Charge of the Light Brigade
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
1854

Then-poet Laureate of Britain Tennyson’s poem is most-famous for two short lines in its first stanza:

“Theirs not to reason why
Theirs but to do or die”

Tennyson regularly wrote verse based on the events of the day, this one apparently scribbled in just a few short moments after he read an account from the front-lines of the Crimean War, fought between Russia and an alliance of European powers over the crumbling Ottoman Empire.

The poem tells the story of an ill-fated British push at the Battle of Balaclava, an offensive in which the Light Brigade of the cavalry suffered extensive losses as a result of poor direction, miscommunication, or both. The defeat had significant political fall-out in Britain at the time, and has gone down in history as a prime example of the importance of accurate intelligence work in advance of military engagement.

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