illustration of a soldier in traditional nineteenth century military garb

The Charge of the Light Brigade

by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

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Does "The Charge of the Light Brigade" glorify war?

Quick answer:

“The Charge of the Light Brigade” does not glorify war but, rather, glorifies the bravery and loyalty of soldiers who fight in the war. Tennyson depicts war as dangerous and destructive and thus does not glorify the activity of war itself.

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In his poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” Tennyson glorifies the courage, bravery, and patriotism of soldiers who fight in wars. However, his depiction of the dangerous nature of war itself does not directly glorify the activity. For instance, consider the following description of the soldiers in action:

Stormed at with shot and shell,

Boldly they rode and well,

Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of hell

Rode the six hundred.

In this excerpt we see Tennyson highlighting the bravery of the soldiers when he describes how they rode “boldly” and “well” into battle. This suggests that they are courageous, unafraid, and ready to do whatever it takes for their country. However, his description of where the soldiers are riding is not a pretty picture. The phrase “in the jaws of Death” underscores how risky war is and how these courageous young men are facing their doom by participating in battle.

Later on, Tennyson uses this dark imagery again when he describes the conclusion of the battle. He writes:

While horse and hero fell.

They that had fought so well

Came through the jaws of Death,

Back from the mouth of hell,

All that was left of them,

Left of six hundred.

This passage leaves the reader with the haunting image of just a few strong men remaining out of what had once been a large, brave group. Here Tennyson honors soldiers' sacrifices and reminds readers that war kills strong, noble people. While he demonstrates utmost respect for the dedication of the soldiers, he still shows war as a brutal, horrible thing.

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Does "The Charge of the Light Brigade" glorify war?

I think one could certainly make the argument that the poem does glorify war. Analysis of the poet's word choice backs up this interpretation. Although the speaker uses phrases like "mouth of hell" and "jaws of Death" to describe the situation into which the Light Brigade rides, descriptions like these are figurative. They do not conjure a mental image of what war looks like, nor do they describe how death at the hands of another soldier would feel.

The reality of war is not described in any realistic detail. Tennyson does not touch upon the bloodshed, the potentially slow and agonizing deaths of bodies bleeding out, the pain of disemboweled or missing limbs, the awful smells of the battlefield, or other horrible experiences that come from battles. In the third section, the Brigade is described as riding "boldly." In the fourth part, the word "Flashed" is repeated; both of these choices seem to glorify the actions of the Brigade, focusing on their heroism and bravery rather than the horrifying reality of war.

In part five, we learn that "horse and hero fell," and part six refers directly to these heroes's unfading "glory." We are instructed to "Honour" their charge and to "Honour" the men themselves. They are, ultimately, called "Noble." Imperatives like these draw attention only to the honor these men have accrued with their brave actions. Seeing only this side of war masks, however unintentionally, the bloody and bitter truth of battle.

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