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!
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, 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  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