Reading Module nº 4





The Charge of the Light Brigade

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, c.1880



Poesía Inglesa Siglos XIX-XX

Curso 2005-2006

Profesor: Vicente Forés

Alumno: Alfredo Carbonell Rico

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Alfred, Lord Tennyson, c.1880

1  Half a league, half a league,
2  Half a league onward,
3  All in the
valley of Death
4  Rode the six hundred.
5  "Forward the
Light Brigade!
6  Charge for the guns!"
he said.
7  Into the valley of Death
8  Rode the six hundred.

9  Forward, the Light Brigade!"
10Was there a man dismay'd?
11Not tho' the soldier knew
12Some one had
13Theirs not to make reply,
14Theirs not to reason why,
15Theirs but to do and die.

16Into the valley of Death
17Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
19Cannon to left of them,
20Cannon in front of them
21Volley'd and thunder'd;
22Storm'd at with shot and shell,
23Boldly they rode and well,
24Into the jaws of Death,
25Into the mouth of hell
26Rode the six hundred.

27Flash'd all their sabres bare,
28Flash'd as they turn'd in air
29Sabring the gunners there,
30Charging an army, while
31All the world wonder'd.
32Plunged in the battery-smoke
33Right thro' the line they broke;
34Cossack and Russian
35Reel'd from the sabre-stroke
36Shatter'd and sunder'd.
37Then they rode back, but not,
38Not the six hundred.

39Cannon to right of them,
40Cannon to left of them,
41Cannon behind them
42Volley'd and thunder'd;
43Storm'd at with shot and shell,
44While horse and hero fell,
45They that had fought so well
46Came thro' the jaws of Death,
47Back from the mouth of hell,
48All that was left of them,
49Left of six hundred.

50When can their glory fade?
51O the wild charge they made!
52All the world wonder'd.
53Honour the charge they made!
54Honour the Light Brigade,
55Noble six hundred!



The text is part of the Internet Modern History Sourcebook.

 The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and World history. Source: The text was scanned by Prof. J. S. Arkenberg, who also modernized the text.

Added by Marjie Bloy Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow, National University of Singapore.


(1) “Alfred Lord Tennyson, A Brief Biography”

Ed George P. Landow


(2) “Principles of British Foreign Policy”

Ed George P. Landow


(3) “Victorian Imperialism”

© Copyright 1995-2004 by Dr. Vicente Forés
Valencia, 10/05/2004


(4) “Crimean War”

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales


(5) “Charge of the Light Brigade”

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales


All the research was made on the 14th of January 2006 at 16:30 pm





The poem that we are going to analyse is titled ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’. As we can easily see it is going to deal with a military event that, as we will see later on, took place in the Crimea War fought between Britain and Russia.

This lyrical work by Alfred Tennyson, also called Lord Tennyson is composed by fifty-five verses divided into six stanzas with 8, 9, 9, 12, 11 and six verses each. The rhyme is not a classical one such as the ABBA type, for it is produced mainly by the repetition of words at the end of the verse (l. 18 to 20, 39 to 41) and alliterations (l. 13 to 15, 27 to 29, 43 to 45)

The language used in the poem is very simple and clear. In a clear reference to the events that he is describing, the poet makes use of a semantic field that describes the massacre of a military unit. Therefore, we can find the words ‘Death’ (l. 3, 7, 16, 24, 46), ‘Brigade’ (l. 5, 9, 54), ‘Cannon’ (18, 19, 20, 39, 40 41), or ‘Sabre’ (27, 35) amongst others.

The grammatical person of the poem is the third one, as we can easily see in the use of the pronouns ‘Them’ (l. 18, 19, 20, 39, 40, 41) and ‘They’ (23, 28, 37, 45, 51, 53). Obviously, the purpose of the use of this lyrical device is due to the narration that the poet is doing of a past event.

