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.


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.

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
  • The film The 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.
  • At the beginning of the horror film Burnt Offerings (1976), patriarch Ben prophetically foreshadows his family's destruction by paraphrasing, "Forward into the Valley of Death rode the six hundred." He says this for no apparent reason as his family first enters an isolated mansion in the country they intend to rent; none of them realize that the mansion is evil and requires periodic human sacrifice to renovate itself.
  • Jean Johnson's military sci-fi book series, Theirs Not To Reason Why, and the first book, A Soldier's Duty, were nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award in 2011.[3]
  • 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.[4]
  • The poem inspired the Iron Maiden song "The Trooper" (1983).[5]
  • The character Dr. Reed Akley on Manhattan recites three lines of the poem, in Episode 12.[6]
  • 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.[7]


  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. ^ "2011 Awards". Philip Dick Award. January 2012. 
  4. ^ Hornfischer, James D. Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. 
  5. ^ "Iron Maiden". Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  6. ^ "Manh(a)ttan Recap: Thin Man Implodes". Scientific American. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  7. ^ "Top Gear series 21, episode 3". BBC2. February 16, 2014. 

External links[edit]