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Compare and Contrast The Charge of the Light Brigade with Dulce ET Decorum Est

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The Charge of the Light Brigade is written by Lord Alfred Tennyson and describes the tragedy of six hundred heroic men on 25 October 1854.. We get the impression it was an Officer of high rank who relayed this story to the poet due to the constant detailed strategy. The second poem, Dulce et Decorum Est, is written by Wilfred Owen, detailing a scene from World War 1. This poem details the cruel suffering these heroic men experienced seen through the eyes of the Commanding Officer on scene.

There are 60 years between these two poems which is immediately obvious with cannons and sabres in The Charge of the Light Brigade and the use of gas in Dulce et Decorum Est. Although these two poems are 60 years apart, the horrors and tragedies are similar but it is the poets who paint them in different colours. Lord Alfred Tennyson paints his poem in radiant colours with shining brass as this elite British cavalry force attempt to recapture the guns.

They are proudly and heroically charging as a unit “Flashed all their sabres bare” into a situation that we, the reader, know can only end in tragedy and suffering. Wilfred Owen’s palette consists of the more murky colours of mud and blood running into each other detailing the actual suffering of the individual soldiers as it happens. There is a fast, charging pace in Lord Tennyson’s poem with a rhythmic beat which helps set the scene. In contrast, Wilfred Owen’s poem is more descriptive and slow in pace which helps the reader to understand the suffering of the individuals.

The Charge of the Light Brigade is based on a episode of the Crimean War which took place on the 25 October 1854. The Light Brigade was an elite British cavalry force, made up of 630 men and horses, who were ordered to recapture the Turkish guns at the head of a valley. These guns had been captured by the Russians who had launched an attack on Balaclava, the Allied base. The inspiration behind this poem were three words written by The Times’ correspondent, W.H. Russell when informing that this ill fated attack was because “Someone had blundered”. According to Tennyson’s son, a few minutes after reading this editorial where this phrase occurred, this poem was born.

Lord Alfred Tennyson was much admired by Queen Victoria, and was made poet Laureate. This made him the official state poet; therefore, he would record National events through his poetry. Although this poem also records tragedy and failure it emphasises true courage and bravery, which can only strengthen the admiration and respect from the reader for these ill-fated heroes. This heroism also reinforces patriotism within the population creating more unity. The deaths of these men were not in vain; they died for their Country, this is what makes them heroes.

Verse one is setting the scene. It immediately starts with

“Half a league, half a league,

Half a league onward,

All in the valley of Death”

Tennyson is setting the pace at a gallop. He also creates the feeling of an adrenaline rush. The repetition creates this effect with its rhythmic meter. There is the biblical and symbolic reference to the Valley of Death which tells the reader that these soldiers are being sent like lambs to the slaughter – dying for their country. This immediately creates dramatic tension.

Tennyson writes this poem in the third person, which tells the reader that he is not actually there this is indicated when he writes

“…’Charge for the guns!’ he said;

Into the valley of Death

Rode the six hundred.”

These three lines outline the objective of the Light Brigade, emphasising their fate with repetition of the biblical symbolism and finally reminding the reader, again with repetition, the number of men involved. These three lines create tremendous dramatic tension by reiterating the futility of this exercise.

In verse two Tennyson increases the dramatic tension one hundred fold. He asks the rhetorical question “Was there a man dismayed?” which is, in effect, emphasising how brave the Light Brigade were. He continues to say

“Not though the soldier knew

Someone had blundered:”

Here is the thunder bolt – these men are risking their lives due to an error. This is the only time the error is mentioned, almost as if it was an incidental part of the battle. Tennyson has taken these three words, “Someone had blundered” as a direct quote from W.H. Russell’s editorial in The Times. These are the three words that had such a powerful effect on Tennyson himself. He doesn’t expand on the error or point the finger of blame, he simply states the fact. It is in these two lines that the reader senses an element of fear. However, fear is never an issue with the Light Brigade themselves. After this shock declaration, Tennyson reminds the reader of the galloping, adrenalin charged pace when he writes

“Their’s not to make reply,

Their’s not to reason why,

Their’s but to do and die:”

These three lines also very simply emphasise not only how disciplined these brave men and horses were but also their total trust in their Commanding Officers and masters respectively.

