Views of War in Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade and Whitman’s Drum-Taps

Views of War in Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade and Whitman’s Drum-Taps

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Views of War in Tennyson’s Charge of the Light Brigade and Whitman’s Drum-Taps  


    Even though Walt Whitman and Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote with different styles and ideals, the common theme of war gave them the similar purpose of exposing the destructive nature of battle while remaining inspiring and even optimistic. Tennyson’s "The Charge of the Light Brigade" reveals a fatal "blunder" that cost the lives of many English soldiers, while asserting that the unquestioning loyalty of the British troops causes tremendous pride. Whitman’s Drum-Taps series of poems, especially "Beat! Beat! Drums!," documents the tragedies that occurred during the Civil War, yet maintains a feeling of hope that the war will help to cleanse the nation and revitalize it. Despite the outward similarities between "Light Brigade" and Drum-Taps, subtle differences exist between the respective authors’ attitudes towards war and the tones that carry over into the poems. The extreme pride Tennyson felt for England as Britain’s poet laureate swayed his writing, and critics have since attacked the excessive jingoism that seeps into "Light Brigade" (Marshall 135), since he was unable to capture the immense suffering of battle that could only be seen on the front lines, where he never set foot. Conversely, Whitman was able to grasp the darkest of emotions that war generated in his poems because of the prolonged experience he had caring for the wounded and mourning the dead (Golden 106). Tennyson’s "The Charge of the Light Brigade" and Whitman’s "Beat! Beat! Drums!" appear to be nationalistic poems glorifying war, but while Tennyson paints a heroic picture of valiant soldiers fighting a just war, Whitman employs a mixture of sarcasm and grim reality to portr...


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...Jr. A Tennyson Handbook. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1963: 110-135.

Shaw, W. David. Alfred Lord Tennyson: the Poet in an Age of Theory. New York: Twayne Publishers, Inc., 1996: 25-35.

Sweet, Timothy. "Whitman’s Drum-Taps and the Rhetoric of War." Traces of War: Poetry, Photography, and the Crisis of the Union. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990: 11-45.

Tennyson, Alfred Lord. "The Charge of the Light Brigade." The Norton Anthology: English Literature. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1996: 1954-1955.

Thomas, M. Wynn. "Fratricide and Brotherly Love: Whitman and the Civil War." ed. Ezra Greenspan. The Cambridge Companion to Walt Whitman. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995: 27-44.

Whitman, Walt. "Beat! Beat! Drums!" The Norton Anthology: American Literature. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1995: 1004-1005.

 

 

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