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Charge of the Light Brigade -- Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Another old favourite...
(Poem #355) 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
     Some one 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 wonder'd.
 Honour the charge they made!
 Honour the Light Brigade,
     Noble six hundred!
-- Alfred, Lord Tennyson
To call 'Charge of the Light Brigade' an old favourite is perhaps to
understate its popularity - few poems before or since have caught the public
imagination to the extent Tennyson's account of heroism against all odds has.

To quote the French Marshall in the Crimea, Pierre Bosquet's famous remark
on the Charge, "It is magnificent but it is not war"; and Tennyson has
captured both aspects beautifully. While lauding the heroism of the noble
six hundred, he makes no attempt to downplay the pointlessness of the charge
itself -  "Not tho' the soldier knew/ Some one had blunder'd: / Their's not
to make reply, / Their's not to reason why, / Their's but to do and die:".
The above verse is easily the best known, and oftenest quoted, for its vivid
portrayal of bravery in the face of stupidity - the poem has become a sort
of anthem of futility.

Formwise, the series of dactylics not only echoes the insistent rhythm of a
cavalry charge, it is sufficiently unusual that it is seen as
'characteristic' of the poem (compare Longfellow's 'Hiawatha').

m.

Author's note: "This poem (written at Farringford, and published in The
Examiner, Dec. 9, 1854) was written after reading the first report of the
Times correspondent, where only 607 sabres are mentioned as having taken
part in this charge (Oct. 25, 1854). Drayton's Agincourt was not in my mind;
my poem is dactylic[1], and founded on the phrase, "Some one had blundered."

At the request of Lady Franklin I distributed copies among our soldiers in
the Crimea and the hospital at Scutari. The charge lasted only twenty-five
minutes. I have heard that one of the men, with the blood streaming from his
leg, as he was riding by his officer, said, `Those d--d heavies will never
chaff us again,' and fell down dead.".

    -- http://www.library.utoronto.ca/utel/rp/poems/tennyson1c.html

[1] A dactyl is a three syllable foot, following the pattern / x x
       /   x   x   / x x    /  x  x    /    x      x
    Though it was obvious Someone had blundered (pause)

Links:

An interesting interspersal of the poem with scans of the original
manuscript: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/britpo/tennyson/TenChar.html

A nice overview (and then some) of all things Tennyson:
http://landow.stg.brown.edu/victorian/tennyson/tennyov.html

An essay based around a parody in Punch:
http://landow.stg.brown.edu/victorian/punch/lim.html

An overview of the Crimean War:
[broken link] http://ds.dial.pipex.com/town/avenue/aca01/obsinfo/events.htm

And of the charge itself (recommended - contains a passage from the Times of
London war correspondent):
[broken link] http://chomsky.arts.adelaide.edu.au/person/DHart/Films/ChargeOfLightBrigade.html

A good essay on Victorian poetry, and the Modern attitudes towards it:
[broken link] http://www.thenewrepublic.com/magazines/tnr/archive/1199/110199/kirsch110199.html

And finally, for an interesting sequel, see poem #357

22 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Suresh Ramasubramanian said...

Thus spake Martin Julian DeMello :

>To quote the French Marshall in the Crimes, Pierre Bosquet's famous remark

The Crimea :)

>itself - "Not tho' the soldier knew/ Some one had blunder'd: / Their's not
>to make reply, / Their's not to reason why, / Their's but to do and die:".

Lord Cardigan, after the battle, calmly went back to his yacht and had
dinner, as usual. That huge and senseless loss was par for the course.

Trivia - the crimean war is the only one to have three items of clothing
connected with it --

Balaclava - the woolen hats aka monkey caps in India :) - one of the
hotspots of the crimean war.

Cardigan - Lord Cardigan

Raglan (raglan sleeve) - Lord Raglan (who commanded the Brit army along
with Generals Cardigan and Lucan).

>Formwise, the series of dactylics not only echoes the insistent rhythm of a
>cavalry charge, it is sufficiently unusual that it is seen as
>'characteristic' of the poem (compare Longfellow's 'Hiawatha').

Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do or die.

>Examiner, Dec. 9, 1854) was written after reading the first report of the
>Times correspondent, where only 607 sabres are mentioned as having taken
^^^^^^^^^^^^^

William Howard Russell - whose shocking reports influenced Florence
Nightingale to land there. Russell (just a couple of years later) made
equally spectacular reports abt the 1857 sepoy mutiny in India.

Steve G said...

I find it interesting how poems lose a little something from their original version over time.

I have a first edition 1855 copy of Tennyson's poems and your version of "The Charge of the Light Brigade" is really quite different from his 1864 version.

I made an mp3 of the original words from the book and uploaded it to this link if you are interested in the actual 1855 Tennyson version:

[broken link] http://users.ticnet.com/steveg/clb.mpg

(I renamed it from mp3 to mpg so that I could post it on my website)

Steve G

A MARTIN said...

Sorry to quibble but twice Crimea is written as Crimes. It may have been
that too (few wars are not) but accuracy calls for a correction.

Tony Martin

cristina prieto y flia said...

Wao...I mean....only and just wao! Do you understand the importance and how amazing this poem is? I am out of words, and Ive read this poem since Im ten. Each time is different, and at the same time, the same feeling, the exact same sense of being with the Brigades.
Any comments or ideas, please be welcome to answer back.

frederic or margaret kirk said...

Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,

frederic or margaret kirk said...

Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do or die........[Minstrels]

OR

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do or die.........[Poet's Corner]

Both versions are grammatically correct, depending on what is omitted:

Their(s wa)s not to ....

OR

Theirs (was) not to...

I don't know which version was in Tennyson's original but I think the
latter version -- with the verb "was" dropped altogether -- is the stronger
POETIC statement.

Cheers -- Fred Kirk, Vancouver, B.C.

STACEY DRIVER said...

Although I'm an American, just reading it makes my English blood boil.

Joseph V Restifo said...

I clicked on the link in your item, and I got to a Waymark page with the
comment Error: 404 Page not found
Where can I see the original text? And who wrote "Their's"? What's the
basis for that? I disagree with Fred Kirk's analysis. My guess is that
at some time "their's" was considered proper for the possessive (if you
do it with apostrophe-s for nouns, why not for pronouns?), but I wonder
what Tennyson wrote. And why do some versions say "honor" instead of
"honour"?

Thanks for your comments.

coþkun kadiroðlu said...

when I first read it, I thought that it is an ironical poem. later, l learned about the Crimean war.now, l m fascinated by such a mistake and such an inspiring poem..

Lesley BIBBY said...

i think tat the poem is a eye opener because it tells you how brave those 600 men wer 2 go with sumbodys commands coz i no for a fact the first sounds of guns an am out of er lol but it is a verry good poem i had 2 reed this for my english corsework but 2 b onist i ant propa in2 poetry i thi k its just a doss arund but wen i red this i thoughgt wow it realy makes you think and how frightnin it must of bin

well der ya go dats me appinion jodi_kay bibby
age 14

Woodsphilp45 said...

More than a hundred returned some on Cossack horses.

TitsMCGEE said...

This poem is amazing.

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