Study Guide

The Charge of the Light Brigade Death

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson


All in the valley of Death (line 3)

We've mentioned this before, but in a poem without a lot of religious imagery, this is a major Biblical reference. Psalm 23 contains the famous line: "Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, I shall fear no evil."  We don't know how much that means, and we don't think this is a particularly religious poem, but we do think this adds another layer, and mixes just a little bit of hope into the scary image of this valley.

Theirs but to do and die. (line 15)

The "doing" part is brave and exciting, all the charging and the slashing.  The dying part strikes us as just sad.  Under all the heroism and the thrill of battle, we think there's a mournful note in this poem.  Finally, this is about the slaughter of young men, who were full of hope and loyalty and strength.  No matter how you feel about war, it's hard not to feel sad about that.  Even though Tennyson doesn't rub our faces in the idea of death right here, it's obviously a major theme.

Then they rode back, but not 
   Not the six hundred. (lines 41-2)

They didn't all die, and we never actually learn how many soldiers were killed, but Tennyson does let us know that not all six hundred men make it back.  There's a kind of sad and silent subtraction that goes on in this poem.  We don't see the bodies, or count the dead, but we know that they have disappeared.  The "valley of Death" took its toll on the Light Brigade.

Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell. (lines 43-4)

More intense imagery, filled with the weight and the sadness of death.  In a way, death is always in the air in this poem, and here it literally is.  It's whizzing through the air in an angry storm around the heads of the soldiers.  They get cut down, and that simple "horse and hero fell" is about the only moment where we have to confront the actual death of the soldiers in the Light Brigade.  Here death isn't just a metaphor, it's the actual fact of a soldier getting cut down. 

All that was left of them,
   Left of six hundred. (line 48-9)

Tennyson is very quiet about how many men died.  In fact it's almost like it's a secret.  Well, maybe more a kind of respectful distance.  This isn't about the number killed and wounded.  It's not a newspaper article, after all.  It's about the fact of sacrifice and the death of brave young men.

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