The Charge of The Light Brigade, War and A Wife in London

Select three poems from the selection, which are concerned with different aspects of war. Write about and compare the poems in respect of the following: * The views of war that the poets are expressing * The tones and atmospheres of the poems * The ways in which language and rhythm are used to reinforce the poets’ themes and viewpoints * Any other factors considered important. The three poems that I have chosen are: “The Charge of The Light Brigade”, “War” and “A Wife in London”.

I chose each of them for different reasons, but mainly because they each look at very different aspects of the war and the poets all have completely different attitudes to war. “The Charge of The Light Brigade” is an exultant poem, concerned with the glorified aspect of war, that all men are heroes, brave and courageous for fighting for their country. It is about a suicidal, yet heroic battle fought by the British Cavalry in 1854.

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A mistaken command received by a superior sent, unquestioning, 600 horsemen charging into the head of a valley bristling with artillery and nearly all of them ‘fell’. “War” is set ‘behind the scene’ and concerns itself with the people who dealt with the consequences of war – the doctors and orderlies. It is a moving poem and shows the reader how bad conditions were in South Africa. It is about the dedication of people to try and save the “Case” (patients) and prevent them from turning into another “It” – yet another dead body.

The poet, Edgar Wallace was a medical orderly himself, so he would have had first hand knowledge of how bad conditions and casualties could get. “A Wife in London” deals with the suffering of those left behind. It is about a “wife in London” waiting for news either of or from her husband. Sitting in her town house she’s waiting nervously and there’s an ironic twist of fate, in that she receives a telegram informing her of her husbands death the day before she receives a letter from him “full of his hoped return”.

The Charge of The Light Brigade” however has no twist of fate, no regret or remorse for the wives and children left behind or for the lives lost in vain. The poet simply asks “When can their glory fade? / Honour the charge they made! / Honour the Light Brigade” It has a tone of triumph running through it, even though few survived, they would be respected and remembered eternally, for the “wild charge they made”. “War”, on the other hand, is an atmospheric poem, Wallace describing the sounds as well as the sights. He concentrates on horrible events – but those “behind the lines”.

He seems to suggest the horrible effects of battle, rather than telling the reader exactly what happened; unlike “The Charge of The Light Brigade” which seems to set out all the facts, the how and the why, and say how heroic and brave everyone was. These are both different to “A Wife in London”, where you get no action, fighting or triumph, just loneliness, anxiety and a feeling of irony, why did she get news of his death before his letter? In the first verse, Hardy creates an atmosphere of desolation and sadness, accompanied by a sombre mood.

You get the feeling that she has nobody to talk to, that she only knew her husband and nobody else. These affects are achieved by his use of long syllables and the slow rhythm infused into his language, which matches the theme of the poem exactly. In the second half of the first verse, the rhythm increases when the messenger’s “knock cracks smartly” giving the reader the impression of the wife’s heart beating faster as she receives news. The other two poems each have different rhythms, “The Charge of The Light Brigade” seeming to canter along like the beat of the horses hooves charging into battle and “War” being more complex.

The Charge of The Light Brigade” ‘s rhythm does change once, when the soldiers retreat and “Then they rode back, but not/Not the six hundred”, it slows down using repetition and adds a wonderful, deep sadness to the powerful poem. In “War”, when the scene changes in line 8/9, where the orderly, doctor and “Case” enter the tent, the rhythm changes slightly too. Wallace uses an iambic foot followed by two anapaestic feet, which, very suitably – in the setting, create a tense atmosphere of panic. “War” is the only poem that uses anapaests, which gives the poem a somewhat different feel to the other poems.

The rhythm in it creates the chaos of the medical tent, the need to act quickly under pressure and the desperateness of the situation that they are in. Powerful language is used throughout the poem and there are many different parts which appeal to the readers’ different senses. There is repetition used several times, “And it’s War! ” which really hammers in the fact that these people are clearing up the mess that some other human being made, normal people picking up the pieces of the consequences of politicians actions, people who are not going to fight’s actions.

The Charge of The Light Brigade”, in contrast, has only one slight reference to the consequences of someone’s actions leading them to this proud end: “Not though the soldier knew/Some one had blundered”. It doesn’t hark on about the fact that some one had got something wrong and killed nearly 600 men, but tells their story in a way that will be remembered. But then which one is better, that the mistake was advertised and people were regretful and it was forgotten the next day or that the bravery and courage shown in the face of adversity of the men was proclaimed so that they were remembered eternally?

As a reader, what really struck me when I first read this poem was the repetition of “the valley of Death”, “the mouth of Hell”, “the jaws of Death” that becomes a symbol, a monster that the heroes have to face, a personified, deadly valley in one’s imagination. In “A Wife in London” there’s also a symbol. As she sits in her home waiting for news, the lines “tawny vapour/That the Thames-side lanes have uprolled” seems to symbolise several different things. The first one that I thought of was her mood, which gets darker as the fog gets thicker (after she receives news of his death).

It could also represent her inability to see her future with her husband, the war comes between them and as the fog gets thicker, their future together gets more unlikely. It’s strange that in the poem “A Wife in London”, the wife is never named. Thinking about it, this could be because there were so many of these wives waiting for “his hoped return”, she wasn’t the only one. It is a sad poem, one that really gives the reader an insight into how the people left behind, from the war, must feel.

It has a grim, twisted ending, the wife receiving a letter from him, written before he died, telling her what they could have done, how they could have been, had he survived. The sentiment that is expressed in the letter, the hope of returning and of “new love that they would learn”, all adds to the poignancy and sadness of the irony that he’s actually dead. There’s no sadness in “War” when the “limp, mangled work of a gun” dies, just a pang of regret in the doctor’s heart and “Orderly, clean this knife”, he obviously has to get ready for the next “Case”. Oh yes, it’s “hard for his child, rough on his wife…

But it’s War! ” and we better get ready for the next one. In this poem there appears to be a moral in the last line at the end of each of the three verses. They each describe what’s happening in the tent and during the “War! ” – “the part that is not for show”, “a very unhealthy trade” and “Orderly, clean this knife! “. These each have a way of opening a window into this little part of the war and gives us an understanding of how horrible it is, with the never-ending stream of casualties and reports back home in newspapers that are not allowed to show anything against war (“the part that is not for show”).

Each of the three poems, haunts the reader after a reading or two, whether for good or for bad. They have made sure that I, as a reader, am totally against war, no matter how good the reasons are or how much glory it is given as in “The Charge of The Light Brigade”. I am against the waiting and mourning for those left behind as in “A Wife in London”. Moreover, I am most definitely against the loss of fathers, sons, brothers and husbands.