The Charge of the Light Brigade
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Analysis: Form and Meter
Irregular Rhyme, Dactylic Dimeter
Let's tackle the way this poem rhymes first, because it's kind of interesting and unusual. Some poems have very regular rhyme patterns, with the same sounds repeating every line or every other line. That's not true in this poem.
The rhymes in "The Charge of the Light Brigade" aren't predictable, but they're still an important part of the way the poem is put together. These rhymes can happen in all kinds of ways. Sometimes a bunch of lines in a row will have rhyming words at the end, sometimes it will be every other line, sometimes two words will almost rhyme but not quite (we call that near rhyme or slant rhyme).
The easiest way to describe this is just to show you. We'll put rhyming words in bold, and also tag each sound at the end of a line with a letter, so you can see which ones match up. Let's look at Stanza 2, where there's a lot of interesting rhyming going on:
"Forward, the Light Brigade!" (A)
Was there a man dismayed? (A)
Not though the soldier knew (B)
Someone had blundered. (C)
Theirs not to make reply, (D)
Theirs not to reason why, (D)
Theirs but to do and die. (D)
Into the valley of Death (E)
Rode the six hundred. (C)
See, we told you there was a lot going on here. Let's break it down a little.
We start out with two lines in a row that rhyme: Brigade, dismayed. That's called a rhyming couplet.
Then we have a line that doesn't rhyme with anything else: knew.
Now take a look at the fourth line. See how that sort of rhymes with the last line: blundered, hundred? The words sound kind of alike, but they also stick in your mouth a little. That's what we call a near rhyme or slant rhyme, and they're easy to find in this poem.
The last thing to check out here, and maybe the most noticeable part of the whole section, is the group of three rhyming lines in the middle: reply, why, die. We call three rhyming lines in a row a "triplet."
OK, we'll leave off our discussion of rhyme at this point, but poke around a little in the other sections if you feel like it. Every one has interesting rhymes.
Now for the meter. This part of the poem's form is definitely less complicated, once you get the hang of it. The first thing we'll look for in each line is which syllables are emphasized. We call that the "stress." In general, there are two main stresses in each line of "The Charge of the Light Brigade." Here, we'll show you how that works again, using part of section 2. We'll put the stressed syllables in bold:
"Forward, the | Light Brigade!"
Was there a | man dismayed?
Not though the | soldier knew
Someone had | blundered.
Theirs not to | make reply,
Theirs not to | reason why,
Theirs but to | do and die.
See the pattern there? The stressed syllables come at the beginning and in the middle of the line. They are always followed by two unstressed (or less stressed) syllables. Try saying that first line out loud: "For-ward, the/ Light Bri-gade!" Hear that rhythm? DUM-da-da DUM-da-da.
See how we've split the lines up with slashes? Those little groups of syllables between the slashes are called "feet" (silly, we know, but that's how it is). When the feet look like this – with a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables – we call that a dactyl. When there are two feet per line, that's called dimeter. So the full, fancy English teacher name for the rhythm of this poem is dactylic dimeter. Snazzy terminology is all well and good, but what we really want is for you to be able to hear that steady heartbeat rhythm running through the poem: DUM-da-da DUM-da-da DUM-da-da. Cool, huh?