‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ is a poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. This poem tells the story of the Battle of Balaclava where a group of six hundred lightly equipped British soldiers who charged into The Valley of Death during the Crimean War while they were extremely outnumbered by Russian forces on all sides who had stolen some of their weapons. This poem also highlights the nobility and bravery of the British forces in that battle, and also the ugliness and horrors in war. Tennyson wrote this poem to honor those soldiers’ obedience and bravery after he read about the Battle of Balaclava in a newspaper article. He also uses a handful of literary devices like repetition, personification, and rhyme while doing so.
The Battle of Balaclava was just a small clash in a much more in depth war. The Battle of Balaclava took place in during the Crimean War which was a war where Russia was defeated by the alliance of France and Britain. One of the causes of this war was the rights of Christian minorities in the Holy Land. The Russians would not recognize the rights of the Catholics whereas the French did. Another cause of this war was the reluctance of the British forces to allow the Russian forces to gain power and territory at the expense of France. Near the middle of the war is when the Battle of Balaclava took place. Lord Raglan, who was the commander of the British forces, ordered his men to purse a group of retreating Russian troops who had possession of some British firearms. This was a job that seemed suitable for a group of 600 troops, but due to miscommunication in the chain of command the men were led right into a frontal assault that would not end well. As soon as Tennyson caught wind of this story in a newspaper article he immediately wrote ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’.
Tennyson purpose writing this poem was to honor the valor and bravery of the British forces. Near the end of the poem it reads, ‘When can their glory fade? O the wild charge they made! All the world wonder’d. Honor the charge they made! Honor the Light Brigade, Noble six hundred!” (50-56). this section of the poem really shows his compassion and respect for the soldiers and their bravery while fighting. In the second stanza the obedience of the soldiers is forcefully expressed when is states,” Was there a man dismay’d? Not tho’ the soldier knew Someone had blunder’d: Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die” (10-15). This clearly depicts the obedience and loyalty of the soldiers to follow their leader’s orders and continue to go into battle even though they knew that it wouldn’t end well.
While this poem celebrates the heroism and glory in battle, it also shows the scarier and tragic parts of it too. This can be seen it the third stanza which reads,” Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volley’d and thunder’d; Storm’d at with shot and shell, Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell Rode the six hundred. ‘ (18-26). In this part of the poem it is describing the battle scene and how there is cannon fire coming from every direction at the charging soldiers. These lines of the poem also presents the journey into the battle felid as jaws of Death and the mouth of Hell. This section of the poem definitely shows a gloomier and darker side of war than the previously discussed section that glorified war. Another example would be in the fourth stanza when Tennyson discusses the amount of troops returning when he says, ‘Reel’d from the sabre-stroke Shatter’d and sunder’d. Then they rode back, but not Not the six hundred’ (35-38). These three lines state that not all 600 troops would return from the Valley of Death, implying that there were a great many casualties.
Throughout ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ Tennyson uses a multitude of literary devices, one of those being repetition. Repetition is a literary device that repeats a word or a phrase a handful of time to get the point across and or make it memorable. This can be seen in the first stanza when it reads, ‘Half a league, half a league, half a league onward, All in the valley of Death Rode the six hundred’ (1-4). This section of the poem repeats that phrase over and over again to reinforce into the leaders head how many soldier were involved in the battle. Repetition can also be seen in ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ when in the third stanza it states, ‘Cannon to right of them, Cannon to left of them, Cannon in front of them Volley’d and thunder’d’ (18-21). Repetition is used in these lines to depict the battle field and to describe the danger that the British soldiers were in.
Another literary element that is used by Tennyson in ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ is personification. Personification is, ‘a figure of speech in which nonhuman subject is given human characteristics of a person’ (The British Tradition R18). Personification is good for better describing something to the reader by making it relate to them. This is seen frequently in ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ and one example would be in the third stanza when it says, ‘Boldly they rode and well, Into the jaws of Death, Into the mouth of Hell Rode the six hundred’ (23-26). In this section Tennyson is describing the journey of the British soldiers into The Valley of Death. While doing so he personifies Death and Hell by giving them the human characteristics of a mouth and jaws to relate to the reader of the poem and better describe Hell and Death.
A third literary device that Tennyson utilized in ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ is rhyme. Rhyme is, ‘The repetition of sounds at the ends of words’ (The British Tradition R19). Rhyme is used to make the poem more enjoyable and pleasing to the ear. Rhyme is also used to make certain parts of the poem stick out so that the reader remembers those rhymed line and the message that they convey. This literary device by far is seen the most throughout the poem. The first place it appears is in the second stanza that reads, ‘Theirs not to make reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die’ (13-15). In these lines of the poem rhyme is used to highlight the obedience and loyalty of the British soldiers. Even when they had doubts about the plan of their commander they still followed through with his orders without any dispute. Rhyme is also used in the poem later in the fifth stanza which reads, ‘Storm’d at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell, They that had fought so well’ (43-45). Tennyson uses rhyme here to describe the battle field when the British troops start to fall.
Finally, ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ is a poem that was written in the eighth century in a time of war for Britain. Tennyson uses a number of literary devices to convey his message and tell the story of the brave British troops who died that day. ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ is still regarded today as a great tale of heroism and valor.
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