This poem is full of very strong and powerful images, as we can guess that the poet is trying to affect the reader’s feelings towards this war event. These images, that define both the action and the setting of the battle, have a straight equivalent to the meaning of the poem. Therefore, in the first stanza, Lord Tennyson is describing the location of the battle but he is also telling the reader how this episode begun, even with some supposed quotations (l. 5, 6). In the second stanza the writer tells us about how the English Army prepared the battle in a very critical way, for the soldiers had no choice but go to death (l. 13 to 16). In the third stanza the poet describes again the location of the battle but now he introduces the figure of the enemy, personalised in the ‘Cannons’ (l. 18, 19, 20) and the sounds they produce (l. 21, 22). In the fourth stanza the defeat of the Cavalry is told in terms of a complete defeat and massacre (l. 36, 37, 38). The fifth stanza tells us about the fatal consequences of the disaster, with human casualties included (l. 44, 48, 49). The sixth and last stanza reveals what the poet thinks about the soldiers who took part in the battle. Lord Tennyson reveals the admiration for them and asks everybody to honour the suicidal charge they were forced to make.

Personally, I have really enjoyed both the reading and the analysing of the poem, for it shows a very simple and clear vocabulary and structure and a straightforward meaning. I also think that the poet perfectly transmits to the reader how the event was. He achieves it through a perfect use of the lyrical devices explained before.

Alfred Tennyson was born August 6th, 1809, at Somersby, Lincolnshire, and died on October 6, 1892, at the age of 83 (1) Therefore, we can assume that as long as the Crimea War was contemporary to the poet, it had a clear effect in the writers’ society at that time for even in 1881, Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem in response, entitled The Last of the Light Brigade, which attempted to shame the British public by depicting the difficult conditions suffered by the survivors of the Light Brigade. (5) Tennyson wrote the poem only a few minutes after reading an account of the battle in The Times, according to his grandson Sir Charles Tennyson. It immediately became hugely popular, even reaching the troops in Crimea, where it was distributed in pamphlet form. (5)

First of all, I would like to point out that the Crimea War is a consequence of the Victorian Imperialism. Great Britain during Victoria's reign was not just a powerful island nation. It was the center of a global empire that fostered British contact with a wide variety of other cultures, though the exchange was usually an uneven one. By the end of the nineteenth century, nearly one-quarter of the earth's land surface was part of the British Empire, and more than 400 million people were governed by Great Britain. However nominally Great Britain seized territories in order to increase its own holdings and enhance its prestige, to secure trade routes, to obtain raw materials such as sugar, spices, tea, tin, and rubber, and to procure a market for its own goods. Colonialism involves the settling of those territories and the transformation — the Victorians would have said reformation — of the social structure, culture, government, and economy of the people found there. But in general Great Britain was able to justify its expansion into other peoples lands by claiming a civilizing mission based on its own moral, racial, and national superiority. (3)

Britain had an increasing sensitivity towards Russia and the 'Eastern Question'

Turkey -- the 'sick man of Europe' -- got weaker and the 'Russian bear' became more of a threat in the Straits and the Mediterranean. British sensitivity was enhanced because of economic reasons: trade in the Mediterranean and the overland route to India was threatened by Russia's interest in Turkey. This situation eventually led to the Crimean War (2)

The Crimean War lasted from 28 March 1854 until 1856 and was fought between Imperial Russia and an alliance of the United Kingdom, France, the Ottoman Empire (to some extent), and Piedmont-Sardinia. (4) The Charge of the Light Brigade was an ill-advised cavalry charge, led by Lord Cardigan, which occurred during the Battle of Balaclava on October 25, 1854 during the Crimean War. (5) The charge was made by the Light Brigade of the British cavalry, under the command of Major General the Earl of Cardigan. Together with the Heavy Brigade, these units were the main British cavalry force at the battle. Overall command of the cavalry resided with the Earl of Lucan. Lucan received an order from the army commander Lord Raglan stating that "Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate." The order was drafted by Brigadier Airey and was carried by Captain Louis Edward Nolan, who may have carried further oral instructions. (5) The Light Brigade was able to engage the Russian forces at the end of the valley and force them back from the redoubt, but were soon forced to retire. (5) There is a persistent myth that the brigade was completely destroyed, which is not true. However, the unit did suffer terribly, with 118 men killed, 127 wounded, and 362 horses lost; after regrouping only 195 men were still with horses.

With all this research, it is clearly demonstrated that the war events did have a direct effect on the decision of Lord Tennyson in the writing of the poem shown above.