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About this poet

Charles Hamilton Sorley was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, on May 19, 1895. In 1900, the family moved to England when Sorley’s father, a professor of moral philosophy, accepted a post at Cambridge. In 1908 Sorely received a scholarship to Marlborough College, and after completing his studies there, he was offered a scholarship to University College, Oxford, in 1913. Before beginning at Oxford, however, he spent several months studying in Jena, Germany. Already a dedicated writer, he sent batches of poems to his mother during this time. When World War I broke out, Sorley was still in Germany, and he was detained for a night at Trier before returning to England. He enlisted in the British Army and was sent to the Western Front as a lieutenant in the Suffolk Regiment. Sorley was killed by a sniper at the Battle of Loos on October 13, 1915. His body was never found, but he is commemorated in a memorial in Poets Corner, Westminster Abbey. Thirty-seven of his poems were published posthumously as Marlborough and Other Poems (Cambridge University Press, 1916).

Two Sonnets

                                     I  

Saints have adored the lofty soul of you.
Poets have whitened at your high renown.
We stand among the many millions who
Do hourly wait to pass your pathway down.
You, so familiar, once were strange: we tried 
To live as of your presence unaware.
But now in every road on every side
We see your straight and steadfast signpost there.

I think it like that signpost in my land,
Hoary and tall, which pointed me to go
Upward, into the hills, on the right hand,
Where the mists swim and the winds shriek and blow,
A homeless land and the friendless, but a land
I did not know and that I wished to know.

                                   II

Such, such is Death: no triumph: no defeat:
Only an empty pail, a slate rubbed clean,
A merciful putting away of what has been.

And this we know: Death is not Life effete,
Life crushed, the broken pail. We who have seen 
So marvelous things know well the end not yet.

Victor and vanquished are a-one in death:
Coward and brave: friend, foe. Ghosts do not say
“Come, what was your record when you drew breath?”
But a big blot has hid each yesterday
So poor, so manifestly incomplete.
And your bright Promise, withered long and sped,
Is touched, stirs, rises, opens and grows sweet
And blossoms and is you, when you are dead. 

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Charles Hamilton Sorley

Charles Hamilton Sorley

Charles Hamilton Sorley was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1895. He served in the British Army and was killed in action at the Battle of Loos in 1915. His poetry was published posthumously as Marlborough and Other Poems (Cambridge University Press, 1916).

by this poet

poem
There is such change in all those fields,
Such motion rhythmic, ordered, free,
Where ever-glancing summer yields
Birth, fragrance, sunlight, immanency,
To make us view our rights of birth.
What shall we do? How shall we die?
We, captives of a roaming earth,
’Mid shades that life and light deny.
Blank summer’s
poem
There is no fitter end than this.
   No need is now to yearn nor sigh.
We know the glory that is his,
   A glory that can never die.

Surely you knew it long before,
   Knew all along that he was made
For a swift radiant morning, for
   A sacrificing swift night-shade.
poem

I

Saints have adorned the lofty soul of you.
Poets have whitened at your high renown.
We stand among the many millions who
Do hourly wait to pass your pathway down.
You, so familiar, once were strange: we tried
To live as of your presence unaware.
But now in every road on every