What is the effect of Tennyson’s choice of rhythm in ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’?

Choosing key quotes from Power and Conflict can be difficult. There are so many great ones to choose from. So, take a look at this quote that I find really useful, in my teaching and in my own Power and Conflict exam model answers, for exploring the structure of ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’:

Cannon to right of them,

Cannon to left of them,

Cannon in front of them.

Flashed all their sabres bare,

Flashed as they turned in air

Sabring the gunners there.

From ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Analysis of the quote

The rhythm is powerful, insistent, thrusting and is clearly designed to mimic the sound of galloping horses. This plunges us into the scene, allowing us to imagine the noise, dust, sweat – and fear.

The rhythm has a name: dactylic dimeter. This means that each line is six syllables and the first and fourth syllable in each line are stressed. Note the stressed syllables marked in bold.

Some lines don’t follow the pattern. These lines are one syllable shorter and seem fragmented, irregular. The break in the flow of the otherwise highly regular rhythm suggests a stumble, a fall, perhaps of a dying horse. The short lines perhaps also reflect the breakdown in communication, the blunder, that led to the infamous catastrophe.

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