Study Guide

The Charge of the Light Brigade Warfare

By Alfred, Lord Tennyson


"Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!" he said. (lines 5-6)

This line tells us pretty much all we need to know about the plot of this poem. The soldiers in the Light Brigade have to "charge for the guns." Sound like a good idea? Probably not, and the Light Brigade knows it. Still, that's what war is all about – doing dangerous things that you normally never would, like riding your horse toward a bunch of cannon. Tennyson throws us right into the middle of this.

Oh, also, notice the "he" up there? We never find out who that is. The guys giving the orders are anonymous and invisible in this poem.

Cannon in front of them
   Volleyed and thundered; (lines 20-21)

More intense war descriptions.  Just imagine what it would be like to hear the rumble of cannon firing at you, sounding just like thunder.  Don't forget that these guys aren't in a tank or a Humvee or something.  They're on horseback, with nothing to protect them from the whizzing bullets and cannon fire.

Flashed all their sabres bare,
Flashed as they turned in air (lines 27-28)

This is a pretty romantic, studly image, isn't it?  It makes the soldiers of the Light Brigade sound like medieval knights attacking a castle.  We can just see those glittering swords shining through the smoke.  Now, as to whether it's a good idea to attack cannon with a sword, we're not sure.  That's kind of how it goes with the Light Brigade in this poem.  You like them and feel for them and don't want them to die.  At the same time though, there's something a little sad and doomed about these guys.  The whole thing, the charge, the swords, the horses – it doesn't sound all that well thought-out, does it?

Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke; (lines 32-3)

An exciting moment.  It sort of sounds like the Light Brigade is winning right now, doesn't it?  Can't you picture this moment in a movie, when the two armies collide?  We imagine Russell Crowe out in front, swinging his sword and killing three enemy soldiers with every blow, riding through the smoke like it wasn't even there.  OK, maybe that's just us, but you can still feel the clashing, noisy, smelly impact of this line, right?

Reeled from the sabre stroke    
   Shattered and sundered. (lines 35-6)

Even though this is a poem about war, it doesn't say much about real, brutal violence.  Here's one spot where it definitely does, though.  We feel the force and the agony of cutting swords splitting ("sundering") flesh and bone.  Nice poetic style moment too – hear all those "s" sounds?  "Sabre," "stroke," "shattered," "sundered."  Cool, huh?  That's why they paid Tennyson the big bucks.

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