The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote “The Charge of the Light Brigade” shortly after reading a newspaper article about the futile charge of troops at the 1854 Battle of Balaklava during the Crimean War (1853-1856). British and French troops had been sent to the Crimean Peninsula to punish the Russian government for various aggressive and belligerent policies. A newsman for the London Times was on the scene and hinted in his report that the debacle resulted from blunders made by British commanders in the Crimea. In Tennyson’s mind, the questionable behavior of the British generals did not diminish the bravery of the troops who had acted valiantly in carrying out orders. Moved by these acts of valor and perhaps angered by the mismanagement of senior officers, the poet laureate immediately wrote an ode to commemorate the occasion.

In six irregular stanzas, Tennyson describes the movement of the troops down the long valley at Balaklava. Sitting on the ridge at the end of this depression are batteries of Russian artillery, whose fusillade decimated the cavalrymen as they approached. In stanza 1, the commander’s directive to “Charge for the guns” vividly captures the reckless abandon that would lead to disastrous consequences. The reaction of the troops is captured in the second stanza. The poet asks, “Was there a man dismayed?” and immediately responds, “Not though the soldier knew/ Someone had blundered.” Instead, the men of the light...

(The entire section is 441 words.)

Historical Context

(Poetry for Students)

Throughout the 1700s and 1800s and starting with Peter the Great, Russia reached southward to annex countries in the Middle East, most...

(The entire section is 842 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As in many odes, the stanza pattern of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is irregular. An eight-line opening stanza gives way to two stanzas of nine lines, in which the poet sets the stage for the charge and describes the entry into the valley. The central action of the battle and its aftermath is described in two longer stanzas, of twelve and eleven lines, respectively. The final stanza, only six lines, serves as an epitaph honoring the brave men who sacrificed themselves in serving their country.

The rhyme scheme, too, is irregular. In some stanzas, only two or three lines are rhymed. In others, Tennyson inserts a number of couplets and triplets. The poem may appear to be more regular on first reading, however, because Tennyson skillfully uses repetition and variation to link his six stanzas. The closing phrase “six hundred” is present in every stanza, and in each stanza at least one internal line rhymes with this phrase. These rhyming words, all strong action verbs, capture the key actions of the poem. Someone in leadership “blundered.” Cannons on the rim of the valley “thundered.” When the men of the light brigade break through enemy lines, the Russian and Cossack gunners are “shattered” and “sundered.” Meanwhile, those outside the valley, and indeed “the whole world,” Tennyson says, “wondered” about the outcome of the charge. Since each of the rhyming lines ends with a full stop, the attention of readers is focused on...

(The entire section is 545 words.)

Literary Style

(Poetry for Students)

"The Charge of the Light Brigade" is divided into six stanzas that vary from six to twelve lines each. While the poem cannot be easily...

(The entire section is 252 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Poetry for Students)

Then: Victoria's rule as Queen of Great Britain and Ireland, and Empress of India, influenced all aspects of economy and society....

(The entire section is 93 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Poetry for Students)

In this poem, Tennyson takes a famous defeat and stirs enthusiasm in the reader by focusing on the spirit of the soldiers, who rode into...

(The entire section is 131 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Poetry for Students)

The Charge of the Light Brigade, directed by Michael Curtiz and starring Enrol Flynn, Olivia De Haveland, and Patric Knowles, was...

(The entire section is 55 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Poetry for Students)

J.B. Priestley's Victoria's Heyday (1974) captures the spirit of Queen Victoria's reign in year-by-year chapters, including an...

(The entire section is 313 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Poetry for Students)

Foltinek, Herbert, "Their's Not to Reason Why': Alfred Lord Tennyson on the Human Condition," in A Yearbook of...

(The entire section is 199 words.)