Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Poetic view of the Charge of the Heavy Brigade

Some time back in July I wrote a blog entry entitled 'Poetic views of the Charge of the Light Brigade'. In response to this one of my regular blog readers – Archduke Piccolo – drew my attention to Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem entitled "The Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava". He implied in his comment that it was – in comparison with his "The Charge of the Light Brigade" – not a very good poem. He was right ... and now you can see why for yourselves!


"The Charge of the Heavy Brigade at Balaclava"
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

The charge of the gallant three hundred, the Heavy Brigade!
Down the hill, down the hill, thousands of Russians,
Thousands of horsemen, drew to the valley – and stay’d;
For Scarlett and Scarlett’s three hundred were riding by
When the points of the Russian lances arose in the sky;
And he call’d, ‘Left wheel into line!’ and they wheel’d and obey’d.
Then he look’d at the host that had halted he knew not why,
And he turn’d half round, and he bade his trumpeter sound
To the charge, and he rode on ahead, as he waved his blade
To the gallant three hundred whose glory will never die –
‘Follow,’ and up the hill, up the hill, up the hill,
Follow’d the Heavy Brigade.

The trumpet, the gallop, the charge, and the might of the fight!
Thousands of horsemen had gather’d there on the height,
With a wing push’d out to the left and a wing to the right,
And who shall escape if they close? but he dash’d up alone
Thro’ the great gray slope of men,
Sway’d his sabre, and held his own
Like an Englishman there and then.
All in a moment follow’d with force
Three that were next in their fiery course,
Wedged themselves in between horse and horse,
Fought for their lives in the narrow gap they had made –
Four amid thousands! and up the hill, up the hill,
Gallopt the gallant three hundred, the Heavy Brigade.

Fell like a cannon-shot,
Burst like a thunderbolt,
Crash’d like a hurricane,
Broke thro’ the mass from below,
Drove thro’ the midst of the foe,
Plunged up and down, to and fro,
Rode flashing blow upon blow,
Brave Inniskillens and Greys
Whirling their sabres in circles of light!
And some of us, all in amaze,
Who were held for a while from the fight,
And were only standing at gaze,
When the dark-muffled Russian crowd
Folded its wings from the left and the right,
And roll’d them around like a cloud, –
O, mad for the charge and the battle were we,
When our own good redcoats sank from sight,
Like drops of blood in a dark-gray sea,
And we turn’d to each other, whispering, all dismay’d,
‘Lost are the gallant three hundred of Scarlett’s Brigade!’

‘Lost one and all’ were the words
Mutter’d in our dismay;
But they rode like victors and lords
Thro’ the forest of lances and swords
In the heart of the Russian hordes,
They rode, or they stood at bay –
Struck with the sword-hand and slew,
Down with the bridle-hand drew
The foe from the saddle and threw
Underfoot there in the fray –
Ranged like a storm or stood like a rock
In the wave of a stormy day;
Till suddenly shock upon shock
Stagger’d the mass from without,
Drove it in wild disarray,
For our men gallopt up with a cheer and a shout,
And the foeman surged, and waver’d, and reel’d
Up the hill, up the hill, up the hill, out of the field,
And over the brow and away.

Glory to each and to all, and the charge that they made!
Glory to all the three hundred, and all the Brigade!


As poems go, it is pretty dire. It is no wonder that it has been forgotten ... and that it also seems to have 'disappeared' from several anthologies of Tennyson's poems.

4 comments:

  1. Tennyson was a wonderful poet and TS Eliot said he had the finest ear of any English poet since Milton. Unfortunately, he seemed to struggle with the demands of the Laureateship. Writing patriotic verse was perhaps not the best way to utilise his more reflective talents and melancholic air. Despite being so well known, even Charge of the Light Brigade is not a very good poem by comparison to something like his Ulysses. Thanks for an interesting post!

    Best,
    Aaron

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  2. On the whole I tend to agree with Prufrock in re 'The Charge of the Light Brigade', but it does have the virtue of being memorable - as does The Charge itself, of course.

    Speaking of the Battle of Balaclava in general literature, it is hard to go past G McD Fraser's 'Flashman at the Charge.' Harry Flashman was (according to the story) the only man who stood with the thin red streak, rode with the Heavy Brigade uphill into Russian Cavalry, and charged into the battery with the Lights. In trying to get away, he rode into legend...

    Great read.

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  3. Prufrock (Aaron),

    I suspect that you are right, and that the demands that came with the role of Poet Laureate did not sit well with Tennyson. It must have been quite a job to write poems on demand, especially if the topic was one you were not happy with or that did not fit in with your natural writing style.

    All the best,

    Bob

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  4. Archduke Piccolo,

    I have just finished reading the FLASHMAN book that deals with the Battle of Balaclava ... and it is - in my opinion - one of the best in the series, especially in its description of the battle.

    All the best,

    Bob

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