“The Charge of the Light Brigade” Analysis Using Smile: Poetry (English Literature)


CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE Hello, welcome to another tutorial video.
This time we’re going to be looking at ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’. So we start off looking at structure and we’ve
got everything split into different stanzas. There are little episodes or snippets of what’s
going on. So we start off with the men, what they were told to do and then we’re told
about how brave they were, about going into it. Then we’re told about the dangers they
faced. Then we’re told about the little victory they had, the mini victory. Then we’re
told about the retreat, or the return, that was doomed as well, and then we’re told
to honour them. So we’ve got these little snippets focusing on different things, and
that’s really useful because it allows us to concentrate individually on each thing
and take as much as we can from each stanza. Then we’ve got the rhyme all the way through
which is irregular but it really helps build the rhythm and pace and stops and starts at
different times. So here we have ‘onward’, ‘hundred’, ‘said’ – obviously the
‘d’ here is what I’m looking at and the ‘hundred’ and here we have ‘Brigade’,
‘dismay’d’, ‘blunder’d’, ‘reply’, ‘why’, ‘die’ and the ‘hundred’,
so again it’s quite irregular but all the way through it builds its own pace, it’s
very rhythmic, like it makes you ebb and flow with it as it goes, which gives us the idea
of them charging and someone dropping off dying and then charging and someone dropping
off dying, etc., etc., etc. We’ve got the refrain which adds huge emphasis
– a lot of the stanzas end with this and then changes slightly. So the emphasis here
is ‘Rode the six hundred’, ‘Rode the six hundred’, ‘Rode the six hundred’,
‘Noble six hundred’. So when that changes, the fact that that refrain has just changed
there is really powerful because it allows us to think about the numbers and now that
number is no longer one whole unit, even though the rest of the time it was talking about
the whole unit. We don’t get to hear how many died, we just know in this that some
people died but we still remember them all with the same respect; those that lived and
those that died, etc. The last structural point here we’ve got
is the other voice that’s actually come in. We’ve got ‘Forward the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns, he said’, ‘Forward the Light Brigade!’ and both those kind
of calls and the fact that one’s a repetition of part of the other just allows us to show
how ill thought out this was and how there wasn’t a wider range of understanding or
parameters actually put into it, it’s just ‘forward’, that was the only thing they
were given, you know, ‘forward’. It wasn’t looking at the situation and tactically working
out what would be best. It was just ‘forward’ and ‘charge’. Charging there basically
means going forward as well, so really we’ve just got this repeated idea which obviously
Tennyson’s commenting to us was moronic for this battle in particular, but that doesn’t
take anything away from the soldiers, from the men.
So what meanings do we get from it? What themes do we get from it? The idea of bravery comes
through very, very strong. ‘Was there a man dismay’d?’ No, because they were brave
and they knew what they had to do, and as they went across they ‘flash’d their sabres
bare’, they attacked with swords and they were really going about trying to do the best
that they could in the given situation, and the fact that ‘all the world wonder’d’,
this is taken in two ways and one of them is to do with the bravery, they would just
marvel at how these men just rode into certain death – as we’ve put here ‘the valley
of Death’, to actually try and win the war, win this battle for their side. We’ve also got the idea of foolish commands
in – as I mentioned earlier – the repetition or the similar repetition, or the similar
feel we say we should get from this, and also that someone had blunder’d, the idea that
someone had made a mistake in telling them what to do, whoever the ‘he’ here is.
And this has just given us a ‘he’, rather than someone specific because this poem doesn’t
just refer to the incidents here, but in a wider sense to all bad commands with wars
and if you link this to some of the World War One poetry that you’ve actually come
across in this and probably at other times in your reading, you’ll know trench warfare
and how that was just a complete and utter instant waste of life. Here we have the idea of reputation; some
of the reputation here is positive, that first of all we have the poem in and of itself and
it’s called ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ which is in itself, the wording in it ‘The
Charge of the Brigade’, the very powerful and very uplifting, they were trying to do
something positive in terms of the war with what they were doing and the reputation is
extended as they plunge into the smoke and they broke through the line and then they
need to be honoured, that’s mentioned several times, so that reputation that they actually
have is very, very important. And the honour that we actually get from them, doesn’t
afford them, what we’re supposed to feel for them, war isn’t just from the repetition
of honour, but we also get that from the fact that they’re called ‘Noble’, the fact
that the world wonders about them and how they’ve actually gone about this and how
they were just so willing to do and die, and that’s very important in their honour, we
have to respect them and honour them because they were willing to go to the extremes to
try and win this battle. We move on then to images and one that comes
across very slowly is the cannons, and just the tactical arrangement of this battlefield,
it’s to the right of them, to the left of them, in front of them and then on their return
it’s to the right of them, to the left of them, behind them and it just gives us a very
encompassing sense and the images of guns and gunfire from all sides at all times, when
they were going in and when they were coming out. So even this strike that they actually
