From the pre-1914 selection, choose two poems that show different attitudes towards war and soldiers. Give an account of each poem showing the contrasting ideas of the poets. Show how language is used to effect.
I have chosen to base my assignment on two poems, called ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ and ‘The Hyaenas.’ I have chosen to study these two poems because they have completely different opinions on war and soldiers. One focuses on the negative side of war and the other on the positive side. I think that this will make it more interesting to study and also fits in perfectly with what has been assigned for me to do.
The Charge of the Light Brigade
The Crimean War took place in 1854 when Nicholas I was the emperor of Russia. The War came about because Nicholas claimed that he had the right to protect all the Christians in the lands ruled by Turkey. The Sultan of Turkey was encouraged by the British Ambassador to refuse any interference with his empire, resulting in a War. The War was not very well managed at all. The armies, who were sent to attack Russia, went without enough food supplies or clothing to protect them from the winter cold.
There were also no proper arrangements made to care for the sick and wounded. The situation continued to decline and the Allies’ transport system broke down. Urgently needed stores were left rotting on the shore. When Florence Nightingale arrived at the hospital at Scutari she found no bandages, no laundry system, no sanitary arrangements and not even a scrubbing brush or a cake of soap.
The Allied Generals decided to attack the part of Russia called the Crimea, which is a peninsula sticking out into the Black Sea. In September 1854, 57,000 troops landed there and began to advance towards the port of Sebastopool. They beat off a Russian attack and a few days later surrounded Sebastopool and the siege began. In vain, the Russian forces tried to break through to relieve Sebastopool. At the Battle of Balaclava on October 25th they captured some Turkish guns. Lord Raglan the British commander, sent orders to the Light Brigade to recapture them. A fatal confusion of these orders resulted in Lord Cardigan leading the Light Brigade in the wrong direction between heights dominated by Russian guns. The charge was completed with heavy losses and many men died. The battle itself, of modest significance, ended inconclusively. The action was immortalized in Tennyson’s ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade.’
Tennyson was Queen Victoria’s poet laureate and he was commissioned by the government to write the poem in honour of the Light Brigade and to rally public support for the war. Tennyson was not a soldier and had no first hand experience of war. The poem gives a very impressionistic, exciting view of the battle, and the focus is on the courage and determination of the men – not the mistake that led to so many deaths. The poem is a piece of propaganda. It presents positive images of soldiers dying for their country.
The Charge of the Light Brigade is a rather long poem, consisting of six stanzas. Each stanza describes a different part of the battle.
In the first stanza, the soldiers are riding towards the battle and towards their death. At the time, the soldiers no that they are going to die but this does not change their minds. Tennyson makes it clear to us that there are six hundred men riding to battle and he repeats this throughout the poem. This was to emphasise how many men were lost during the fight and how brave the survivors, as well as those who died, were.
“Rode the six hundred”
The men had been given an order, and therefore they had no other choice but to obey this command. The dialogue in the stanza shows that they were merely following orders and doing what was expected of them.
“Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!” he said.”
In the second stanza, they are still heading to the battle. Here, we are told that even though the soldiers knew someone had blundered and made the commander give them that order, they still obeyed the commands and continued on to battle. Tennyson emphasis the fact that the men were solely devoted to their duty. The soldiers would have been indoctrinated to believe that it is their duty to do as they are told and must not question any orders or commands that they are given.
“Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die:”
Once again, we are reminded that there are 600 men and they are all heading towards their death.
“Rode the six hundred”
In the third stanza, the men have actually arrived at their place of battle and have charged into the Russian artillery fire at the head of the valley of death. This is the last time that all of the 600 men ever rode together alive. Whilst they were riding, they were fired at from every angle. This is included to make us think of the men as being extremely brave to continue onto the battle.
The men should be seen as extremely heroic to continue on knowing that they were going to die. Tennyson describes the men as riding boldly and well even though they are being attacked. He does not mention the fact that they were all afraid and some were suffering from where they had been fired at. He only wants us to look at the positive and courageous side of the soldiers. The entrance to the battle is described as being the “jaws of death” and “the mouth of hell.” This personification makes the battle sound a lot worse than it actually was and makes us feel that the men are death-defying.
Stanza four, describes the battle itself. The men are now fighting and the Light Brigade is losing before it has even started. Tennyson does not want us to think about the fact that they are being defeated, and only tells us about the positive aspects of the fighting. He describes the armour and weapons hitting against one another, in a way that makes it sound daring and more like an adventure. According to the poem, no one appears to get hurt let alone killed.
“Flashed all their sabres bear.”
“Sabring the gunners there.”
