Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Charge of the Light Brigade” issues a clear call to celebrate the heroism of soldiers who surrender themselves to a greater cause. Throughout the poem Tennyson calls attention to their valor, technical skill, and willingness to trust in their leaders. The theme might be best understood by seeing it expressed in another of Tennyson’s poems, Idylls of the King (1859-1885). In a lyric sung at the marriage of King Arthur, the knights who have pledged fidelity to him chant that “The King will follow Christ, and we the King/ In whom high God hath breathed a sacred thing.” This paean to the benevolent and specially endowed leader is characteristic of both monarchist government and military discipline. The soldiers of the light brigade, knowing that their lives are in danger, nevertheless follow orders and charge the enemy gun emplacements at the end of the valley. Assuming that the mission is important and necessary for the success of the British campaign, these men brave the artillery fire from all sides to carry out orders. Tennyson states clearly that such behavior is to be honored, and that the fame of these soldiers deserves perpetual veneration.

Glancing at the works of other writers, one can see the universality of this theme. In Voyna i mir (1865-1869; War and Peace, 1886), Leo Tolstoy offers similar praise for the Russian soldiers who fought for Russia against Napoleon’s invading troops. Soviet dissident...

(The entire section is 487 words.)


(Poetry for Students)

The soldiers of the Light Brigade are not portrayed in this poem as having any illusions that their attack made sense:...

(The entire section is 821 words.)