Tennyson’s poem and Richardson’s cinematic presentation of “The Charge of the Light Brigade” are based on an event that occurred in the Crimean War of 1853-1856. The Charge of the Light Brigade was an attack in the Battle of Balaclava 1854 that had terrible consequences due to a blunder in the lack of effective communication between a group of officers.
This resulted in the commander’s orders, which were originally meant to regain guns held by the Russians, but instead he ordered his men to charge the main Russian front position, which was defended by large amounts of artillery. Consequently, this resulted in roughly 600 horsemen obeying their commander to their death and only one third of the original men returning. Many people believe this attack was a large mistake in what they thought was a pointless and futile war.
Tennyson’s poem has many differences compared to Richardson’s cinematic presentation however there are also similarities between them.
Tennyson uses many poetic devices and techniques throughout his poem. He uses techniques such as metaphors, repetition, personification and enjambement which all have different effects on the reader. For example, the first two lines of stanza one start with repetition, “Half a league, half a league, half a league onward.” These sets of words are dactylic and suggest a galloping rhythm. This produces a solid rhythm to the poem from the first lines and is a subtle form of picturing the horses galloping into the battle in the reader’s mind.
On close inspection you can see that Tennyson has used many commas to punctuate the lines and this also aids the rhythm of the poem. Following on the next line Tennyson uses a metaphor, “all in the valley of Death,” which shows how the galloping of the horses and the men are charging into the valley where they are almost certainly going to die. You can also see that in the poem Tennyson decided to use a capital letter for the word Death, this emphasises the word to make the reader focus on the word and also stresses the personification Tennyson used as names always start with a capital. There is also enjambement when “all in the valley of death” flows onto the next line with no punctuation to say, “rode the six hundred.”
This symbolises the soldiers riding onto the next line into the valley. On the next line he repeats a previous line of, “the valley of death,” to stress that the soldiers were going into the valley where they would die. To finish the stanza off he states a fact, “Rode the six hundred” that he had already placed previously in the stanza and repeats it to signify how many men were riding into the, “valley of death.” Overall Tennyson creates an atmosphere that sets the scene of the beginning of the battle, in the first stanza by using many poetic techniques but in contrast, Richardson in his cinematic presentation of the same event uses film and visual techniques instead.
Richardson uses three main aspects of cinematic techniques, these are the way in which he uses the camera angles, the music and the way he edits the scenes together. All these main subjects help produce a solid structure and to create a tense atmosphere at the beginning of the battle ready to charge into it later on in the film. From the very start of the cinematic presentation it shows a long wide-angle shot that gives a long distance panoramic view of the valley that the soldiers were going to valiantly charge into and that the Russian artillery had already completely surrounded. This is a similarity between the poem and film as they both express by differing techniques that the soldiers were going to be charging into a valley.
A difference between the poem and the film is that in the film it shows some upper class people who were at the battle to watch as a form of entertainment whilst eating breakfast. Richardson adds the extra noble class characters to his film to express his attitude and importance that the working class people were fighting not only for their country but were also fighting for the upper class peoples country as well.
In the next stanza of the poem it starts with speech from an officer commanding his men, “Forward, the Light Brigade!” this makes you feel involved and that he is commanding you. Richardson also manages to create this affect in his production by the use of a dolly shot following the charge alongside the horses, which creates the feeling as though you are actually at the battle. Also in this stanza Tennyson very subtly states that the charge was a mistake when the poem says, “some one had blundered” but does not say who had made this mistake. This is the only occurrence in Tennyson’s poem where it expresses the charge was a blunder, but in contrast Richardson’s film states obviously that the charge was a mistake made by the commanders.
The reason why Tennyson could not state that the charge was a mistake in his poem was because he was the poet laureate and could not express his own opinion as he had to try and gain the support for his country for the war. This is one of the main issues of contrast between the poem and the film in that the poem does not make it blatant the charge was a mistake but the film obviously states it was a mistake. Also in this stanza Tennyson uses repetition, “their’s not to make reply, their’s not to reason why, their’s but to do and die.” This proves a point that the brave soldiers had courage and had no say in the charge and they could not ask questions but only fight bravely for their country.
