The Charge of the Light Brigade (poem)

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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 of the writing of 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.

Kipling's postscript[edit]

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.[1]

Later references[edit]

Various lines from the poem are randomly referenced by Mr. Ramsay in Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse.

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 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season 6 episode "Sacrifice of Angels", the third verse is recited by Miles O'Brien and Julian Bashir as a Federation fleet of 600 starships is about to enter battle. When asked how it ends by Elim Garak, who is unfamiliar with the poem, O'Brien answers, "You don't want to know."

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.[3]

The poem was the inspiration for the Iron Maiden song "The Trooper".[4]

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.[5]

The movie Saving Private Ryan 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."[6]

The Star Trek Online mission "Boldly They Rode" takes its title from the sixth line of the third stanza, in reference to the above use of the entire verse in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Sacrifice of Angels". 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.

The movie The Blind Side, the poem was used as a source of inspiration for courage and honor for protagonist Michael Oher.

In the video game, Mass Effect 3, 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 was chosen as his love interest.

In "The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood the line "Ours is not to reason why" was used by the character Moira.

In "Regeneration" by Pat Barker, a stanza of the Poem is quoted by the character Prior

The character of Dr. Reed Akley on Manhattan recites three lines of the poem in Episode 12.[7] The character of Sean Tuohy played by Tim McGraw recites the poem for his adopted son Michael in the movie "The Blind Side" [8]

A number of lines are recited by the character Alfalfa in the Little Rascals short Two Too Young, prior to some firecrackers exploding in his back pocket

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.

The TV show M*A*S*H referenced the poem in at least two episodes. 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 Beach Boys/Brian Wilson/Van Dyke Parks song "Surf's Up", the lyric phrase "While at port adieu or die" is word play alluding to "Their’s not to make reply, / Their’s not to reason why, / Their’s but to do and die".

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 movie The Falcon and the Snowman, 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 1957 film Bridge on the River Kwai 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 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 1986 film When the Wind Blows, 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.

A military sci-fi book series by Jean Johnson is titled Theirs Not To Reason Why, and the first book A Soldier's Duty, was nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award in 2011.[9]

In the 2002 film Windtalkers, 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."


  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. ^ Hornfischer, James D. Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
  4. ^ "Iron Maiden". Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  5. ^ BBC2: Top Gear series 21, episode 3, broadcast 16 February 2014
  6. ^ "Saving Private Ryan". Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  7. ^ "Manh(a)ttan Recap: Thin Man Implodes". Scientific American. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  8. ^ IMBD "The Blind Side"
  9. ^

External links[edit]

Manuscript in Tennyson's handwriting, Link