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War poetry--whether epic narrative or lyric song--traditionally works to bring voices into unison. This is one of its primary objectives: to ensure that a nation under threat marches in syncopated lock-step. But what happens when the war in question is an unpopular one? During the Crimean War (1854-56), in which Britain and France took up arms together to defend Turkey against an encroaching Russian empire, the public awareness of bureaucratic bungling and general "blunder" (in "The Charge of the Light Brigade" [1854], Tennyson picks up this word from a Times account) was so great as to result in the toppling of the Aberdeen Ministry. The war that was to have revitalized a threateningly mercantilized British manhood after a peace of forty years devolved into what was perceived by many to be farce. In this essay, I will look at Tennyson's two most famous Crimean War poems--"The Charge" and Maud (1855)--in order to ask how the Victorians translated their response to such a conflict into verse. (1) In the work of the Poet Laureate, we can see a complex negotiation of the terrain of patriotic martial poetry from the midst of a war that was notoriously marked more by dissonance than by harmony. Curiously, Tennyson appears to have felt the need to "do" this war "in different voices": while "The Charge of the Light Brigade" deals impersonally but respectfully with a collective action, an epic deed, in six rapid stanzas, Maud wallows spasmodically in an individual's suffering. (2) Perhaps these formal distinctions explain why the poems are so rarely discussed together (as opposed to individually or serially), in spite of the fact that "The Charge" was written even as Tennyson was working on Maud. (3) An intimate link between them does appear, though, in the crucial place of a martial ballad in the narrative of Maud. When the speaker first encounters Maud, she is "Singing of Death, and of Honour that cannot die" (4):

Professional & Technical
September 22
West Virginia University Press, University of West Virginia
The Gale Group, Inc., a Delaware corporation and an affiliate of Cengage Learning, Inc.

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