Both Ozymandias and Charge of the Light Brigade are poems about power, though from very different contexts. The former was written in 1817 and the latter in 1854. This might seem quite close together, but, ideologically, they are worlds apart. Tennyson wrote to glorify the power of the British Empire under Queen Victoria. Shelley wrote to mock such pretensions to power by pointing out its ultimate brevity and egocentricity.
Ozymandias is a poem written from the perspective of a man who has been told about a statue in the desert- the statue is of famous powerful pharaoh Ozymandias, but it is now crumbling and destroyed. The poem explores how power can be arrogant and cruel, but ultimately can’t last forever.
Charge of the Light Brigade presents war in a very propaganda form where it is all fun, exciting and adrenalin-packed action, and while there are deaths, they are celebrated rather than being mourned.
Ozymandias’ power is presented as being dictatorial and cruel- this is clear in the description of his statue’s facial expression- “sneer of cold command” and implied through the inscription which appears on the statue’s pedestal: “king of kings: Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!” in which Ozymandias communicate his desire to be dominant over others and cause them reason to fear him. Shelley paints an unflattering picture of the pharaoh, perhaps to show his dislike for monarchs and rulers. This is proved further by his juxtaposed description of the statue as it is ‘now’- a “colossal wreck”, which is in “decay” and “shatter’d”. He emphasizes how the arrogant king’s masterpiece has not lived up to Ozymandias’ expectations. This contrasts with the images of art and nature, which he depicts as being superior and lasting through his description of the artists skills “which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,” and the unpretentious and neverending landscape “boundless and bare, the lone and level sands stretch far away.”
On the other hand, in Charge of the Light Brigade, Tennyson writes “flashed all their sabres bare”. This is a completely different perspective to Ozymandias as the verb “flashed” suggests that light is shining through the dark, it could also represent good piercing through evil . However this is showing us that Charge of the Light Brigade is a completely different tone from Shelley’s very serious and sarcastic tone. In both the ways they are written, Shelley seems to be saying that power corrupts and is ego-driven, whilst Tennyson says it is very active, fun and exciting. In Tennyson’s case this might have to do with him being the Poet Laureate at the time meaning he would have to write propaganda poems for the monarch, Queen Victoria.
Ozymandias is written as a sonnet- which is a form usually reserved for lovers and love poems. I think Shelley uses this form mockingly, as it is about Ozymandias’ love for himself- and it can be seen as ironic, as neither the speaker of the poem or the traveller who told him about the statue love Ozymandias- this is clear through his unflattering descriptions- “wrinkled… sneer… cold… decay.” The irony is also clear in the use of alliteration when he describes the landscape around it- the alliteration “boundless and bare,… lone and level sands stretch…” draws attention to how empty the statue’s surroundings are- this makes the Kings bold statement “Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair” seem ridiculous and pathetic as no-one is looking at all.
Shelley uses enjambment to perhaps represent something ‘ongoing’- which is of course what the Pharaoh wanted: immortality. And to be considered to have been powerful forever. In Charge of the Light Brigade Tennyson uses repetition at the beginning of lines. For Example “Cannons to the right of them, cannons to left of them, cannons in front of them”. This shows us in straight forward statements how many cannons there were and it gives the soldiers in CLB almost a heroic feel as though they were surrounded, yet they are still happy and excited to fight this battle. In both of the poems the two different poets use some techniques similar however much different tones.
Overall the tone of Ozymandias is mocking and sarcastic- revealing Shelley’s beliefs that a man’s desire for power is incomparable to the power of art and nature. In comparison, Power is sustained through the unquestioning obedience of the powerless in ‘Charge of the Light Brigade.’
Tennyson does commemorate the courage and the bravery of the hapless Light Brigade. The overriding impression the poem gives is jingoistic as he amplifies the actions of the soldiers, collectively referring to them repeatedly as “the six-hundred”, unifying them as a force and honouring the sacrifice of half of that number. The hypophora in “[w]as there a man dismay’d?” reflects the unflinching obedience and stoicism of the soldiers as the verb “dismay’d” suggests them becoming disheartened and could even imply an emotional disobedience to the orders given to them. The response, “[n]ot tho’ the soldier knew/ Some one had blunder’d”, signifies that icy dignity and deference of the rank and file to the commands of their superior officers. The soldier’s lack of “dismay[…]” is a sign of the power and control of the military leadership over its soldiery but ultimately is disturbing in its autocratic assumption that orders will be followed whether or not those orders make sense or send an entire ”brigade” to their deaths. Tennyson does take the opportunity to criticise the mistakes made, however, this is done quite lightly and attention is again drawn to the soldiers themselves- he clearly intended to make their deaths appear meaningful and glorious. Critically, however, the deaths of “the six-hundred” were pointless and no matter how gloriously they fought for their lives, no matter how much they “shatter’d and sunder’d” the “Cossack and Russian”, their deaths were a product of one of the worst mistakes in military history, even if they did prove that the obedience and discipline of the British soldiers was exemplary. More fools them. Tennyson, as Poet Laureate, was likely bound to support the military leadership and so he focuses on the heroism of those who were powerless to refuse the orders given to them and pens this paean to honour the brigade.
Ultimately, both poems present the theme of power, and obedience to those in power. The authorities in both poems expect unthinking obedience from their subordinates. Ozymandias claims it, but is defeated by time itself, and just a little disobedience from the soldiers could have averted the tragedy of the light brigade. Crucially though, both poems indicate the power gained from obedience and how easy it is for authority figures to abuse or misuse that power.