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Rhetorical Question: Exposure and The Charge of the Light Brigade

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Both ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ and ‘Exposure’ deal with the topic of war in vastly contrasting approaches. ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade’ details the account of the six-hundred and seventy cavalrymen and officers that were given an ambiguous order to attack Russian troops armed with cannons during the Crimean War. Tennyson accentuates the cavalry’s bravery and heroism against the seemingly immeasurable enemy in ‘noble six hundred’ and ‘boldly they rode.’ Alternatively, Owen describes a different aspect of war in his poem, ‘Exposure ’ where he delineates the egregious conditions of the soldier’s trenches during the First World War. ‘Exposure’ focuses less on the combat area of warfare and more so on the severe effect of nature on the troops; the lines ‘rain soaks,’’ and ‘mad gusts’ demonstrate the conflict between man and nature and proves that despite the incessant bloodshed of war, natural forces still remain a heinous threat. Throughout ‘The Charge of the Light Brigade,’ Tennyson is shown to commemorate the soldiers for their valiant efforts.

They are described as brave, bold, and having 'fought so well.' However, in the second stanza, his stance on the attack is revealed and Tennyson shows a slight disdain for the commanders leading the charge in ‘someone had blundered.’ Tennyson recapitulates the ideas on war that most people at the time held despite this and he admires the soldiers' sacrifice. Conversely, Owen uses ‘Exposure’ to highlight the unsettling barbarity of war to the civilians at home. He defies the conventions of warfare by displaying weather as attacking the soldiers instead of the enemy forces in ‘merciless iced east winds that knife us,’ and clouds sag stormy.’ Owen’s opinion on war was one of criticism due to the countless lives lost and seemingly small benefit; as a soldier on the front line, Owen witnessed the horrors of war first-hand and was unimpressed with the generals behind the lines living in comfort while their armies fought courageously. Their opinions differ so much due to their different roles, Tennyson as a poet and Owen as a soldier. Additionally, another reason could be due to the fact that Tennyson experienced a vastly different war than Owen, one that had weapons such as cannons and muskets, which in comparison to the First World War, would be considered somewhat primitive and outdated.

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In addition, Tennyson’s position as the Poet Laureate that was tasked with documenting the sacrifice of the Light Brigade meant he had to be somewhat in favour of the government and in turn the military. This caused him to not explicitly criticise the mistakes of the command as shown in ‘someone had blundered.’ The vagueness of the word ‘someone’ highlights the fact that Tennyson couldn’t be direct in his condemning of the leader's actions. On the other hand, Owen is substantially more critical and utilises a rhetorical question in ‘what are we doing here’ to directly denounce the flaws in the General’s approach to warfare.

Moreover, Owen employs sibilance in ‘silence, sentries whisper’ and “sudden successive …streak the silence” to not only capture the noise of the bitter wind but also to present the striking sound of gunfire present on the battlefield. In addition, Owen also applies the fricative ‘f’ in ‘flowing flakes that flock’ to emphasise the harsh blanketing of snow that was viciously layered upon the troops. Tennyson also makes use of alliteration in ‘horse and hero’ to venerate the soldiers and uses the obscurity and singularity of ‘hero’ to make the men seem like symbols of bravery and valour as opposed to real soldiers. Furthermore, Tennyson utilises religious allusion in ‘the valley of death’ to exaggerate the opposing forces by making them seem biblical. The valley of death is equally a reference to the Christian Lord’s Prayer that contains the line ‘I may walk through the valley of death.’ Tennyson realises that his highly religious Victorian audience would be familiar with this reference and uses this to give the odds that the Light Brigade faced, an epic and paramount quality; this is another example of Tennyson glorifying the six hundred. In contrast, Owen refers to religion in the penultimate stanza of his poem in ‘love of God is dying.’ This enhances the feeling of despair and desperation that the soldiers felt to the point where they no longer had belief in God who they believed abandoned them. He continues to use verbs to describe the battle in ‘winds that knife us’ and ‘brains ache’ to portray the devastating weather effects.

The verb ‘knife’ likens the wind to a weapon and demonstrates to the reader the severity of their exposure to the harshest conditions. In addition, Owen employs a clear example of assonance in the sound of a long ‘o’ in the verbs 'soak', 'know' and 'grow.' This emphasises the tedious wait for something to happen and increases the sense of tension for the reader. Alternatively, Tennyson’s use of alliteration in ‘storm'd at with shot and shell’ creates a visceral effect for his audience which in combination with the sibilance of the words ‘shot’,’storm’d’ and ‘shell’ reflects and amplifies the viciousness of the attack. He also utilises repeated examples of onomatopoeia in the deep ‘un’ of ‘thundered’, ‘blundered’ and ‘hundred’ to mirror the boom of the cannon fire present on the battlefield. This reminds the reader of the perilous attack the soldiers had to undertake and further highlights their unwavering courage in the face of danger. Additionally, Tennyson makes use of a rhetorical question in ‘when can their glory fade?’ yet after five stanzas the answer is surely evident to the reader - their glory will never fade because their sacrifice is symbolic of all who lay their lives down for their country.

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Rhetorical Question: Exposure and The Charge of the Light Brigade. (2022, November 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 4, 2024, from
“Rhetorical Question: Exposure and The Charge of the Light Brigade.” Edubirdie, 25 Nov. 2022,
Rhetorical Question: Exposure and The Charge of the Light Brigade. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 4 Mar. 2024].
Rhetorical Question: Exposure and The Charge of the Light Brigade [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Nov 25 [cited 2024 Mar 4]. Available from:
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