Two Poems by Alfred Lord Tennyson

Alfred, Lord Tennyson,
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892)

As Poet Laureate for Queen Victoria, English poet Alfred Tennyson was well acquainted with literary success. At the age of 20, he received the Chancellor’s Gold Medal from Cambridge for his poem, “Timbuktu.” One year later, he published his first poetry collection, Poems, Chiefly Lyrical, which included some of the best pieces he wrote. Appointed Poet Laureate in 1850 after the death of William Wordsworth, Tennyson held the position for 42 years, until his death in 1892.

But even the most successful of poets (and people) must learn to deal with the challenges and disappointments that are inevitable in a life well lived. Tennyson’s critics often argued that Tennyson’s poetry was overly sentimental. His second volume of poetry received such a negative critical reception that Tennyson didn’t publish again for 10 years. His literary career continued through personal and professional hardship, experiencing both the inspirational highs and lows often glossed over in the success stories we collectively celebrate.

The following two poems were highlights of Tennyson’s writing career. “The Charge of the Light Brigade” is a narrative poem written by in 1854 by Tennyson as Poet Laureate to memorialize the costly failed charge executed by the British Light Brigade during the Crimean War. Written just three years before he died, “Crossing the Bar” was desired by Tennyson to be included as the last poem in all future editions of his poetry.


The Charge of the Light Brigade

I.

Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
‘Forward, the Light Brigade!
Charge for the guns!’ he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

II.

‘Forward, the Light Brigade!’
Was there a man dismay’d?
Not tho’ the soldier knew
Some one had blunder’d:
Their’s not to make reply,
Their’s not to reason why,
15 Their’s but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

III.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them
Volley’d and thunder’d;
Storm’d at with shot and shell,
Boldly they rode and well,
Into the jaws of Death,
Into the mouth of Hell
Rode the six hundred.

IV.

Flash’d all their sabres bare,
Flash’d as they turn’d in air
Sabring the gunners there,
Charging an army, while
All the world wondered.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right through the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reeled from the sabre stroke
Shattered and sundered.
Then they rode back, but not
Not the six hundred.

V.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon behind them
Volleyed and thundered;
Stormed at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell.
They that had fought so well
Came through the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

VI.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wondered.
Honour the charge they made!
Honour the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!


Crossing the Bar

Sunset and evening star,
      And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
      When I put out to sea,

   But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
      Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
      Turns again home.

   Twilight and evening bell,
      And after that the dark!
And may there be no sadness of farewell,
      When I embark;

   For tho' from out our bourne of Time and Place
      The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my Pilot face to face
      When I have crost the bar.