We are told about the men hacking their way through the Russian gunners until they broke free to the enemy line, in a way that suggests yet more adventure and daring on the part of the Light Brigade.
“Plunged in the battery smoke.”
“Right through the line they broke”
It is described in a way that would make us think of the enemy as being quite weak and not bothering to put up much of a resistance. He uses sibilance to stress the harshness and aggression in the battle as the army was ripped apart and a lot of men were killed. The whole battle seems to end up in total confusion and chaos.
“Reeled from the sabre stroke”
“Shattered and sundered”
When the Light Brigade eventually surrenders to the Russians, they leave the battle with a fraction of the six hundred men they started with. The way in which this is written, makes us feel sorry for the soldiers.
Stanza five emphasises how the soldiers were surrounded by death traps. In reality, the Russians fought long and hard but Tennyson much prefers to focus on the courage and daring of the Light Brigade, against a terrifying enemy who continued to keep firing at them as they rode away.
“Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them”
Tennyson is determined to make us regard the Brigade as heroes, rather than victims. Even though they were fired at with everything and anything, they still carried on with their duty. We are given the impression that this would have been a narrative poem that had been passed down from generation to generation, making the soldiers sound more heroic each time it is told.
“They that had fought so well.”
The Light Brigade are portrayed as some kind of super-heroes with superhuman powers. They are described as coming,
“back from the jaws of death” and “back from the mouth of Hell
they are portrayed in a way that resembles Christ. Tennyson has written it in a way that describes them as having defeated death even though most of them had died and the few survivors did so merely through luck, but this is not told to us. All though not the full six hundred survived, we are supposed to think of them as being heroic and to have fought strong and bravely. In reality the Light Brigade had to retreat without capturing the guns. Tennyson avoids all mention of retreat and focuses instead on the men’s fighting skills.
“they that had fought so well”
Stanza six is bringing the poem to an end. The poet concludes the poem with a rousing verse of patriotism in which the reader is asked a rhetorical question about when the soldiers will stop being heroes and thought to be so brave. This is to make us think that they will never stop being heroes.
“When can their glory fade?”
We are encouraged to see the Light Brigade as heroes who have made a great charge and are men of great daring and death-defying courage. We are ordered to honour the Light Brigade and what they did for our country, for the rest of our lives. He is trying to make us send the men into history as heroes and a noble group, rather than victims of a terrible battle caused by a wrong order through which so many were killed and injured.
“the noble six hundred”
All of this is a result of someone else’s military blunder.
The Charge of the Light Brigade is written in a style that reminds us of an epic. The poem has a fast pace and rhythm, which would be to help build the positive, uplifting mood amongst the soldiers. This is due to the fact that they are riding on horseback, and there would be the drum of the horses’ hooves. The soldiers’ and horses’ had to be very fast. The style of rhythm that Tennyson uses, is known as a ‘Dactylic Rhythm.’ This is where a stressed syllable is followed by and unstressed syllable. It is a rousing, exciting rhythm to help create atmosphere of adventure not terror, death and suffering. As the first syllable of each line is stressed, it adds emphasis to the words at the beginning of the line, many of which add to the atmosphere of heroism, glory and adventure.
Tennyson wrote this poem as a deliberate piece of propaganda. He wrote the poem to try and display war as a great adventure and something, which brings great honour and glory to the soldiers not death and suffering. He tries to portray ordinary soldiers as heroes who only seek to serve their country by obeying orders, and as self-sacrificing men who did their duty even though they knew they might die. Tennyson makes light of the negative aspects of war. Even death is portrayed as something which can be overcome. Instead of telling us that the soldiers died, he says,
“While horse and hero fell”
The alliteration that is used on ‘horse’ and ‘hero’ is to draw our attention away from any images of suffering. Euphemism is also used on the word ‘fell,’ to tone down the sad and shocking event that is really happening. The word fell, suggests a slight accident rather than a terrifying, agonising death.
Repetition of words and phrases is used a lot throughout this poem. This is to try and make the poem more memorable, and to help the reader focus on the main images of heroism and glory.
“Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.”
These lines are repeated twice in the poem. Tennyson has chosen to repeat these lines to stress how heroic they were going into this deathly battle. We are also told how many men there are, to emphasise the fact that so many started out and only a fraction of them returned alive. He also chooses to repeat the lines,
“Cannon to the left of them
Cannon to the right of them.”
These lines are said at the beginning of the poem, and also at the end. This is to stress how brave the men were when that had all the guns surrounding them but they still continued to fight. Even as they retreated from the battle, the Russians still continued to fire at them. This emphasises how hard and life-threatening the battle was, and therefore how the soldiers were so brave. There is a constant repetition of,
This is so that we maintain the focus on the large amount of men that set out and were prepared to risk their lives against the terrifying enemy. It is also so that we realise how many soldiers died through their bravery.
