illustration of a soldier in traditional nineteenth century military garb

The Charge of the Light Brigade

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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Is "The Charge of the Light Brigade" a narrative poem or dramatic, and does it contain parallelism, apostrophe, hyperbole, irony, oxymoron, anthropomorphism or antithesis? If so, can you give an example of each?

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"The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred Lord Tennyson, poet laureate of the UK at the time of its writing, is a narrative poem which extols the bravery of the Brigade, while it also subtly questions the obvious strategic and bureaucratic incompetence which led to the soldiers' noble sacrifice of themselves. Such opposing claims are typical of the Victorian writers, whose works are characterized by a peculiar distress. This distress is indicated in Tennyson's line "All the world wonder'd." 

Flash'd all their sabres bare,
Flash'd as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army while
  All the world wonder'd:

Certainly, Tennyson exhibits in his work an intense preoccupation with the problem of isolation, a natural result of the insecurity of the artist's cultural status.  Situations of betrayal, alienation, separation from life and love, appear in Tennyson's poetry throughout his life.

In order to convey the unity of the brave soldiers, Tennyson employs parallelism with repeated line such as "Flash'd all...." and "half a league" which also allows a certain military rhythm in the unison of the meter.

Half a league, half a league,
  Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death,
  Rode the six hundred.

There is an irony, of course, in the bravery of the men's riding into a "valley of Death" that betrays their bravery. "Theirs but to do or die" indicates the paradox of being a soldier. He is supposed to die, yet this seems contrary to the purpose of a military organization. The phrase "mouth of hell" lends the attack of the enemy that attribution of human characteristics, so this attribution can be considered anthropomorphism.

A final note of irony is the fact that Tennyson may have begun the poem to expose the military blunder, but because he was poet laureate he seemed to have become swept up with his own noble tone and, therefore, he failed to condemn this incompetence. Or, perhaps, Tennyson wished to express the unillusioned acceptance of the limitations of human possibility, something others such as Leo Tolstoy well considered.

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