On the morning of October 25, 1415, I doubt that King Henry V of England had much thought of surviving to the end of the day let alone having his name eternally associated with the date of October 25. Much of the credit for that welcome to one Mr. William Shakespeare, but the fact remains that Henry did something that ensured his connection to October 25.
Several hundred years later and a few hundred miles northeast, another group of men ensured their eternal connection October 25 for a less exciting reason. While Henry V is remembered for his military victory, the Light Brigade of 1854 is remembered for their defeat in the Battle of Balaclava in Crimean War. The Brigade would probably be simply relegated to the lesser pages of history books if not for Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
Tennyson took a moment of confusion and brought it to life. He took a disastrous battle and made it unforgettable; he made its warriors immortal with his pen. The story of the battle is not commonly taught in American schools, but the poem is. The poem lives on and carries on with it the memory of all those who died as a result of the battle.
A few years ago, one of my high school students looked at the poem and said, “Oh, I know this! It’s from The Blindside.” Naturally, my response was “Great, but do you know the story?” I slid a few Raglan Cardigan jokes in there and told the kiddos the story. Then we talked about how the story lives on due to literature.
I love literature, and this day (October 25) reminds me of one of my reasons. Literature carries messages to the future. It tells stories to people who might never have otherwise heard them. The British sense of duty is conveyed to future generations by The Charge of the Light Brigade. It tells us what mattered to the world in which that tragedy occurred. Yes, a group of brave men died, but they were committed to their cause and they did their duty to Queen and Country.Those were important values for their society.
I know and love the story of Henry V because of the Shakespeare play of the same name. If not for Shakespeare-and subsequently Kenneth Branagh and The Hollow Crown, I might have encountered him briefly on the pages of a history book as a high school freshmen, but I never would have been enchanted by his story. Literature brought Henry to life for me, and I was enchanted by him.
On October 25, I find myself rejoicing in a victory that happened six centuries ago. I find myself saddened by the loss of innocent lives at the Battle of Balaclava. But most of all, I find myself grateful that literature in all of its various forms helps us to preserve history. And may that continue to be true from this until the ending of the world.