Verse three depicts the Light Brigade as victims charging into an ambush. It begins with the galloping effect, this time illustrating the actual danger this elite force is charging into.

“Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them

Cannon in front of them”

These three lines give an onomatopoeic effect of anticipation, adrenalin rising, hearts beating harder as they continue their charge. Tennyson fuels this tension further when he writes

“Volleyed and thundered;

Stormed at with shot and shell,

Boldly they rode and well,”

Here Tennyson uses alliteration creating the whistling effect of flying shells. This Unit is surrounded on three sides and are under attack but they continue courageously with their assignment. Tennyson reminds us of their fate, again using biblical symbolism when he writes

“Into the jaws of Death,

Into the mouth of Hell”

This is very descriptive writing, ‘Jaws’ describing the three sides of ambush and waiting to eat these innocent souls. Again, biblical reference is emphasised by the personification of Hell in the form of this erroneous valley.

“Rode the six hundred” is the last time the Light Brigade are referred to as a complete live unit. This is relevant as it tells the reader not one of these heroic soldiers retreated but continued as one fighting force.

Verse four now depicts the Light Brigade as an attacking force, charging enemy lines. The verse starts with

“Flashed all their sabres bare,

Flashed as they turned in air

Sabring the gunners there”

The galloping and adrenalin’ fuelled pace is maintained, with the adrenalin running at an all time high. These men are reacting to adversity from close quarters. These lines are also onomatopoeic, giving the swishing, cutting motion of metal through air and flesh.

“Charging an army, while

All the world wondered:”

This confirms the Light Brigade are still as one even against great adversity, striving to achieve their goal. The world is in great admiration for this elite force, perhaps speculatively holding their breath for the end result.

“Plunged in the battery – smoke

Right through the line they broke”

This rhyming couplet emphasises the galloping and adrenalin charged pace from the first three lines of this verse. This displays the true grit and determination of these valiant men and their steeds. Even through their impaired vision (due to heavy gun fire which would also sting their eyes) the remainder of this elite force managed to break the enemy line and continue their fearless attack from close quarters.

“Reeled from the sabre – stroke

Shattered and sundered”

This details alliteratively the slashed destruction this brave unit dealt on the enemy.

“Then they rode back, but not

Not the six hundred.”

The Light Brigade is now divided, incomplete – this is emphasised by the repetitive use of the word ‘Not’. Death is not mentioned – it doesn’t need to be mentioned.

Verse five recounts the aftermath. It is almost a reflection of Verse three, accept this time the ‘Cannon behind them’. The galloping effect continues with the remaining unit returning to base. A further variation is shown when Tennyson writes

“While horse and hero fell,

They that had fought so well”

He reminds the reader that this unit was not just a team of heroic men but also their courageous steeds.

“All that was left of them,

Left of six hundred.”

No number is specified here, but the poet implies very few soldiers and horses survived this onslaught. He allows the reader to decide how few they think may have survived.

Finally verse six is a salutation to this incredibly brave, elite force. He opens this verse with the rhetorical question,

“When can their glory fade?

O the wild charge they made”

He is telling us that this unit will never be forgotten because of their extreme bravery and heroism.

“Honour the charge they made!

Honour the Light Brigade,

Noble six hundred!”

Here, Tennyson is instructing the reader to respect this heroic Force and their courageous efforts. This is emphasised by the repetition of honour and use of exclamation marks. This is an anthem – glorifying their name and memory of a truly patriotic elite Force.

This poem creates a sense of urgency and determination. He repeatedly creates a galloping pace with a sense of purpose. There is no deviation from this purpose even when the Light Brigade are faced with great adversity. The poet’s clever use of word repetition combined with the rhythmic meter arouses the reader’s emotions. Verse one sets the scene and the pace. Tennyson still manages to create a sense of foreboding with his biblical symbolism of “the valley of Death”. Although there is this sense of foreboding, the Light Brigade have a duty to carry out the orders of their Commanding Officers.