manage to make, it wasn’t enough to do anything here when they broke the line and they made
this strike here, it wasn’t enough to actually make a lasting impression, or lasting damage
on the enemy because then they were still shot to bits on the way back.
We’ve got the language here, the metaphor of the guns volleying and thundering and storming;
so the onomatopoeia there is really powerful because it gives us a real sense of how tumultuous
being in the middle of that would have been and moreover the metaphor of this power of
nature, shows what they were up against. Because no-one can really stop thunder from striking,
or stop a storm from storming and in using these words Tennyson makes it clear to us
that these men had very little opportunity of coming out of here alive because it was
something so powerful that they were facing. The religious imagery that I wanted to pick
up on was here where we have the ‘valley of Death’ mentioned and also the reference
to Hell – they’re coming out of the mouth of Hell – and in the mouth of Hell in some
texts is actually guarded by creatures, in some places it’s a monster, in some references
it’s a kind of angel, a version of an angel; which basically allows people in or out and
in the return of the 600 we see that some people have been allowed to leave and some
people haven’t, and I think that’s important because they’ve gone into the mouth of Hell
and some of them have died and I think that’s why he uses it here, to give us that religious
sense and obviously this sense that comes with death, etc., and he’s writing this
at a time when the country would have been far more religious than it is now, so people
would have adhered to this imagery in a far more striking way than perhaps we do. The
idea here of the valley of Death is taken from the Bible and the capital ‘d’ on
Death there, is in reference to Death personified as the Grim Reaper, who’s hanging out here
to take peoples’ lives. We’ve also got the image of breaking the
line and I think this is stark because what’s said about them here – ‘Theirs not to make
reply, Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do & die’ and that section there is talking
about their bravery but we only see it in this moment here and it’s very powerful.
They break through just momentarily, they ‘flash’d all their sabres bare’, the
flash there is the idea of light and goodness and the righteousness. ‘Flash’d again
as they turn’d in the air Sabring the gunners there, Charging an army while All the world
wonder’d:’ and they plunged. So there’s this sabring, charging, plunging, it’s just
the idea of them being heroic and doing all the right things and being – I want to say
manly, but that’s a bit sexist – being very aggressive and just being how you’d
want your soldiers and your army to be, just really fighting and then they ‘broke through
the line’ and the enemy ‘reel’d’ from every swing and they were ‘shatter’d & sundere’d’.
Rent asunder basically means broken into bits. But that might be a slight over-exaggeration
because they’re not shattered, they’re not broken to bits because the gunfire comes
from all the same positions as it did earlier, so whatever effect this has had, has had actually
a small effect but it’s put in the most glorious way. So the image that Tennyson wants us to take
from this is of this really heroic effort, but ultimately makes very little difference
because they’re under exactly the same pressures before and after and it doesn’t make an
ultimate difference, at least in this part of the poem and that’s why we get the idea
here of – I’ve put – doom/glory/doom because they’re doomed before they get there,
then they’ve got this small bit of glory and then they’re doomed again and that’s
interestingly put because it shows the futility and the moronity of this command. In language then, we’ve got repetition all
the way through and you’re just going to talk about how that adds emphasis and you’re
also going to talk about how it links us back to other part of the poem so that we can really
understand the play. The force of nature and the elements mentioned
there – sorry I mentioned that a little earlier on earlier. We’ve got the alliteration when we’ve
got the w and w this – the world wondered – and that’s really powerful because it
allows us to think about how vast that is, it makes it stand out and think about the
entire world wondering about it and ironically, this battle was made famous by this poem,
so the world does wonder at it indeed because of the poem perhaps, more than just their
bravery, which is a testimony to poetry but a testimony as well to the power of the writing
here and how it really can be linked and taken and drawn upon for so many wars and battles
that have occurred and we’ve got a lot of language – I think I’ve mentioned this
already – a lot of language that’s heroic and deserving – ‘Theirs but to do & die’,
‘Noble six hundred’ a little later on, ‘they fought so well’ here, they’re
called heroes, etc., so all that type of language is all very positive, showing how they’re
heroic and honouring them, it shows us how they’re deserving, etc. So what effect does this have on us? Well
it reminds us of the courage of soldiers and trying to fight even in the most improbable
of situations. It allows us to feel for the soldiers, given bad commands but how they
didn’t disrespect or disobey, they still went off into the charge. And it allows us
to consider, or invites us to consider commands that are given from – are these the men
best placed to do this or should we be allowed perhaps, or should soldiers be allowed perhaps
to not follow through on something? But then obviously that opens up whole other perambulations,
but you can just think about all those different elements. I hope that was useful. 1

5 thoughts on ““The Charge of the Light Brigade” Analysis Using Smile: Poetry (English Literature)

  1. This is an awesome breakdown.. Really helped me understand more about this poem. Thankyou

  2. Thanks this was so useful gave me stuff I wouldn't even have thought about

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