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 Theme 15, War (i) >

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Charge of the light brigade

The charge of the Light Brigade, painted by Caton-Woodville

The Examiner (1854, 45)
composed 1854 (45)

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 dismay'd? 
Not tho' the soldier knew 
Some one had blunder'd: 
Theirs not to make reply, 
Theirs not to reason why, 
Theirs 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 
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. 

Flash'd all their sabres bare, 
Flash'd as they turn'd in air 
Sabring the gunners there, 
Charging an army, while 
All the world wonder'd: 
Plunged in the battery-smoke 
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian 

Reel'd from the sabre-stroke 
Shatter'd and sunder'd. 
Then they rode back, but not 
Not the six hundred. 

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, 
While horse and hero fell, 
They that had fought so well 
Came thro' 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 wonder'd. 
Honour the charge they made! 
Honour the Light Brigade, 
Noble six hundred!


Background to The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Author’s note : This poem (written at Farringford, and published in The Examiner, Dec. 9, 1854) was written after reading the first report of the Times correspondent, where only 607 sabres are mentioned as having taken part in this charge (Oct. 25, 1854). Drayton's Agincourt was not in my mind; my poem is dactylic, and founded on the phrase, ‘Some one had blundered’. At the request of Lady Franklin I distributed copies among our soldiers in the Crimea and the hospital at Scutari. The charge lasted only twenty-five minutes. I have heard that one of the men, with the blood streaming from his leg, as he was riding by his officer, said, `Those d--d heavies will never chaff us again,' and fell down dead.

The Charge of the Light Brigade : an eyewitness account of the carnage is included in The Light Cavalry Brigade in the Crimea Extracts from the Letters and Journal of General Lord George Paget (John Murray, 1881). Paget was in the second line : ‘There was no one, I believe, who, when he started on this advance, was insensible to the desperate undertaking in which he was about to be engaged; but I shall not easily forget the first incidents that confirmed what before was but surmise. Ere we had advanced half our distance, bewildered horses from the first line, riderless, rushed in upon our ranks, in every state of mutilation, intermingled soon with riders who had been unhorsed, some with a limping gait, that told too truly of their state. Anon, one was guiding one's own horse (as willing as oneself in such benevolent precautions) so as to avoid trampling on the bleeding objects in one's path -- sometimes a man, sometimes a horse -- and so we went on. "Right flank, keep up. Close in to your centre." The smoke, the noise, the cheers, the groans, the ‘ping, ping’ whizzing past one's head; the ‘whirr’ of the fragments of shells; the well-known ‘slush’ of that unwelcome intruder on one's ears! -- what a sublime confusion it was! The ‘din of battle!’ -- how expressive the term, and how entirely insusceptible of description!’

General Lord George Paget

Cossack and Russian : Paget’s orderly and trumpeteer were both taken prisoner, he recounts that ‘they were taken ... to General Liprandi's tent, when he was asked by the General a great many questions as to the English army, their position, numbers, etc., as Parkes stated in his blunt way, "We tried all we could to deceive the General," who (though in a joking way, as he described it) said, "You are a liar, and I know more about the English than you will tell me."

The General would hardly believe that he was a Light Dragoon (he was about six feet two inches high), and said, " If you are a Light Dragoon what sort of men are your Heavy Dragoons?"

Liprandi then said that it was well known that all the Light Brigade were drunk that morning; and when Parkes assured him that neither he nor any of his comrades had put a morsel of food or drop of drink in their mouths that day, he said, "Well, my boy, you shall not remain in that state long," and he called to an aide-de-camp and told him to give the prisoners a plentiful allowance of food and drink.

They were the next day started off for the interior of Russia, marching on foot most of the way, and though at first they were not treated with much consideration, the treatment became better as they went on, resulting ultimately in every sort of kindness and attention from every one, Parkes winding up his description thus: "Ay, my Lord, the officers were not ashamed of being seen walking about with us."’

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