Exposure by Wilfred Owen and Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson are two reasonably tricky poems. Having said this (in my humble opinion), they are two of the best poems in the whole AQA Conflict poetry anthology… and there’s so much you can say about both!
To help you get started comparing Exposure and Charge of the Light Brigade, here is a sample essay. It focuses quite heavily on structure and context, which are two elements students often overlook in GCSE English essays.
Have a read through, see what you think of the points (look up any terms you don’t know) – and have a go writing your own comparison. This should also help you pick four or five useful quotes for each poem, that you can memorise for final exams.
As a final tip, when you’re writing poetry comparisons, try to be as specific as possible with your points. For example – both poets present war differently. But how do they do this? Is one poet angry, do they present an emotive, poignant picture of war? Does another celebrate the individual men, whilst criticising war itself? Do they argue war is completely pointless? Whatever your personal view… don’t be scared to make this clear. It’s what examiners want to hear 🙂
Ready to get started? Get those marking pens at the ready…
Read Exposure by Wilfred Owen. In this poem and one other of your choice, how do the poets present their views on war?
In both Exposure and The Charge of the Light Brigade, the loss of war is presented. Whilst the individual soldiers are glorified by Tennyson, the complete futility of conflict is highlighted by Owen.
In Exposure, Wilfred Owen uses lots of ellipses, caesuras and repetition to create an on-going sense of waiting and boredom. The repetition of the half-line to end each stanza, with the phrase “But nothing happens” recurring throughout the poem reinforces this sense of stasis. The soldiers are frozen in time and the hell of warfare. Owen personally fought as a soldier in World War One, where the huge loss of life (for very little territorial gain) was frequently criticised. During the Battle of Somme for example, over 60,000 British soldiers died in just one single day. Despite the bloodshed, the military generals didn’t learn their lessons and the bloodshed continued – just as the phrase continues throughout the poem, interspersed by Owen’s accusatory interrogatives – “what are we doing here?”
In a similar manner, Tennyson also uses repetition – but to give the poem structure and reference the different stages of the battle. The phrase “rode the six hundred” finishes the first three stanzas, which then shifts to “Not the six hundred”, what’s “Left of the six hundred” (referencing the losses of battle) before finally glorifying the sacrifice of the “Noble Six Hundred”. As well as the lines ending each stanza, Tennyson also uses repeated phrases throughout the poem (for instance “Cannon to the right of them / Cannon to the left of them” and “Volleyed and Thundered”) to show the scale of the Russian forces and reference the circular nature of a military advance and retreat. A “Light Brigade” would have been incredibly lightly equipped, which meant that when the men rode against the opposing side at the Battle of Balaclava (fought in 1854 during the Crimean War), they realistically stood no chance against the enemy.
Whilst Tennyson’s poem glorifies the men more than Wilfred Owen’s, they nonetheless both demonstrate the bloodshed caused by being forced to mindlessly follow orders. The use of para-rhyme in Wilfred Owen’s Exposure (words which appear to rhyme, but sound slightly different) creates an unsettledness in the poem – mirroring how the soldiers are feeling. The horrors of war are simply too difficult to put into any easily comprehensible order. Whilst there is no formal rhyme scheme in Charge of the Light Brigade, there is a strong rhythm to the poem. It is written in dactylic dimeter (with two main stressed syllables in each line). This creates a strong impression of controlled military marching, reflecting the sound of marching drums or horses’ hooves.
Now it’s your turn…
How would you add another paragraph to this essay? As it’s focused quite a lot on structure and context, so talking more about the two poets’ use of language would be a good idea.
Could you look at Owen and Tennyson’s use of “sibilance” (i.e. repeated “S” sounds) perhaps? What about metaphoric language, biblical allusions, juxtaposition or personification? How could these language techniques add to each poet’s presentation of war?
As always, you’ll also need a few lines of conclusion – summing up the points you’ve made. Have a read back through each paragraph, and see if you can do this in a few lines.
Let me know how you get on, and your ideas for analysing language in the two poems. I’d love to hear them! Good Luck.