In the next stanza of the poem it also has repetition when it says, “cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them, cannon in front of them,” this produces a clear image in the readers mind that the soldiers were surrounded by cannons. This is represented in the film by a close up shot of the cannons firing into the valley on the soldiers. This is a very action packed shot with a fast pace and lots of sound effects of gun and cannon fire and after this scene Richardson suddenly changes the pace by editing this sequence in a sharp manner to a slow paced scene of the noble upper class people eating their breakfast. This is a difference between the film and the poem, as the poem does not mention anything about any outside characters and focuses mainly on the soldiers.
Tennyson does not mention about the officers once and I feel that he centres his poem around the soldiers whereas in Richardson’s film he produces a very clear image of what the officers were like. He does this by having close up shots of the officers faces which gives you their facial expressions and you can also determine the officers through their tone and pitch of their voices. Tennyson also gives the impression that the cannons were surrounding the soldiers by using emotive language, “Volleyed and thundered,” which are very strong were words to describe what is happening. He also uses sibilance when it says, ” stormed at with shot and shell” which is a good choice of words to describe the torment and fighting. Richardson creates this effect by visual and sound techniques.
He includes music to add to the tension of the battle with a menacing crescendo of music in the height of the opening scene of the battle. The film at the time of the battle is very disturbing with very graphic and detailed interpretations of the events that had occurred, with close ups of the cannons and the devastation they had caused killing many men. At this point in the film there is a difference between it and the poem as the film is more critical and shows how many men actually died portraying the events in a more realistic fashion. I would say stanza three of the poem is the main part of the poem with all the action of the battle in it. Tennyson uses many poetic devices to create this mood with repetition at the beginning of the stanza followed by emotive language and sibilance, metaphors, personification and a fact to conclude the stanza.
This climax of the poem is represented in the film by all the fighting and war pictures and I feel that the poem describes the event very well but the film portrays it more realistically mainly due to there being a visual aid to help you understand. Stanza four and five are the aftermath of the battle when the men are returning back after the disastrous mistake by the officers. In this stanza Tennyson uses extracts from W.H. Russell’s report of the charge, including, “flashed all their sabres bare”. The first part of stanza five is the exact repeat of stanza three. The only difference is that in stanza three Tennyson is describing when the soldiers were riding into the valley whereas in stanza five he is describing how many men died and how very few men returned from the valley, but only portraying it in a very subtle manner.
The film however stresses and shows how many men died in a more critical and sympathetic perspective. The poem does not sympathise for the soldiers as much as the film does. The film achieves this by having one lonely injured soldier appearing from the dust and debris returning alone from the charge. This vision produces an image for the reader to sympathise with the lonely soldier returning from the battle as well as all the men that had died during the battle that has now ended. The poem states that the battle has ended by Tennyson deciding to use the past tense repetition of what he had previously said before in the other stanzas, “came through the jaws of Death, Back from the mouth of hell, All that was left of them, Left of six hundred.” This tells the reader that the battle is over and the men are returning from the devastation.
Finally the poem finishes off with a stanza with an image that the soldiers were heroic, noble, brave and patriotic in the battle, however the film is more focused on who had made the mistake of sending the wrong command. The film shows how the officers were quarrelling over who had made the mistake between each other rather than thinking about the consequences of their mistake and how many men they had killed. This is the main difference between the poem and the film as they both describe the event with opposite views.
The poem is certainly more forthcoming in showing how brave and noble the men were and Tennyson tends to stand on his back foot and tries to cover up that the charge was a mistake by the officers by not mentioning who was to blame in the last stanza nor the whole poem. Compared to the film that is completely the opposite, stressing how the charge was a mistake by the officers arguing whose fault it was and only hints how brave the men were when one of the soldiers offers to go again.
Overall the poem and the film both have differences between them but on the other hand they also have their similarities as well. Contrasting the two from a wider perspective Richardson and Tennyson attack the task of describing the event in various methods by using differing media methods and techniques overall producing a very detailed presentation of the event “The Charge of the Light Brigade”.