Wednesday, November 11, 2009

FreeVerse: Charge of the Light Brigade (Tennyson)

Today's FreeVerse falls on Remembrance Day here in Canada. I thought of posting In Flanders Fields by John McCrae, given that he grew up not so far from me, but then "Theirs not to make reply, / Theirs not to reason why, / Theirs but to do & die" floated through my head. I want to post Tennyson's Charge of the Light Brigade, because very few poems for me bring home that feeling of terror, waste and incredible, brutal, individual bravery as this one -- and his charge at the end, not to forget but to honour, is perfect for today. Perhaps strangely, or perhaps not, this was one of the poems that my mother used to read to us when we were kids. I think she has it memorized. It was my introduction to Tennyson, and remains my favourite poem of his.

FreeVerse is hosted by Cara over at Ooh... Books! so head over their to find out more, or to join!

This poem, complete with punctuation, was found on the website of the University of Virginia, where they have digitized an original hand-written manuscript.


Charge of the Light Brigade

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:
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 & shell,
Boldly they rode & 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 turned 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 & thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot & 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!

4 comments:

Cara Powers said...

I'm jealous. I was looking for a poem read on YouTube in honor of Veteran's Day here in the US but all I could find was anti-war poetry, which I don't think is appropriate for honoring our veterans. I wish I'd known about this one. Good choice.

kiirstin said...

It's hard to strike the right balance; I also thought of posting the St. Crispin's day speech from Shakespeare's Henry V, which is also a masterful piece of war poetry. Except that I wanted something that was less about the glory of battle and more about how wretched it is while still being respectful of the sacrifices made.

J.T. Oldfield said...

O.K., this is really bad but this poem always reminds me of that episode of The Fresh Prince when the butler, Jeffrey (Geoffrey?) pretends to be that famous poet but then gets found out and starts reciting this one, beginning with the Canons to the left of them!

Great choice for today.

kiirstin said...

Oh no! Oh, that's funny. I'm glad I never saw that one, I probably wouldn't be able to get it out of my head either.