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.)