Compare ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ and ‘The Defence of Lucknow’

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The Charge of the Light Brigade and The Defence of Lucknow were both written by Lord Alfred Tennyson. He was appointed poet laureate by Queen Victoria in 1850. Alfred Tennyson wrote war poems although he had never been to war before. He used imagery to make us feel as if we were onlookers of the war or through the soldiers’ point of view. The Charge of the Light Brigade is written in 3rd person whereas The Defence of Lucknow is written in 1st person.

Tennyson was a patriot and he showed his love for England through his writing. He was also a nationalist and did not like anyone who was of another race. We see this in The Defence of Lucknow.

In both poems he shows bravery and heroism of the soldiers, even though in The Charge of the Light Brigade the English lost to the Russians. He thought that being British meant you were superior to the rest of the world. He was not the only person who thought this way; many people in England had a racial prejudice against most of the world. This was also the reason that England went to fight Russia in the first place, they thought that Russia was getting too strong and conquering many countries just as they had done before.

In The Defence of Lucknow however, the English people wanted to take over India so they started to trade with them, soon they had taken over the trading companies and built their own palaces which still are in India today.

In both poems Tennyson uses various techniques to stir up emotions and gain sympathy for the British. In The Defence of Lucknow he talks about death and disease to show the soldiers’ suffering though not mentioning that it was England who wanted to occupy India in the beginning and were now suffering for that reason. On the other hand in The Charge of the Light Brigade he doesn’t even mention the death of the six hundred soldiers but shows that they died through changing the refrain line which is the last line of each stanza. He does this to make the soldiers sound heroic and to make it sound as if they won.

He highlights the British superiority and writes as if just because of one mistake “Great men” lost their lives. The Charge of the Light Brigade is a short fast-paced poem as the actual charge lasted less than a few minutes but there was a lot of action in that little bit of time. Tennyson shows the rhythm of the battle with the rhythm of the poem. The rhythm in the Charge of the Light Brigade is like the rhythm of galloping horses which also shows the bravery of the soldiers. The Defence of Lucknow is a long slow poem just like the battle. It does not have a particular rhythm altogether but each stanza separately has its own rhythm.

The Defence of Lucknow starts of with ‘Banner of England, not for a season, O banner of Britain, hast thou’ this is showing that the British thought they were superior to everyone else and because they were growing stronger they thought they could not be defeated. This first stanza talks about their banner and how it is raised high in battles and also on rooftops of all the palaces they had built and conquered. Tennyson uses phrases like ‘Conquering Battle’ and ‘Mightier Glory’ to how the British peoples pride in their banners. The refrain line of this poem is ‘And ever upon the topmost roof our banner of England blew’. A refrain line is the last line which is repeated at the end of each stanza. This line shows the British pride and it also tells us that England were gaining control all around the world

The Charge of the Light Brigade however, does not have such an optimistic start. It begins with ‘Half a league, half a league, half a league onward, all in the valley of death’ it is getting us into the rhythm of the battle and the horses. The refrain line of this poem also gives this impression as it is ‘rode the six hundred’ this also shows the bravery of the soldiers and gives them a more superior feeling. The beginning of this stanza is also telling us that we should not expect the British to win because the soldiers are entering a valley in which they will die. The valley of death is also a line in a Christian funeral prayer which emphasizes on death. To me it sounds like from the beginning Tennyson is making excuses on behalf of the soldiers by mentioning that they were only half a league which is six hundred soldiers and so they must have been outnumbered, Tennyson does not want the people to believe that the British never won because the soldiers were not good at fighting and he is giving the people reading the poem a different thing to blame for losing.

Tennyson doesn’t use the name of the commander; he just mentions the command that was given, ‘Forward the Light Brigade! Charge for the guns! He said’ the name isn’t mentioned because Tennyson doesn’t think that he deserved to be named as he had been the cause of the death or severe injury of 600 of England’s greatest soldiers. ‘Not though the soldiers knew someone had blundered’ that someone was lord cardigan. I don’t think it was right for any of the soldiers to follow that command as they all probably knew that it would result in their deaths, although at the time if they had refused to follow a command made by a leader or tried to correct the leader they would have been seen as cowards. In my opinion it is better to be seen as a coward than to try and prevent many innocent lives being lost. In the future those people would have been seen as heroes for saving the Charge the embarrassing defeat that occurred.

In the second stanza of both poems, Tennyson starts to talk about the battles. The Defence of Lucknow tells us about the death of their commander, Lawrence. It praises him as if he was a really great person. Tennyson is a patriot so he is showing his admiration of Lawrence so that everyone remembers him unlike the commander in The Charge of the Light Brigade. To increase our sympathy for the British Tennyson tells us how the British are not giving up even though their commander is dead. In most cases in a battle, when the commander dies it is like the whole battle has been lost but the English would rather die than surrender to the Indians.

The Defence of Lucknow also talks about the fact that the soldiers wives and children were in India while the battle was going on. It says ‘Women and children among us, God help them, our children and wives.’ It is trying to create sympathy for the British by saying that the Indians had no regard for innocent people, although it is the English who weren’t considerate to others. They used to cover the bullets thy used with pig and cow fat. The pig is an impure animal for Muslims and the cow is sacred to the Hindus. These were the two main religions at this time in India. Tennyson is just trying to create sympathy and empathy for the English and hatred to the Indians.

