People write poetry for many reasons. War poetry is written mainly to express feelings. War poems can achieve catharsis and are sometimes written in remembrance. They express deep emotional states such as love, hate, suffering and joy. War can amplify all of these feelings so it is likely that poetry would be written about it.
“The Charge Of The Light Brigade” was written by Alfred Tennyson as a memorial for the brave heroes which died during the battle against the Russians. It is a pro-war poem:
“Honour the Light Brigade”
“The Battle Of Blenheim” is an anti-war poem. The view the poet wants to get across is spoken through the children, Peterkin and Wilhelmine.
“Why ’twas a very wicked thing!”
I think the author made a mistake in choosing the children because children are not respected enough to speak an unpopular view and be taken seriously. If he had chosen a character of higher status then the public would have paid more attention to his opinions.
Tennyson’s poem is very straight forward, using limited vocabulary.
“Cannon to the right of them,
Cannon to the left of them,
Cannon in front of them”
This makes it attractive to the people of the time, most of which would have been poorly educated. It would appeal to more people than Robert Southey’s poem. This is because Southey’s poem in my opinion, is too well written. It is too clever for the audience to which it is directed at.
Southey’s poem is much more complex. It uses irony where Old Kasper refers constantly to the “great victory” when the view the poet is giving is that it was far from “great.” At first glance it seems a simple poem but after analysis the true meaning of the authors writing comes to light. Certain metaphors projected through grotesque images show the disturbing understated themes of this piece. There is juxtaposition of the incongruous imagery concerning the innocence of the pastoral setting and the grim skull and plough.
“He came to ask what he had found,
That was so large and smooth and round.”
The above rhyming couplet on its own seems harmless until you realise what Peterkin has found is a skull! The skull is the personification of death. It symbolises the past while the children are visions of the future. The children; the future, are literally digging up the past. Skulls are obvious representations of death while the youthful children holding it shows juxtaposed incongruous images. Children are related to life innocence and goodness. The buried skull is showing the reality of the past has become buried and the lies are unearthed by the goodness of the future.
Kasper is intended to be the stereotypical view of adults. He sounds as if he was programmed with what little information he has on the battle. He was unquestioning and when he tries to programme his grandchildren in the same way he dismisses their inquisitive minds in a way which seems patronising even to those so young. The words “great victory” have become his mantra and it seems this is all he knows about the battle. I find it sad Kasper found no need to form his own opinion of the battle. He is full of so much blind faith which he has learned seemingly by rote from unreliable sources.
“And often when I go to plough,
The ploughshare turns them out!”
I imagine Old Kasper saying this in such a casual way that you would never dream he was talking about ploughing skulls! The image is highly ironic as ploughing is a way of rebirth and new life while in the piece of poetry they are harvesting death and bodies.
The author expresses his view through the children, as mentioned before. The questions the children are made to ask are themed with confusion and perplexity as to why all the terrible happenings associated with the “great victory” had to occur.
A hint to the authors perceptions of the war are shown in the fifth stanza. Wilhelmine asks:
“Now tell us all about the war,
And what they fought each other for.”
I believe asking why the two sides fought each other is quite a sophisticated question to ask and this is what makes me assume it is the poets own questions showing through.
“The Charge Of The Light Brigade” is written to make the best of a bad situation. It boosts morale by portraying the six hundred as gallant and heroic.
“Boldly they rode, and well”
The tragic truth of the matter had been glorified to try and disguise it and make it easier for the public to come to terms with. That is what the poetry was written for, to influence the opinion of the general public.
Alfred Tennyson is said to have written this poem quickly in response to a report he read. Certain factors make it obvious to me it was written in short time. When comparing it to “The Battle Of Blenheim” you can see whilst they both use writing techniques they are very different. Tennyson’s simple, accessible vocabulary; alliteration; repetition and use of rhetorical questioning gives his poem a punchy feel and an edge over Southey’s unspecific; complex; well concealed; slow moving piece of poetry.
In “The Battle Of Blenheim” Peterkin and Wilhelmine question Kasper about the “great victory.” The questions all remain unanswered by the end of the poem. They are left unanswered because Old Kasper does not know the answers. It is aimed to make you ask the same questions yourself. In “The Charge Of The Light Brigade” the questions use rhetoric.
“When can their glory fade?”
It is intended to include the reader. It makes the positive stand out. You are not supposed to think about the answer to the question. Yours should be the same as the authors.
Tennyson’s poem is full of kinetic energy. As it is set in a battlefield it is very active. In comparison, Southey’s poem is absolutely static. The tale does not leave the cottage door and field. “The Charge Of The Light Brigade” is more action packed.
To close I would like to summarise that Tennyson’s poem was written to boost the morale of the country. For that reason it is an unreliable narrative. It was not written from the heart as he was telling people what they wanted to hear. Southey’s poem is more true to his own feelings. I respect this poem more as it was not a popular view of war at the time but he stood up for what he believed in which was peace. Southey’s undervalued, slight way of projecting his viewpoint may not have earned him as much money as Tennyson’s exaggerated style but it was genuine which has earned him the respect he deserves from some if not many