Why did Tennyson write a poem to honor the losers of a battle in "The Charge of the Light Brigade"?

Tennyson wrote a poem to honor the losers of a battle because he was impressed by their courage and devotion to duty. As the British empire became ever more dominant in the world, Tennyson wanted to celebrate qualities he saw as more noble and essential than mere success.

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Discussing the nature of popular patriotism in England, and its lack of overt militarism, George Orwell made the point that:

The most stirring battle-poem in English is about a brigade of cavalry which charged in the wrong direction.

This was Tennyson's poem "The Charge of the Light Brigade," written to commemorate the heroism of the Light Cavalry Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava in 1854. Tennyson was Poet Laureate at the time, which means that it was part of his official duty to write poems about major public events. However, many British patriots would see little to celebrate in such a defeat. Tennyson, by contrast, was struck by the heroic nature of the event and the self-sacrificing nobility of the soldiers.

1854 is the approximate mid-point of the rapid expansion and dominance of the British Empire over the long nineteenth century. As Britain grew in imperial power, Victorian poets such as Tennyson, Browning, and Arnold were concerned to celebrate qualities other than mere success. Tennyson in particular was fascinated by the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood, which emphasized the triumph of the underdog, and the heroism of failure that had always been an important element in Judeo-Christian culture. In "The Charge of the Light Brigade," Tennyson presents the cavalrymen as heroes, whose devotion to duty and spirit of self-sacrifice will ensure that the British army prevails and deserves to prevail in the long run, despite this particular failure.

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