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.
II
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
Someone had blundered.
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.
III
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of hell
Rode the six hundred.
IV
Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sab’ring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.
V
Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.
VI
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!
-Lord Alfred Tennyson

Stanza 1

The poem starts with the three words, “Half a league” repeated three times. It sets up a rhythm -like a military march. A league is an old-fashioned measurement of distance that’s approximately equivalent to 5 kilometres. So, half a league is about two and half kilometres. The phrase “the valley of Death” tends to make us feel a little scared and uncertain. Thus far, it tells us that someone is covering a certain distance in a scary place. Next, we learn that there are six hundred people, and that they are riding, probably on horseback.  In Line 5 –the phrase “Forward, the Light Brigade! – it seems that someone is commanding; shouting out a military order to move forward. We don’t know who this person is, but he introduces the heroes of this poem, the fearless men of the Light Brigade! A “brigade” is a way of dividing up an army. They are “cavalry” soldiers, meaning they are riding on horseback. They are called “Light” to separate them from the “Heavy Brigade,” another kind of cavalry unit at the time. The end of stanza 1 shows that the brigade has been ordered into the valley, and they’re riding in, even though they know that guns and “Death” are waiting for them.

Stanza 2

Stanza 2 begins with the order “Forward, the Light Brigade!” repeated. The speaker really wants us to focus on those words, on the command to move forward. The men are being sent to death. It makes us pause and think about why these brave men are being sent into “the valley of Death.” Line 10 – Was there a man dismayed?- shows that perhaps now the readers are trying to get a peek into the heads of these soldiers, trying to imagine how it must feel to charge toward death. In this poem –“to be dismayed” means to lose your courage, to be overcome by terror. The word “not,” in line 11 implies that these men do not feel discouraged at all. They’re ready to do their job. Lines 13-15 – “Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die”- sum up all of the honest, humble heroism of these men. They’re just doing their job. The last two lines “Into the valley of Death”; “Rode the six hundred” are the same as the last two lines in the first stanza. It emphasizes the main action of the poem, which is these men riding to their death.

Stanza 3

The soldiers are surrounded by enemy- cannon, left, right, and front. It’s almost as if we are right there, turning our heads right, left, and forward, and seeing cannon everywhere. A “volley” from a cannon is just a round of firing. Referring to lines 25-instead of “Into the valley of Death,” now the men are riding “Into the mouth of hell. It’s one more way of emphasizing how bad the valley is and how brave these men are.

Stanza 4

Stanza four begins with “Flashed all their sabres bare”. The soldiers were riding through this storm of bullets, on horses, carrying swords- “sabres,” to be exact. Sabres is a kind of curved sword a cavalrymen would have carried. Focusing on these old-fashioned sabres is another way to point out the desperate heroism of the Light Brigade, and also a way to connect them to English warriors of the past. The main action so far, the charge, has gone as far as it can. Now the soldiers have to turn back where they came from. Some have died. The phrase “Not the six hundred” is the first hint of the terrible casualties the Light Brigade has suffered. The poem has been a little grim, but now it starts to become really mournful, like it was meant for a funeral.

Stanza 5

Lines 39-43 lines are almost an exact repeat of the beginning of the third stanza (lines 18-22). The only change is in line 41. The cannon that were in front of them are now behind them, which means that the Light Brigade has turned around and leaving the enemy behind them. The return trip is just as deadly and terrifying, it’s just turned around. Line 44 – While horse and hero fell, emphasizes the loss of life. This stanza ends with the words “six hundred” just like all the others did. In this case, though, the tone is much darker, and the final image we get is the remnants of the Light Brigade moving back across the field.

Stanza 6

Stanza six begins with “When can their glory fade?” –comes in like the sound of a trumpet. It is the Light Brigade’s desperate, “wild” charge that the speaker wants us to remember. This poem is spreading the word, telling us that we should “wonder” at this incredible display of bravery. The poem ends with a couple of commands: Honour the charge they made!; Honour the Light Brigade; Noble six hundred! The speaker orders us, to respect and remember these noble war heroes.

Discussion

The purpose of this poem is to make the courage of these British soldiers immortal. This is an example of poetry having a real effect on how we remember history.  Basically, the six hundred horsemen of the Light Brigade are ordered to charge forward into a valley, with guns on all sides. They encounter their Russian enemies, attack them and then retreat down the valley. It is important to note that at the time, the British were fighting the Russian Empire in the Crimean War. Tennyson read a newspaper story about the Battle of Balaclava where a small group of British soldiers on horseback (called the Light Brigade) made a desperate attack, and suffered heavy casualties. Tennyson was so moved by what he read that wrote this poem, which has turned into one of the most famous poems ever about the tragic heroism of soldiers.