Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade” and John Wilmot’s “The Disabled Debauchee” are two pieces of poetry belonging to different eras and styles. The poems have little in common, diverging in the most fundamental aspects. The first text is written in the nineteenth century to celebrate heroic deeds, bravery, and disregard for the death of British cavalrymen during the Crimean War. On the other hand, the second text, two centuries older, mocks human flaws and society of its time – it is deeply satirical, lacking sincerity abundant in “Charge of the Light Brigade completely.” Despite the considerable differences, the poems should be read together. Such an approach would allow a reader to gain insight into how a similar form can transmit two completely different messages.
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Tennyson’s and Wilmot’s poetries drastically differ in how they handle their subject. The Battle of Balaclava, depicted in “Charge of the Light Brigade” and as the text’s central event, is treated with solemn respect and gravity. This approach is justified by the subject, which is the cavalry’s sacrifice and readiness for death. The poem itself is named after a real military event, which failed due to Lord Cardigan’s strategic mistake. The depicted in the poem happenings prompt its language to be sophisticated and tone exalted. On the contrary, “The Disabled Debauchee” is a dark derisive verse, treating human degradation with undue pomp. The poem’s narrator becomes the target of the jokes, amusing the audience at his expense. The comical effect is primarily achieved by the contrast of form and substance – debauchery of a drunkard is told using a heroic stanza. While there is no dissonance between form and meaning in Tennyson’s text, the divergence between the two can be viewed as the driving force in Wilmot’s poem.
The verses’ opposing emotional responses (admiration in contrast to disapproval) are achieved with the help of somewhat similar imagery and symbolism. Tennyson uses descriptive language extensively to submerge the reader in the atmosphere of a battlefield. Sound, specifically the roar of firing cannons, appears to be the most involved sense due to the poem’s refrain. “Cannon to right of them, / Cannon to left of them, / Cannon behind them / Volleyed and thundered,” these lines are repeated, again and again, allowing the poem to be saturated with sound and more immersive (Tennyson, lines 18-21). In ” The Disabled Debauchee,” scenes associated with battles and military events are also included, yet marine imagery is employed in this case. At the outset, the narrator compares himself to an admiral, establishing the imagery that will follow. Nonetheless, the poem’s sensory experience seems to be concentrated on sight as opposed to the first poem. The author paints a visual picture of a sea battle with the help of maritime vocabulary. Both pieces of poetry rely on militaristic imagery but do that for completely different objectives.
The texts under consideration use specific literary structures to engross readers in the occurring events. Thus, rhyme, rhythm, and sound patterns in “Charge of the Light Brigade” contribute to the feeling of being amidst an ongoing cavalry battle. The use of rhyme is rather limited, as it appears sparsely and sporadically, mediating the overwhelming chaos of a combat zone. The poem’s irregular rhyme adds to the turmoil and disarray dominating the Battle of Balaclava. Additionally, the poem is written in dactyl which enhances its forcefulness. The reiteration of “s” as in “stormed at with shot and shell” creates the effect of rifle-musket bullets whistling (Tennyson, line 23). The overall sound pattern resembles the clop of hoofs, augmenting readers’ submersion. On the other hand, “The Disabled Debauchee” is also written similarly to epic poetry. Wilmot uses a heroic stanza to structure the text – it has typical for heroic stanza rhyme pattern and elevated tone. The author’s choice of form becomes the central witticism due to how it clashes with the text’s subject matter. It can be seen that both poems depend significantly on rhyme, rhythm, and sound patterns to communicate their messages.
Furthermore, Tennyson and Wilmot employ stylistic devices in these two poems to different extents. The use of stylistic elements in “Charge of the Light Brigade” seems to be relatively straightforward. For instance, the personifications “the mouth of deaths” and “the jaws of Death” are reiterated thought the text to accentuate the hopelessness of the situation for the British cavalry. Tennyson also relies on rhetorical questions to convey the unfading grandeur of the deceased men by stating, “When can their glory fade? / O the wild charge they made! / All the world wondered” (Tennyson, lines 51-53). Diversely, “The Disabled Debauchee” can be seen as an extended metaphor – the text’s overriding device. From the beginning, the poem perpetuates the comparison between social life and battleground, the narrator and an admiral in naval warfare. Overall, this stylistic device is predominant in Wilmot’s poem, in which various metaphors are embedded into one overarching. Given that “The Disabled Debauchee” is written as a heroic stanza, the text’s metaphorical nature is expressed on its structural level.
“Charge of the Light Brigade” and “The Disabled Debauchee” represent two facets of heroic narrative poetry. Even though “Charge of the Light Brigade” is not written as a heroic stanza, it is somewhat comparable to one due to its elevated tone. At the same time, the first text utilizes the peculiarities of heroic poetry to immortalize and glorify, while the second text to mock and dishonor. Besides, “The Disabled Debauchee” can serve as a cautionary tale, as the narrator tries to persuade others to commit the acts that led to his moral and physical degradation. From the perspective of satirical poetry, the two verses possibly form a spectrum, where mocking and sardonic texts are situated on one extreme and eulogistic ones on the other. Peculiarly, “Charge of the Light Brigade” and “The Disabled Debauchee” reach utterly different effects with the help of conventions of the same type of poetry. Reading them in conjunction could provide insight into the mechanics of heroic poetry and synergy between form and substance.
In conclusion, “Charge of the Light Brigade” and “The Disabled Debauchee” treat their subject matter in an entirely divergent manner despite the stylistic conventions that they share. The texts coincide in an elevated tone, extensive militaristic vocabulary, their metaphoric nature, and resemblance to heroic poetry. Nevertheless, while Tennyson’s poem does so sincerely, Wilmot’s texts lack the quality. The form of “The Disabled Debauchee” is another ploy used to deride the conventions of heroic poetry and societal standards. Consequently, these texts by Wilmot and Tennyson should be read jointly in spite of centuries that separate them and dissimilar historical context.
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Tennyson, Alfred Lord. “Charge of the Light Brigade.” 1854. Poetry Foundation, Web.