Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Tennyson was born in England in 1809. It appears that he began to write seriously while attending Cambridge University. Tennyson was vulnerable on a number of different fronts: he was fearful of mental illness, since a few men in his family suffered from bouts of depression, frightened of not having enough money, and sensitive to criticism of his work. However, in 1842 a publication of his poems was met with praise. In 1850 he was appointed as Poet Laureate of England. Tennyson is often regarded as the chief representative of the British Victorian age in poetry. His famous “The Charge of the Light Brigade” celebrates the bravery of British soldiers during the Crimean War, but also questions the blunder of their leaders.   

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.

"Forward, the Light Brigade!"
Was there a man dismayed?
Not though the soldier knew
   Some one had blundered:
   Their's not to make reply,
   Their's not to reason why,
   Their's but to do and die:
   Into the valley of Death
      Rode the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
   Volleyed and thundered;
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.  

Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
   All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre-stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not,
   Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
   Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
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.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
   All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
   Noble six hundred!

Research and Questions for Reflection: “The Charge of the Light Brigade”  

  1. What countries were involved in the Crimean War and for what reasons?
  2. Research the involvement of Florence Nightingale in the war.
  3. Research the background to “The Charge of the Light Brigade” and report on the outcome.
  4. As you read the poem aloud what do you notice about its rhythm?
  5. What is meant by “league” in the poem?
  6. Why is the phrase: “Their’s not to make reply, Their’s not to reason why, Their’s but to do and die” referred to as an anthem of futility?
  7. Why do you think the poem is one of the most quoted in the English language?