How does the poet suggest the excitement and courage of the charge in the poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade?"
How do I contrast the poem with one by Siegfried Sassoon or Wilfred Owen?
Please use simple English to explain. Thanks!
The excitement and courage is suggested through imagery, short lines and stanzas that create a fast pace, as well as use of rhyme to create a musical rhythm.
Most of the solders in “The Charge of the Light Brigade” did not make it back. Tennyson wanted to honor their courage and sacrifice, and the courage and sacrifice of all soliders, in his poem. Tennyson uses imagery to convey the courage and excitement of war. Consider this stanza, which begins with the six hundred surrounded by cannon fire on all sides.
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 (I added the emphasis)
In very simple terms, this stanza tells a remarkable story. The repetition of the cannon in the first three lines, which I have left out, shows that the six hundred are under siege. In addition, we have strong sensory imagery of sound to hear the cannon fire, and then the value-judgment, which makes us think of courage, the word “boldly.” This is followed by the figurative language, another image, where they go into the “jaws of Death” and the “mouth of Hell.” Remember though, they did it boldly! The word implies courage and excitement, doesn’t it? They didn’t just go, they went boldly!
In addition to the subject matter and the word choice, which express courage and excitement, the structure of the poem helps to create these ideas. For example, look at how the poem uses a very special rhythm created by short lines (the groups of words, like “Half a league, half a league,”), and short stanzas (those are the groups of lines, like paragraphs, in a poem). Notice, for example, that the first line has six words, broken into two three word groups separated by commas. That first stanza has eight of these short lines, none with more than six words.
If you continue on, you will notice that this pattern continues. You will also notice that there is a use of rhyme, like this one from the second stanza.
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die
This use of rhyme increases the pace and makes the poem more rhythmic, like a chant. It is like the marching of soldiers’ feet. Do you notice something else in these lines? Repetition is used. Repetition is repeating word, phrase, or idea for effect or sound. Repetition is used often in the poem, and it contributes to the rhythm but also to the excitement and courage. I know that the soldiers are not going to ask questions. I am told that this is not their job. Their job is to be soldiers, and the questions are left to someone else. This is the courage of being a soldier. The courage of the officers is in thinking up the strategy, but the courage of the soldiers is in making the charge with the ability to follow orders without question. In the next stanza, the word “cannon” is repeated three times, and we feel their fear and also their bravery and excitement as they continue despite the odds.
I think you could contrast this poem with Wildred Owen’s “Anthem for Doomed Youth” from World War War I. The reason I suggested this one is because “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is a poem about courage and excitement, as you mentioned. It ends, “When can their glory fade?” and seems to have a positive spin on war. Owens, on the other hand, takes a different perspective. He writes about the soldiers not as celebrated heroes, but as cattle going to slaughter. Here’s an example.
What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons (Anthem for Doomed Youth)
I think it’s an interesting contrast. This demonstrates two perspectives on war, and two very different views of battle. Neither is necessarily right. Look at the structure of the two poems. Owens’ poem is slow. It is one stanza. There is nothing celebratory about it. It’s sad, but it too seeks to describe a battle. Both poems have the same goal. They each honor soldiers. They just have completely different views of war.