Steven F. Freeman

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The Charge of the Light Brigade (1854)

The Charge of the Light Brigade  by Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1854)

page last modified: 04/27/2017

Modern organizations have their origin in the military model of the first great national European armies in the early 19th century. Good for discipline, good for ensuring that orders are carried out -- no matter the risk or danger, no matter how foolish or pernicious. But bad for thinking, disastrous for creativity and innovation, and often just plain disastrous. Tennyson's famous poem celebrates the soldiers' bravery, but also illustrates the nature of the military model. The suicidal charge of British cavalry against a Russian stronghold during the Crimean War[1] was the result of a miscommunication [2] carried out because an officer did not think to exercise discretion.[3]

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

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.

 
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 wonder'd.
Plunged in the battery-smoke
Right thro' the line they broke;
Cossack and Russian
Reel'd from the sabre-stroke
Shatter'd and sunder'd.
Then they rode back, but not,
Not the six hundred.

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,

Cannon behind them
Volley'd and thunder'd;
Storm'd at with shot and shell,
While horse and hero fell,
They that had fought so well,
Came thro' the jaws of Death,
Back from the mouth of hell,
All that was left of them,
Left of six hundred.

When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honor the charge they made!
Honor the Light Brigade,
Noble six hundred!


Notes:
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