Monday, 14 November 2011

Quaquaversal Artillery

As a devotee of Tennyson, I've always been horribly irritated that he's best known for his worst poem: The Charge of the Bloody Light Brigade.

For the last century and a half schoolchildren have been oppressed with the lines:

Cannon to right of them,
Cannon to left of them,
Cannon in front of them....

Which brings me to the brunt of my post: the very useful word quaquaversal. Quaquaversal means in every direction. So those three lines could usefully be deleted and replaced with the two simple words: quaquaversal cannon, or, if you wish to keep a remnant of the metre: Cannon quaquaversally.

Tennyson actually didn't like the poem much himself and considered cutting it from the second edition of the collection in which it came out. He had only written the wretched thing in a few minutes after reading an article in The Times which mentioned that 'someone had blundered'. He liked the dactyllic rhythm of the phrase and the rest is pseudo-history.

Just in case you were wondering, Tennyson knew that most accounts had closer to 700 men involved, but wrote in a letter that 'Six is much better than seven hundred (as I think) metrically'. So the numbers are there for the metre. Also, as a Lincolnshire boy, Tennyson would have pronounced hundred as hunderd, which means that, for him at least, it really did rhyme with blundered.

Monday morning with the Inky Fool

1 comment:

  1. We have locally at Donnington, Telford the chunk of Crimean cannon or 'cascabel' - referring to the round projection on the breech from which the VC's are manufactured. I have made a number of requests to visit but all have been turned down. The venerated lump is only moved, under armed guard, to London to the original jewellers when a new 'Cross' is required. I do'nt suppose they rush it down there as it is usually awarded posthumously - only enough metal left for 80+. Appropriately enough 111 were awarded during the Crimean campaign.