appearance of "The Charge of the Light Brigade", 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. Its purpose was to shame the British public into offering financial assistance.[1]

Later references[edit]

A painting of the Charge of the Light Brigade, the event that inspired the poem

In film[edit]

  • The film Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) features a quote from the poem, when United States Navy Commander Shears remarks on the guts of Colonel Nicholson, who stands to face the possibility of death for refusing that his officers participate in manual labor.
  • In the movie The Falcon and the Snowman (1985), Christopher Boyce is pressed by his father about whether or not he can still recite the poem as they had worked on memorizing it while Christopher was in school. Christopher eventually responds by reciting the poem.
  • The film When the Wind Blows (1986), about the experiences of an elderly couple before and after a nuclear war, references the poem. They prepare for the war using a copy of the UK civil defense booklet Protect and Survive. They are unsure about some of the instructions, but their patriotism and fond memories of Winston Churchill and their youth during World War II leads the husband to say "ours is not to reason why..." The poem is also quoted near the end of the film.
  • The movie Saving Private Ryan (1998) also makes reference to the poem. As the soldiers march along the road questioning whether or not saving one man at the price of so many others is a reasonable order Corporal Upham recites: "Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die."[3]
  • In the film Windtalkers (2002), about Navajo Marines serving in the Pacific Theater of WWII to volunteer their language as a form of radio code-talking, at 1:12:55, over the radio, one Code Talker Marine questions what "light resistance" means, while the other Code Talker reminds the first that (presumably in Navajo) "Ours is not to question why, ours is but to do or die."
  • In the movie The Blind Side (2009), Sean Tuohy (played by Tim McGraw) recites the poem for his adopted son Michael Oher, as a source of inspiration for courage and honor

In games[edit]

  • In the video game, Mass Effect 3 (2012), male Commander Shepard recites part of the third stanza to squad mate Ashley Williams during the final part of the game on Earth if she were chosen as his love interest.
  • The Star Trek Online (2010) mission "Boldly They Rode" takes its title from the sixth line of the third stanza, in reference to the use of the entire verse in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Sacrifice of Angels" (see below). Later, in the last mission of the Iconian War arc "Midnight", Captain Va'Kel Shon recites the last 5 verses of the second stanza when the player's ship enters the time portal.

In literature[edit]

  • In a response to the near destruction of Taffy 3 at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the padding in Admiral Nimitz's inquiry about Halsey's Battleship Task Force, "Where is TF 34?" was "The world wonders." Some speculate that it is a reference to the poem and a comment on the heroic but near suicidal charge of the three destroyers, four destroyer escorts, and lightly armed bombers and fighters of Taffy 3 against the Japanese Centre Force, made up of battleships, including the Yamato, heavy cruisers, light cruisers, and 11 destroyers.[5]

In music[edit]

In television[edit]

  • In the Honeymooners episode "The Safety Award", Ed Norton paraphrases one of the lines of the poem as "Into the valley of Death Rides the six hundred" in reference to the trouble he will soon be getting into having to ask his wife Trixie to change a dress she wanted to wear at an award ceremony for Ralph.
  • Alfalfa recites a number of lines in the Little Rascals short Two Too Young, prior to some firecrackers exploding in his back pocket.
  • The character Dr. Reed Akley on Manhattan recites three lines of the poem, in Episode 12.[7]
  • The TV show M*A*S*H referenced the poem in at least three episodes. In season 1, episode 11, Radar O'Reilly mutters "Ours is not to reason why" under his breath to Colonel Blake. In season 4, episode 1 (“Welcome to Korea”), Hawkeye paraphrases the poem with, “Ours is not to reason why, ours is not to let them die.” In season 6, episode 18 ("Tea and Empathy"), the British Major Ross says, “You know, you Americans would be well advised to learn a little from British tradition. After all, the Charge of the Light Brigade was as much a matter of morale as, uh, bravery.”
  • In the second season Robotech episode, "Danger Zone", the character Louie Nichols is preparing for battle and says "Well, armed with shot and shell, here we go into the mouth of hell."
  • In the Simpsons episode In Marge We Trust, Reverend Lovejoy regales his congregation with a story about saving Ned Flanders from a baboon exhibit, altering the original words to "Baboons to the left of me, baboons to the right, the speeding locomotive tore through a sea of inhuman fangs."
  • In the TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the Banks family's butler Geoffrey posing as the fictional poet "Raphael DeLaGhetto", recites the first four lines of the 3rd stanza to a group of students at Will Smith's school.
  • In The Outer Limits (1995 TV series), episode 2-18, "The Light Brigade", they recite:

"Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die" near 12m54s.

"Into the valley of Death Rode the six hundred." near 24m26s. "Forward, the Light Brigade! "Charge for the guns!" he said:" near 25m30s. Holding a printed copy of the poem near 28m28s. "Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volley'd and thunder'd;" near 38m54s.

"Storm'd at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell" near 39m36s.
  • The TV show Top Gear referenced the poem and its origins in series 21, episode 3, during a trip through Ukraine. When stopping at a spot near the battlefield, the team commented on the event and Richard Hammond quoted Tennyson's poem.[8]


  1. ^ a b Brighton, Terry (2005), Hell Riders: The True Story of the Charge of the Light Brigade, Penguin 
  2. ^ Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poems, ed. Hallam Lord Tennyson and annotated by Alfred Lord Tennyson (London: Macmillan, 1908), II, 369.
  3. ^ "Saving Private Ryan". Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  4. ^ "2011 Awards". Philip Dick Award. January 2012. 
  5. ^ Hornfischer, James D. Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. 
  6. ^ "Iron Maiden". Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  7. ^ "Manh(a)ttan Recap: Thin Man Implodes". Scientific American. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  8. ^ "Top Gear series 21, episode 3". BBC2. February 16, 2014. 

External links[edit]