It is in the second verse when the reader’s emotions begin to ride high. It is when the reader is informed

“Not though the soldier knew

Someone had blundered:”

Frustration is now felt because the reader now realises the doomed fate of this elite force is down to one person’s mistake. We are aware of this unit charging into the wrong valley knowing that it can only end in tragedy. This almost makes the reader want to give up. It is Tennyson’s clever galloping pace that pushes the reader on into this massacre.

Verse three shows the Light Brigade being swallowed “Into the jaws of Death” quite literally as they are surrounded in a jaw – like fashion with

“Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them”

This is extremely descriptive and leaves the reader with the impression that there will be no survivors, as the enemy does not need hand to hand combat to slay the Brigade as they have cannon power. However, Tennyson pushes us forward in verse four by turning the tables and making the Light Brigade become the assailants. As a reader this particular verse gives me a feeling of total admiration. Here is an elite Force faced with an impossible situation. They could have retreated and no one would of blamed them for doing so, but no, without question they continue with even more grit and determination. It is this action that makes them heroes.

They are representing us as a nation and are proving to the enemy that we run from no one and are not afraid to stare Death in the eye. Even more to their credit, this elite Force slash their way through the enemy lines leaving bodies in their wake. It could be said that the Light Brigade is symbolic of our country in stature – both being small. However, the Light Brigade, like our Country, is a Force to be reckoned with. It is in this verse that patriotism is at an all time high. Not only has this Force continued its challenge but has managed to come through the other side as victors leaving their mark.

Tennyson continues with the galloping pace in verse five, echoing the words of verse three with slight variation. As a reader I feel quite exhausted (as obviously the surviving soldiers were) but the galloping speed is maintained until safety is reached.

The final verse, although brief, is praise for this heroic Light Brigade. There are not enough words to describe these courageous men and their steeds, so Tennyson has kept it simple but authoritative when he says

“Honour the charge they made!

Honour the Light Brigade,

Noble six hundred!”

These simple words create tremendous pride and make you feel that they should be shouted for the entire world to hear. These men are an inspiration to us all.

Dulce ET Decorum Est is a poem from 1914-1918 World War One. This poem is actually from 1915 to 1916. The poet, Wilfred Owen, was a Commanding Officer and he actually witnessed the true horror of war. Unfortunately, during this war the weaponry became more advanced and deadly. Chemical warfare was the new weapon. This was a perfect weapon for cowards as the poisonous gas could be released from cylinders or fired in shells five-miles away.

The enemy had the satisfaction of knowing that they could cause maximum suffering before death without having to witness it. The suffering from these gases wasn’t just from the lungs and eyes but also the visual appearance of the victims was like something from a horror film. The skin would turn greenish – black and yellow, tongue protruding with the eyes becoming a glassy stare. In addition to this the victim would be coughing up greenish froth.

The stimulation for Owen to write this poem was to share the true horror of this chemical war. To report death as a statistic is one thing but to describe the actual suffering these men had to endure before their release by death is something that needed to be told. In those days it was more likely a poet, especially one commanding a group of men, would be more likely to write in criticism of the horrors of modern warfare. Understandably, they would see the gruesome and painful death as an unnecessary horror.

It was futile to allow people to experience such painful death when the enemy wouldn’t be near enough to enjoy the ‘the pleasure’. In contrast, the Charge of the Light Brigade was close – quarter fighting. The enemy still needed to have the Light Brigade in their sights before firing the cannons. The sole concern was to kill as many of the elite force as possible. Unfortunately in World War One, it appears suffering was the main aim.

The main thing to bear in mind is that these soldiers weren’t just rank numbers to the Commanding Officers, they were ‘family’. These men very closely together shared all different kinds of emotion. For a Commanding Officer to see one of his men suffer so horrifically and slowly would be like watching his own brother or son. He would equally suffer the torture from frustration of not being able to help or relieve the pain. It could be said this poet suffered from World War One stress disorder as he continued to suffer nightmares after experiencing one of these chemical attacks.

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