Sunday, July 3, 2011

Poetry Summer Week 6: The Charge of the Light Brigade

My 10-year-old son had a lot of trouble with the phonetic spelling of the French pronunciation of English words in De Stove Pipe Hole, but he was able to catch the times when what I said didn't seem to match up with what he was reading. He did a good job. So did I. :)

This week I am turning down Dan Wells' sub-challenge to memorize The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. With all due respect to the poetry masterpiece and to those who understand and like it, I've tried to read it several times now and got bored. If I don't like it enough to read it, I'm a-never gonna be able to memorize it. Sad but true. Besides, I'm using this poetry summer to memorize those poems that speak to me--mostly those which have spoken to me for years. Prufrock doesn't. Sorry, Dan.

The Charge of the Light Brigade, however, contains several lines that I've quoted over the years in conversation. Most particularly, the line "Theirs not to make reply, / Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do & die" strike me as poignant. So many times we are called upon to do things we don't understand, with orders handed down by people who can't fully appreciate our individual circumstances. There is a virtue in being a good soldier in many instances, but blind obedience is always scary. This is one of the reasons I'd rather be issuing orders than taking commands.

This poem is not about the Revolutionary War, but I suspect that war in general suffers from many similar moments of blunder and tragedy. Therefore, in honor of America's fight for independence so long ago, on the eve of Independence Day, I present The Charge of the Light Brigade.

The Charge Of The Light Brigade
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Memorializing Events in the Battle of Balaclava, October 25, 1854
Written 1854

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 & 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 & 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 & Russian
Reel'd from the sabre-stroke,
Shatter'd & 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 & 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!

Anyone else have issues with being good little soldiers?

Check out the #PoetrySummer hastag on Twitter to see who else is playing.


  1. Oh, what a great choice! If I had a better memory, this would be one I would choose for sure.

  2. Aww--it's not THAT long. And lots of the lines are repeats! :)

  3. OMG, I so remember this poem! We learned it one year in English. And yep, we memorized that sucker. I've completely forgotten it now, though. I needed the brain space. LOL. Thanks for the trip thru memory lane.

  4. To bad you can't provide a link to your presentation on these poems. It would have been interesting to hear your say last weeks poem.