Haiku Journey

Short, long, summary of a life


Sunday Guests: Alfred, Lord Tennyson

A poem to consider in times of conflict. By those who serve and those who don’t.

This is considered one of the greatest poems from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s tenure as Britain’s Poet Laureate.

The Charge of the Light Brigade

Half a league, half a league,  
  Half a league onward,  
All in the valley of Death  
  Rode the six hundred.  
“Forward, the Light Brigade!  
Charge for the guns!” he said:  
Into the valley of Death  
  Rode the six hundred.  
“Forward, the Light Brigade!”  
Was there a man dismay’d?    
Not tho’ the soldier knew  
  Some one had blunder’d:  
Theirs not to make reply,  
Theirs not to reason why,  
Theirs but to do and die:     
Into the valley of Death  
  Rode the six hundred.  
Cannon to right of them,  
Cannon to left of them,  
Cannon in front of them    
  Volley’d and thunder’d;  
Storm’d at with shot and shell,  
Boldly they rode and well,  
Into the jaws of Death,  
Into the mouth of Hell    
  Rode the six hundred.  
Flash’d all their sabres bare,  
Flash’d as they turn’d in air  
Sabring the gunners there,  
Charging an army, while   
  All the world wonder’d:  
Plunged in the battery-smoke  
Right thro’ the line they broke;  
Cossack and Russian  
Reel’d from the sabre-stroke     
  Shatter’d and sunder’d.  
Then they rode back, but not  
  Not the six hundred.  
Cannon to right of them,  
Cannon to left of them,      
Cannon behind them  
  Volley’d and thunder’d;  
Storm’d at with shot and shell,  
While horse and hero fell,  
They that had fought so well    
Came thro’ the jaws of Death,  
Back from the mouth of Hell,  
All that was left of them,  
  Left of six hundred.  
When can their glory fade?     
O the wild charge they made!  
  All the world wonder’d.  
Honor the charge they made!  
Honor the Light Brigade,  
  Noble six hundred!

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Alfred Lord Tennyson, was humbly born into a clergyman’s family, one of a dozen children. A father troubled by mental problems, alcohol, and at least two brothers similarly afflicted, resulted in a shy, socially inept young boy entering Trinity College, Cambridge in 1827. Poems he published with a brother about the same time drew little critical attention but did catch the notice of the “Apostles” of Cambridge, a quasi-secret society of intellectuals. One member who championed Tennyson for Apostles membership was Arthur Hallam, whose sudden death four years later would inspire Tennyson’s acclaimed poem In Memoriam. When In Memoriam was published in 1850 it cemented the already popular Tennyson as England’s most popular poet and lead to his being named Poet Laureate on the passing of Wordsworth. In 1883 Tennyson was awarded a peerage by Queen Victoria.

Tennyson’s poem The Charge of the Light Brigade was published in 1855, six weeks after the charge took place.

The Actual Charge of the Light Brigade

On October 25, 1854 the Battle of Balaclava, part of the Crimean War, was being fought between Russian and combined English and French forces. The terrain consisted of rolling hills that form a valley with both ends being slightly higher than the middle of the valley. Lord Raglan, overall commander of the British forces, ordered the light calvary to charge and harass a withdrawing Russian artillery unit. In passing the order downline the vague order was misinterpreted to be for the Light Brigade to make a frontal charge on well established Cossack artillery at the opposite end of the valley. The heights on either side of the valley were controlled by the Russian forces with well established artillery.  Lord Cardigan led the Light Brigade through and into heavy artillery and rifle fire, breasted the Cossack batteries at the end but had to almost immediately begin a retreat back through the withering fire. During the charge and retreat, Cardigan’s brother-in-law Lord Lucan withheld his Heavy Calvary who were more suited for frontal assaults, under the justification that his charge would have been futile and he could more suitably render support and aid to the retreating Light Brigade. It was actually units of the French calvary who provided the greatest aid by clearing some of the batteries and rifle units on one side of the valley in support of the retreating Light Brigade. Since Lord Raglan’s orders were vague the blame, motivations, and responsibility for this senseless act of valor has for years been contested.

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Cry out!

Why must These tears fall,
crying, crying, into the night –
missing… missing… we have lost them,
lost them all.

Wheel of time,
you’ve hardly turned before they’re gone.
Turn back, turn back and restore,
restore to me mine!

I will hold you, hold you ever,
in thought, in prayer, in sighing breath,
my child, my sister, father, mother, brother, lover —
here, here in my heart living ever.
Here in my heart,
live forever.
And still I cry!

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What’s this guy doing here?

That’s basically the same question I asked myself when at 20 I found myself in the Pacific, swimming as fast as I  could, as the Gridley drifted toward the far horizon.

Maybe that story says something about why I write, why I blog, who I am.

I had grown up in a Navy family, traveling here and there. Picking the wrong entry into higher education, then the Daytona Beach Community College, when I fancied myself a surfer, ended with the first semester. So, a couple of short stories later, finding my employer’s business seized and padlocked, hitchhiking to Ohio, I was avoiding the draft in the Navy. Naturally, see my blog, Teacher’s Pet, the key is in there, I’d choose the Navy.

I was a young Boatswain’s Mate, the ship’s swimmer, and we were on an exercise off the coast of Hawaii – way off the coast, even from the bridge you couldn’t see the island. We’d ended the exercise because the seas, while calm, – it’s a Pacific thing – were running 10-15 feet and we needed to recover the small unmanned remotely controlled boat that had been part of the exercise. As the swimmer I got to go aboard the Boston Whaler and attach the  block (a technical bosun’s term) to the whaler so it could be hoisted back aboard the USS Gridley (DLG 21). I won’t take the time to fully explain what was happening or why self-compensating davits are important and will just tell you that with 10-15 seas Gridley was rolling 15 degrees to starboard then 15 degrees to port. That 60 degree difference would dump the block, a lot of heavy metal cable into the whaler on the roll to port and then yank it and the whaler up and out on the roll to starboard. Not what Boston Whalers are built for!

So when the whaler starts to break apart and I see that my safety line is hopelessly tangled in the block and cable I had cut myself loose and went overboard. It seemed a smart idea at the time – considering the condition of the whaler when it was recovered it still seems a smart idea.

But I was upwind of the Gridley and she was presenting a lot of surface area to the prevailing wind, actually leaving a shadow of wake as she sailed downwind. Being young, strong, a good swimmer, doesn’t mean you can out swim a situation like that. And, that’s when I started asking myself, ‘What am I doing here?’.

And that’s about 1/50 th (a wildly unsupported statistic) of who I am.