Marlborough, and other poems by Charles Hamilton Sorley


Charles Hamilton Sorley composed these haunting poems before the age of 20. Some were found in his kit, scribbled in pencil on paper, after he was killed in the Battle of Loos, France, on 13 October 1915, in the First World War. Santanu Das writes of him, ‘Often regarded as the ‘transitional’ figure between the early and later soldier-poets, Sorley … was unusual for the time’. Sorley’s best-known poem ‘XXVII’ presents death in an unglorified, strikingly unsentimental light:

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go,
Say not soft things as other men have said,
That you’ll remember. For you need not so.
Give them not praise. For, deaf, how should they know
It is not curses heaped on each gashed head?
Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.
Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.
Say only this, ‘They are dead.’ Then add thereto,
‘Yet many a better one has died before.’
Then, scanning all the o’ercrowded mass, should you
Perceive one face that you loved heretofore,
It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.
Great death has made all his for evermore.

In ‘To Germany’, Sorley explores an ambivalent relationship with the ‘enemy’. As in ‘XXVII’ Sorley locates points of similarity between the opposing foot soldiers, and characterises their actions as a case of ‘the blind fight the blind’. Sorley’s perspective was shaped by the six months he spent travelling and studying in Germany prior to the outbreak of war.

Combining realism and ambivalence, Sorley is often considered a forerunner to Wilfred Owen. Siegfried Sassoon introduced Owen to Sorley’s poetry, who in turn was introduced by Robert Graves. The majority of Owen’s war poetry was written between 1917–18 before he, too, was killed on a French battlefield.

Full title:
Marlborough, and other poems
1916, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire
Charles Hamilton Sorley
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library

Full catalogue details

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