Analysis of The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Tennyson

Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote "The Charge of the Light Brigade" in 1854. The poem was written as a commemoration of a specific event in the 1854 Battle of Balaclava.

The poem is composed of six stanzas of varying length. Though there are rhymed lines in the poem, it does not follow a consistent rhyme scheme. Lines present a meter in which two unstressed syllables follow a stressed syllable. An example of this can be easily seen (stressed syllables bolded) in the line "’Forward the Light Brigade!’" The poem’s meter is consistent throughout.

Half a league half a league,
Half a league onward,

The poem begins with what sounds like a march when read aloud, echoing the boost the Calvary may have been given at the time of the battle. A league is a measure of distance, slightly more than 5.5 kilometers.

All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred:

The valley of Death is a dark image presented to the reader, a contrast to the sound of the first two lines in the poem. The six hundred refers to the number of men in the Calvary. These two lines suggest the men were riding straight toward Death.

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns’ he said:

The "he" refers to the man leading the brigade, ordering the troops to charge toward the opposing militant force.

Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

The "valley of Death" is mentioned again, intimating the men charging toward their opponents are being sent toward certain death. This may be because they are outnumbered are lighter armed. Because the guns of the opponents were mentioned in the previous lines, it is likely they are wielding more lethal weaponry.

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d ?

Here, the speaker questions if any one of the doomed men sensed danger and felt fear after being commanded to charge.

Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:

These lines, in essence, state the men serving in the Calvary are not given information other than being told what to do to. The line "Not tho’ soldier knew" means, plainly, that they do not know. They do not know if someone has made a mistake or why a choice was made.

Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do & die,

Whether the soldiers have concerns or questions is irrelevant. Their job is to follow their commands and fight for their country, even if it is a risk to their lives.

Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

Once again, we see the troops charging forward into Death. The repetition of these two lines and the capitalization of Death indicate they are doomed.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them

The speaker had previously mentioned guns and now cannons are brought into the picture. This serves as further indication the opposing troops are more heavily armed than the Light Clavary.

Volley’d & thunder’d;

Volleyed means the cannons were fired in quick succession, causing a thundering sound in the surroundings. This line adds an audial element to the visual of the poem.

Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,

The soldiers, honoring their commitment, charged forward despite being shot at with guns and cannons.

Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

Thus far, the reader should have gleaned the troops of the Light Calvary were doomed on this mission. With descriptions such as the "jaws of Death" and the "mouth of Hell," the reader is given an especially haunting visual image.

Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Flash’d as they turn’d in air
Sabring the gunners there,

The British troops attacked the Russian force with their sabres, a heavy sword with a curved blade. This gives further insight to their defeat, as they are fighting against heavy artillery such as guns and cannons.

Charging an army while
All the world wonder’d:

The world wondered how and why the lightly-armed troops were charging a heavily-armed opposing army.

Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro’ the line they broke;

An image of a field dense with smoke from gunfire and cannon launches is conjured from these lines. It is made more powerful with the added visual of the Light Calvary bursting through the smoke, ready to attack.

Cossack & Russian
Reel’d from the sabre-stroke,

The soldiers struck their opponents with their sabres, sending them staggering.

Shatter’d & sunder’d.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

In these lines, it was not the six hundred men who were harmed; the reader sees the Cossacks and Russians being injured by the swords of the Light Calvary. The images are particularly violent with descriptions such as shattered and sundered, meaning something (or someone) is split apart.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,

These five lines are repeated from the third stanza. The repetition of these lines helps the reader continue to envision the scene that’s been set up.

While horse & hero fell,
They that had fought so well
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,

All who entered the battle were at risk, men and horses alike. Many were killed in the battle but some of those who fought well escaped death.

Back from the mouth of Hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

The soldiers remaining from the original six hundred returned from the "the mouth of Hell." Despite the odds being against them, some troops managed to pull through.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder’d.

The men, who fought so valiantly, both the deceased and surviving, will forever be heroes. Their bravery cannot be forgotten.

Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!

The poem ends with a mention of all six hundred men, with lines telling the reader to honor all the men who fought. The speaker ends the poem with the message that the men and their actions should be revered and commemorated.

This poem details the events of the charge that occurred in the 1854 Battle of Balaclava. It was written in memory of the British Light Calvary’s charge against Russian forces. The Light Calvary consisted of troops in light armor bearing light arms. The way in which the poem describes the devotion and bravery of the troops serves to honor both the survivors and deceased of the charge.

War and courage are the main themes of the poem. The battle is described throughout the entirety of the poem. The bravery of the soldiers is highlighted and mentioned at various instances in multiple ways. Finally, the poem ends with the speaker imploring the reader to honor the "Noble six hundred." This is important because they charged ahead bravely to fulfill their commitment, setting aside any fear they may have felt.