Charles Sorley

Charles Sorley

Charles Hamilton Sorley was born in Aberdeen in 1895. The son of the professor of moral philosophy at Aberdeen University, Sorley was extremely intelligent and won a scholarship to Marlborough College.

In 1913 Sorley decided to spend a year in Germany before taking up the offer of a place at University College, Cambridge. When war was declared in August, 1914, Sorley immediately came back to England and enlisted in the British Army. Sorley joined the Suffolk Regiment and after several months training, Lieutenant Sorley was sent to the Western Front.

Sorley arrived in France in May 1915 and after three months was promoted to captain. Charles Hamilton Sorley was killed by a sniper at the Battle of Loos on 13th October, 1915. He left only 37 complete poems, including the one he wrote just before he was killed, When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead. Sorley's posthumous book, Marlborough and Other Poems was a popular and critical success when it was published in 1916.

Primary Sources

(1) Charles Sorley, To Germany (1914)

You are blind like us. Your hurt no man designed,

And no man claimed the conquest of your land.

But gropers both through fields of thought confined

We stumble and we do not understand.

You only saw your future bigly planned,

And we, the tapering paths of our own mind,

And in each other's dearest ways we stand,

And hiss and hate. And the blind fight the blind.

When it is peace, then we may view again

With new-won eyes each other's truer form

And wonder. Grown more loving-kind and warm

We'll grasp firm hands and laugh at the old pain,

When it is peace. But until peace, the storm

The darkness and the thunder and the rain.

(2) Charles Sorley, When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead (1915)

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 overcrowded 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 this for evermore.