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The Charge of the Light Brigade (poem)

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

"The Charge of the Light Brigade" is an 1854 narrative poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson about the Charge of the Light Brigade at the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War. He was the Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom at the time he wrote the poem.

The poem was written on December 2, 1854, and it was published on December 9, 1854 in The Examiner.

Contents

HistoryEdit

CompositionEdit

During the 1850s, when Great Britain was engaged in the Crimean War and feared invasion from Russia, Tennyson wrote several patriotic poems under various pseudonyms. Scholars speculate that Tennyson created his pen names because these verses used a traditional structure Tennyson employed in his earlier career but suppressed during the 1840s,[1] worrying that poems like "The Charge of the Light Brigade" (which he initially signed only A.T.) "might prove not to be decorous for a poet laureate".[2]

The poem was written after the Light Cavalry Brigade suffered great casualties in the Battle of Balaclava. Tennyson wrote the poem based on two articles published in The Times: the first, published in November, 1854, provided the phrase "Some one has blunder'd" and thus the meter of the poem.[3] The poem was written in a few minutes on December 2 of the same year, based on a recollection of that account;[4] Tennyson wrote other similar poems, like "Riflemen, form in town and in Shrine" in a similar manner.[5]

Later versionsEdit

Tennyson made revisions to the poem due to criticisms by the American poet Frederick Goddard Tuckerman and others;[6] these were published in Tennyson's volume Maud and Other Poems. These changes were criticized by several, including both Tennyson and Tuckerman.

Tennyson sent a version of the poem, after correcting the revisions in Maud, at the soldiers' request.[7] There, it was distributed in pamphlet form at the behest of Jane, Lady Franklin.[8] The same version was used for the second printing of Maud.[7]

Tennyson recited this poem onto a wax cylinder in 1890.

Kipling's postscriptEdit

Rudyard Kipling's poem "The Last of the Light Brigade" (1891), written some 40 years after the appearance of "The Charge of the Light Brigade," focuses on the terrible hardships faced in old age by veterans of the Crimean War, as exemplified by the cavalry men of the Light Brigade. Its purpose was to shame the British public into offering financial assistance.[9]

Later referencesEdit

 
A painting of the Charge of the Light Brigade, the event that inspired the poem
  • The poem is referenced in Eugene V. Debs' Canton Speech (1918).
  • The film The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) features a quote from the poem, when United States Navy Commander Shears remarks on the guts of Colonel Nicholson, who stands to face the possibility of death for refusing that his officers participate in manual labor.
  • At the beginning of the horror film Burnt Offerings (1976), patriarch Ben prophetically foreshadows his family's destruction by paraphrasing, "Forward into the Valley of Death rode the six hundred." He says this for no apparent reason as his family first enters an isolated mansion in the country they intend to rent; none of them realize that the mansion is evil and requires periodic human sacrifice to renovate itself.
  • In the 1985 film Clue, Tim Curry states he is quoting Sir Alfred Lloyd Tennyson when he says "Ours is not to question why, ours is to do and die."
  • In the 1985 film The Falcon and the Snowman, protagonist Chris Boyce recites several lines of the poem in response to insistent prompting by his father.
  • In 1990, an episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air entitled, "Def Poet's Society", features a poem based on The Charge of the Light Brigade. The sitcom's character, Geoffrey, impersonating a fictional famous poet named Raphael DeLaGhetto, recites a paraphrased version of the poem. Notably, he quotes, "CANNONS, TO THE LEFT OF THEM. CANNONS, TO THE RIGHT OF THEM. VOLLEYED AND THUNDERED".
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode Sacrifice of Angels, (Season six episode six, 1997), as the USS Defiant and a Federation fleet are about to go into battle against a much larger enemy force, Miles O'Brien and Julian Bashir recite lines from the poem until Nog asks them to stop. Later in the episode Elim Garak asks how that poem ends, to be told by O'Brien "You don't want to know."[10]
  • In the film Saving Private Ryan (1998), Private Reiben asks why eight men are sent to save one. Corporal Timothy E. Upham replies with a quote from the poem, "Theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die". Captain Miller responds that it is about their "duty as soldiers" to follow their orders, which supersedes everything, including their mothers, even if they think the mission is doomed to failure. Captain Miller shows his acquaintance with Emerson's works too. The film later reveals that Captain Miller taught English composition at Thomas Alva Edison High School for eleven years before the war. This would explain why he instantly knew the quote and understood the meaning.
  • Jean Johnson's military sci-fi book series, Theirs Not To Reason Why, and the first book, A Soldier's Duty, were nominated for the Philip K. Dick Award in 2011.[11]
  • In a response to the near destruction of Taffy 3 at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the padding in Admiral Nimitz's inquiry about Halsey's Battleship Task Force, "Where is TF 34?" was "The world wonders." Some speculate that it is a reference to the poem and a comment on the heroic but near suicidal charge of the three destroyers, four destroyer escorts, and lightly armed bombers and fighters of Taffy 3 against the Japanese Centre Force, made up of battleships, including the Yamato, heavy cruisers, light cruisers, and 11 destroyers.[12]
  • The poem inspired the Iron Maiden song "The Trooper" (1983).[13]
  • The character Dr. Reed Akley on Manhattan recites three lines of the poem, in Episode 12.[14]
  • The TV show Top Gear referenced the poem and its origins in series 21, episode 3, during a trip through Ukraine. When stopping at a spot near the battlefield, the team commented on the event and Richard Hammond quoted Tennyson's poem.[15]
  • In the film The Blind Side (2009) Michael Oher doesn't know what to write about in his final English essay. His adoptive father quotes the first two stanzas and explains them using a football analogy.[16]
  • It is referenced in The Light Brigade (1996) episode of The Outer Limits television series.
  • It is referenced in Saigon 1982 by Alexander Grey when Paul Devraux replies to Joseph Sherman's questions about fighting for France against the Vietnamese while in Diem Bien Phu, "a good soldier,remember, isn't supposed to reason why-- just do and die".
  • The poem is referenced in the closing lyrics of KMFDM's song "Professional Killer" from their 2005 album Hau_Ruck.
  • It is referenced in the 2016 Johnny Flynn song "Heart Sunk Hank" on the album Sillion. The lyric in the first verse says, "'Ours is but to do and die', said Alfred to the Charging Light".

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Francis 113
  2. ^ Shannon and Ricks 3
  3. ^ Shannon and Ricks 1
  4. ^ Shannon and Ricks 2
  5. ^ Francis 115
  6. ^ Shannon and Ricks 7
  7. ^ a b Shannon and Ricks 10
  8. ^ Alfred Lord Tennyson, Poems, ed. Hallam Lord Tennyson and annotated by Alfred Lord Tennyson (London: Macmillan, 1908), II, 369.
  9. ^ Brighton, Terry (2005), Hell Riders: The True Story of the Charge of the Light Brigade, Penguin 
  10. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M1r9xljkCg0
  11. ^ "2011 Awards". Philip Dick Award. January 2012. 
  12. ^ Hornfischer, James D. Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors. 
  13. ^ "Iron Maiden". Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  14. ^ "Manh(a)ttan Recap: Thin Man Implodes". Scientific American. Retrieved 24 October 2014. 
  15. ^ "Top Gear series 21, episode 3". BBC2. February 16, 2014. 
  16. ^ John Lee Hancock, The Blind Side. 20 November 2009 (USA)

BibliographyEdit

External linksEdit