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Thread: Tennyson's "Charge" - propaganda or anti-war?

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    Tennyson's "Charge" - propaganda or anti-war?

    I always felt that Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" was an anti-war poem.

    A friend argues the opposite, stating that the poem reflected the jingoistic nature and sentimentality of Victorian England.

    What do you think?

    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
    Someone had blunder'd:
    Their's not to make reply,
    Their's not to reason why,
    Their's but to do and 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 and 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 and Russian
    Reel'd from the sabre stroke
    Shatter'd and 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 and 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 wondered.
    Honor the charge they made,
    Honor the Light Brigade,
    Noble six hundred.

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    Well it's unusual propaganda that celebrates a blunder in such terms and I can't see it as anti-war as it certainly carries a tone of admiration for dutiful soldiering. Sentimental? Maybe. Is there something wrong with sentiment? It doesn't fit either simplistic division. What exactly is anti-war poetry anyway? Can you stop a tank with the stuff? If Sassoon's poetry is anti-war it's clear his own behaviour wasn't. Same with Owen. Yeats described their work as poetry of mute suffering or some such sarcastic comment. Personally I think Sassoon was a terrific poet period. He just happened to be young at that time and that cataclysm became his most memorable subject. Tennyson never had to go through that. But he's not a lesser man or poet for that.

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    Vincit Qui Se Vincit Virgil's Avatar
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    I don't think it's anti-war at all. It celebrates honor, courage, and duty. The lines:
    Flash'd all their sabres bare,
    Flash'd as they turn'd in air,
    The word "falsh" shows the swords in a brilliant and positive light. There is no cynicism here.
    LET THERE BE LIGHT

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    Registered User sudeepp's Avatar
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    More of a tribute

    Hardly an anti-War work of poetry.
    You should visit the BBC website.
    They've a recording of Tennyson, reading out 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' (it was a wax-cylinder recording made at his place, by Edison's agents. It's awesome) and if you listen to it, you'll notice a tinge of pride in his voice, as he recites it. But don't go by that; it could be my imagination, and little more.
    Honour the Light Brigade,
    Noble six hundred!
    One could, of course, look at the last line as having been written with the intention of being sarcastic, but taking into consideration the fact that the aforementioned poem was written in the Victorian age (which, as every student of British literature knows, was characterised not primarily, but nevertheless quite importantly, by immense national pride), that is highly unlikely.
    I see the poem as a glorification of those who 'nobly sacrificed their lives, that the nation may be safe' i.e. died in the charge against the Russians, during the Crimean War.
    Think the Cenotaph in London - 'The Glorious Dead'
    Propaganda? Maybe, considering the fact that the poem eventually reached the troops in Crimea, in pamphlet-form. However, I don't quite think that Tennyson wrote it with that end in mind.
    What say?

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    Fingertips of Fury B-Mental's Avatar
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    It definitely romanticizes a military blunder of immense proportions... I think that there is very little intention to write this as a anti-war poem. I do truly love this poem for its metre, imagery, and rhyme.
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    Registered User Joyeuse's Avatar
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    I think Charge is an anti-war poem in the sense that it criticizes the higher-ups that were dumb enough to make the move, but at the same time tries to be proud of the soldiers that fought anyway. (Trying to compare it to modern times, kind of like the way some people are like, we shouldn't be in Iraq, but we should still support the troops fighting there.) That's what I think Tennyson was trying for.
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    Registered User kelby_lake's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by B-Mental View Post
    It definitely romanticizes a military blunder of immense proportions... I think that there is very little intention to write this as a anti-war poem. I do truly love this poem for its metre, imagery, and rhyme.
    I would go for this as well. It doesn't question the necessity of riding into the jaws of death but admires the soldiers for their courage.

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    In the fog Charles Darnay's Avatar
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    This is an interesting question - particularly in light of post-structural analysis. I think if this poem were written post-WWI, it would certainly be anit-war - along the lines of Owen's Dulce. Lines such as:

    Theirs not to make reply,
    Theirs not to reason why,
    Theirs but to do and die:
    Into the valley of Death
    Rode the six hundred.
    Smacks of irony, or bitterness.

    However, Tennyson was a Medievalist, where was was not bitter, and where a solder's death was glorified. In this case, I think you have to take the author into account, and rule out what our Post-WWI worldview would call "Anti-War poetry"
    I wrote a poem on a leaf and it blew away...

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