Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem, “The Charge of the Light Brigade”, is a narrative of the of the Battle of Balaclava during the Crimean War in 1854. Tennyson frames The Charge Of The Light Brigade as noble and courageous, but subtly criticizes the consequences of following the lead of authority when in doubt. The first, second, and final stanza demonstrate these ideas best. The first stanza opens with the phrase “half a league“ repeated three times, conveying two possible meanings tennyson could be referring to the distance the Brigade was to the enemy liner Another possibility is that the phrase intended to set imagery of incompletion; that the Light Brigade was only half of the armed forces.
The stanza ends, “Into the valley of Death/ Rode the six hundred” foreshadowing the fate of the charging force. The second stanza opens up repeating the line “Forward, the Light Brigade!” implying the leader is reaffirming the command he gave in the first stanza, as if his assurance of his decisions are faltering.
Line 10 gives the scene the idea of hesitation when posing the idea of dismay in the form of a question. The next lines reflect how the leader of the Light Brigade decided to follow through his orders even though he believed it was a mistake by declaring that “someone had blundered”. The most famous lines of the poem, “Theirs not to make reply Theirs not to reason why theirs but to do and die,” is a use of a double entendre. Tennyson could be emphasizing the courage of the soldiers to charge into the valley despite doubts of the outcome.
However, this verse could also criticize the injustice of silencing those who have to experience the decisions those in higher ranks make. This interpretation illuminates the dehumanization of soldiers whom Thoreau describes as “wooden men who can be manufactured to serve their purpose well.” The stanza ends the same way as the first, solidifying the fate of the Brigade in the valley of Death.
The final stanza starts by posing a question, “When can their glory fade?”. It could be that tennyson may be continuing the idea of blind obedience by asking when we will stop glorifying actions like this. He ends the poem recognizing the charge of the six hundred, referring to them as noble, but maybe more honorable for those who decided it was better to retreat and live to fight another day. Many people believe that “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is a poem written just to commemorate the bravery and loss of the six—hundred. But, Tennyson’s use of double entendres and double meanings also makes the reader question if the poem is actually a criticism of obedience to command, especially when skeptical Either way, Tennyson illustrates the potential and realistic costs of ‘just following orders’.