Tennyson uses a traditional rhyming scheme for the poem. Many rhyming words are those to do with the courage of the men or the terrifying enemy. A number of words rhyme with the word hundred, to maintain the focus on the Light Brigade.
“Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
Their’s but to do and die.”
This rhyme is more like a motto. The soldiers would have been indoctrinated with this rhyme or motto. They will have been made to believe that it is their duty to do as they are told even though it could result in the loss of their life. They should never question any order that is given to them.
Tennyson also uses a lot of imagery and personification throughout the poem. Imagery is used because the two metaphors would suggest the terror of the enemy and make the Light Brigade seem more heroic for taking on such a frightening enemy.
“the valley of Death”
This line stresses how the soldiers were in mortal danger. He emphasises this danger by using a strong word such as death and capitalising the first letter of the word to make it stand out from all the other words in the line.
“stormed at with shot and shell.”
Here, Tennyson uses sibilance to try and portray how harsh and aggressive the battle was. Once again, the bravery of the soldiers and how much danger they were in, is emphasised. Sibilance is also used later on in the poem,
“shattered and sundered”
This is as a sort of constant reminder, so that we do not think the battle has lost some of its aggressiveness or has become slightly easier for the soldiers.
“into the jaws of Death”
This time, Tennyson has not only emphasised the word death, he has also personified it. This personification is to suggest that the soldiers are physically fighting with death itself. Not only are they fighting with other soldiers, but also they are fighting with death and the loss of their life. Tennyson also personifies hell for the same reason, a bit further on in the poem,
“into the mouth of hell.”
In stanzas one and two, Tennyson uses dialogue. The effect of using this speech is to emphasise on the fact that the soldiers were following orders and doing exactly as they were told. The soldiers were fulfilling their duties by obeying the orders and commands given to them.
“Charge for the guns!” he said”
A rhetorical question is used in stanza two.
“Was there a man dismayed?”
Tennyson does not want us to answer this question, but is using it as a way of showing us that the soldiers’ reactions were not as would have been expected. This is why he answers the question for us. If you knew that you were about to die, it is only human to be dismayed and upset, but Tennyson is trying to make us believe that the soldiers rode to their death with no sorrow in their hearts whatsoever. He uses another rhetorical question, in stanza five.
“When can their glory fade?”
This time, it is quite different to the question in stanza two. Instead of telling us how the soldiers felt before the battle, we are being told how we should think of them. We are supposed to treat the soldiers with great respect and only think of them as heroes, and nothing less.
Throughout the poem, Tennyson uses words to try and convey positive images of the war and battle, and to remove any negative thoughts that people may have had from information they received prior to reading the poem. He uses onomatopoeia, to make the words sound like the action they refer to when they are said aloud. He uses such words to try and create the impression of an exciting battle. They are also used to suggest sunlight glinting on blades and the powerful movements of the Light Brigade and their expertise in fighting.
“Flashed all their sabres bare”
“turned in air”
By just reading the poem and not referring to any background information that I have of the Battle and War, Tennyson could easily persuade me to believe that the battle was not caused by a mistake. It would also make me think that the soldiers really were heroes and did not die because of a vital mistake but because they were defending their country and living up to their name and role of being soldiers.
In a great contrast to The Charge of the Light Brigade, The Hyaenas does not show the glory and positive side of the war. It focuses instead on the stark reality of death in battle and shows his disapproval of war. Where The Charge of the Light Brigade tried to make War and the job of a soldier appear heroic The Hyaenas focuses more on reality. Kipling was a keen observer of animal behaviour and uses the natural behaviour of the hyenas to raise awareness of the lack of respect afforded to those who died.
This is in contrast to Tennyson who tried to make the battle look glorious and brave which was not fair on the family of those soldiers who died in the battle because they will have been given a false impression of how their loved ones died. The government will have been very pleased with Tennyson’s portrayal of the battle and how the soldiers were treated, but they will have not supported Kipling’s portrayal in The Hyaenas.
The Charge of the Light Brigade makes us feel that when they lost so many soldiers in that war, the government and commanders of the Light Brigade were deeply upset and emotional and grieved for the loss of the soldier. In fact, all that the government were worried about was that the public would not support them any longer because they would think that they had led them to a death that could have been easily saved. The Hyaenas describes how the soldiers are really treated, by being left as food for the hyenas to eat. Once they had died, the commanders and government were no longer interested in them and did not care what happened to them.