illustration of a soldier in traditional nineteenth century military garb

The Charge of the Light Brigade

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Start Free Trial

What is the purpose of "The Charge of The Light Brigade" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The single most important line in the poem is "someone had blundered." It is a commentary on strategic and bureaucratic incompetence not merely a simple-minded glorification of soldiers.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There is a clear affinity that Tennyson displays for the soldiers in "The Charge of the Light Brigade."  Taken from the newspaper reporting of  the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War, in which British forces died, Tennyson wants to construct a homage to their sacrifice.  This is where the poem's purpose emerges.  There is an extolling of the loyalty of the forces.  A set of lines from the poem's second stanza confirms this:

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death

The poem brings out the heroism of the soldiers.  Why they died is understood:  Loyalty to country.  Tennyson's poem's purpose is to bring out the honor in the soldiers' sacrifice.  It is meant to raise consciousness of how certain death was for the soldiers and how little fear they displayed in confronting it.  The poem's purpose is not to double guess the cruelty of war.  Rather, it is meant to value the individuals who willingly sacrifice for it.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Please summarize "The Charge of the Light Brigade" by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote "The Charge of the Light Brigade" on  December 2, 1854, and published it in the December 9, 1854 volume of The Examiner. The subject of the poem is a charge by a brigade of light cavalry (thus the "light brigade") during the Battle of Balaclava on 25 October 1854. The charge was actually due to a miscommunication, as light cavalry was completely unsuitable for a frontal assault on a heavily defended position. As might be expected, the brigade suffered very high casualties.

The poem consists of six stanzas with a dramatic rhythmic pattern that suggests the sound of hoof beats and the drama and intensity of the desperate charge of lightly armored horsemen straight into the awaiting canons. The poet describes the British charging the cannoneers with swords with great bravery, but both men and horses dying to the canon fire. The poem concludes with the retreat of the small number of British survivors. 

Perhaps the most scathing denunciation of the tactical mistake that commanded the light brigade is in these lines from the second stanza:

“Forward, the Light Brigade!”

Was there a man dismayed?

Not though the soldier knew

Someone had blundered.


See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on