The Defence of Lucknow describes the battle with a lot of death. It says ‘Every man die at his post’ then it repeats the word death at the beginning of almost every line in that stanza. It names each place where people were dying and mentions how as well. It sounds as if there are bullets flying everywhere because it says ‘Bullets would sing by our foreheads, and bullets would rain at our feet’. This repetition make it sound as if the British were surrounded which is how Tennyson wants us to feel, as if there is no hope for them. He also shows this by saying ‘Hold it we might-and for fifteen days or for twenty at most.’ This also shows that the British are no longer as optimistic as it described in the first stanza. This line also is asking for sympathy for the British as it shows a small chance of survival. It seems likely at this point that they will suffer at the hands of the Indians just as they had made them suffer before.

In The Charge of the Light Brigade Tennyson describes the battle using repetition and by giving the image of a surrounded army. It says ‘Cannon to the right of them, cannon to the left of them, cannon in front of them.’ He also uses the phrase ‘volleyed and thundered’. This use of onomatopoeia describes the explosions. In The Defence of Lucknow he also talks about the ‘cannon shot, musket shot and volley on volley to describe the actual battle. Tennyson describes the battles with strong imagery so we feel a though we can see what is happening in the battle.

In the Charge of the Light Brigade Tennyson uses alliteration in ‘stormed at with shot and shell’ to emphasise the feeling that the soldiers were surrounded. He wants to create the same impression that he does in The Defence of Lucknow that there are explosions everywhere. To create a worse feeling of the battle in both poems he uses the word hell. In The Charge of the Light Brigade it says ‘Into the jaws of death, into the mouth of hell’. In this poem he is trying again to say that the soldiers have no escape. In The Defence of Lucknow he says ‘heat like the mouth of a hell’ this does not describe the fact that they are going to die as the mention of hell in The Charge of the Light Brigade, but it is talking about the conditions in India. The English who were not used to of the hot days in India felt as if they were in hell which was not helped by the fact that all the cannons were letting sulphur into the skies and making everything hotter. All of this also causes the skies to darken which they associate with hell just like dark people.

In The Defence of Lucknow it talks about the suffering of the soldiers. I think that the soldiers are confused and didn’t know what to do since their leader was dead as it says ‘kill or be kill’d, live or die, they shall know we are soldiers and men’ this quote is also saying that they are superior, that they are soldiers and men and that the Indians weren’t. In The Charge of the Light Brigade however the soldiers know exactly what they are going to do and even know what the outcome will be. Tennyson explains to us that the light brigade had no choice but to follow the orders of the commanders, he says ‘theirs is not to make reply, theirs is not to reason why, theirs is but to do and die’. Even so Tennyson till describes their bravery as well as their talent when he says, ‘boldly they rode and well’. This is not the only time he mentions their talent, he also mentions it while the battle is going on. He says ‘lashed all their sabres bare, flashed as they turned in air’. This is a very important point to remember, the British army only had ‘sabres’, swords which cannot be expected to do much when the enemy has guns.

The Charge of the Light Brigade at first makes the impression that the British have won as it says ‘reeled from the sabre-stroke, shattered and sundered’ but it goes on to say ‘then they rode back, but not, not the six hundred’. The refrain line has changed form rode the six hundred to not the six hundred. This tells us that the British are either dead or too injured to return. Tennyson praises them so much by saying ‘when can their glory fade, O the wild charge they made, all the world wondered, honour the charge they made, honour the light brigade, noble six hundred’ this sounds as if the British had won.

The Defence of Lucknow gives a clearer version of the soldiers suffering, in one whole stanza he makes an appeal for sympathy, it talks about the fact that the Indians attacked day and night so they barely got a chance for rest, that there were only a few of them so they had to the work of fifty with only five people and that when they died they couldn’t have a proper burial with a coffin and many people were not buried for days and caused diseases. Tennyson does not tell us the weaknesses of the British so we don’t think of them as superior anymore but to show that all this they went through and they managed to survive. He goes on to talk about the country itself, how it had cataract skies, skies which were fully covered with sulphur because of guns and that there was the ‘infinite torment of flies’ above all that he mentions the breezes of May in England to make us feel sorry for the British who were fighting in extreme heat and were not used to it.

At the end when Outram and Havelock come and rescue them, Tennyson describes them as angels. The British win and again think they are superior and ridicule the idea that Indians could beat them.

When describing the enemy in The Defence of Lucknow, Tennyson uses racism he calls them things like dark faces even while praising them. When he is praising the Indians who fought alongside the British so they could earn a status he thanks the Indian brothers who have dark faces. He also calls the Indians fighting against them brutes and murderous moles, this is because the Indians fought from underground and they would be camouflaged by the earth. When Tennyson wanted to describe them as heartless he compared the Indians to tigers because tigers are vicious and they do not care what they kill as long as they will gain from it. He also believed that the Indians should not have fought against the British in the first place because they were supposed to be under the British rule and so calls them traitors.

In The Charge of the Light Brigade, Tennyson makes no racial remarks about the enemy as they are Russian. He only mentions once that the enemy is ‘Cossack and Russian’ and that was it.

I liked the Charge of the Light Brigade better than The Defence of Lucknow because it wasn’t as long and had less reference to death and race. I found The Defence of Lucknow was too dramatic because of the “superiority” of the British made it less realistic. I liked the fact that The Charge of the Light Brigade was deceiving so you had to think more to realise what the poem actually meant.

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