Posted in Poems/Poetry

Such, Such Is Death

CHARLES HAMILTON SORLEY (1895 – 1915)

British Poet

Charles Hamilton Sorley was born in Aberdeen in 1894. The son of the profressor of moral philosphy at Aberdeen University, Sorley was extremely intelligent and won a scholarship to Marlborough College.

In 1913 Sorely spent a year in Germany before taking up the offer of a place at University college, Cambridge. When war (World War I) was declared in August 1914, Sorley returned to England and enlisted in the British Army. He joined the Suffolk Regiment and after several months training, Lieutenant Sorly 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 October 13, 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 popular and achieved critical success when it was published in 1916.  [adapted from Spartacus Educational, a site developed by John Simpkin (MPhil.), British educator, historian, and member of the European History E-Learning Project] J.D.

·

SUCH, SUCH IS DEATH (1915)

by

Charles Hamilton Sorley 

·

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 marvellous 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.

·

TO GERMANY (1914)

by

Charles Hamilton Sorely 

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.

Photo credit ~ a cropped and retouched version of a portrait of British soldier poet, Charles Hamitlton Sorely dated c. 1914/1915, since Mr. Sorely is in uniform here and was enlisted in 1914 and killed in 1915. The photo was first published in 1918. The collection of his poems came out in 1919. The photo is from For Remembrance: Soldier Poets Who Have Fallen in the War. The photograph is in the public domain.

*Poems ~ excepts from Marlborough and Other Poems by Charles Hamilton Sorely. It would appear that this book is currently in the public domain. You can read the entire book on or download it from Internet Archives HERE.

Author:

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6 thoughts on “Such, Such Is Death

  1. As the son of a moral philosopher, it does not surprise me that he pondered long on such things as death and human mortality. It is the feast of so many poets, that topic. Thank you for sharing this with us, and thank you, John, for sharing the first part of “Such, Such…” It is a sobering look at some harsh truths of the nature of war. Perhaps by meditating and studying such lines, we can better appreciate the lives we have and often take for granted?

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  2. As an afterthought, thinking of Victoria’s response to the programme she watched about WW2, if the public had been able to receive pictures and footage of what was actually going on i the front lines, particularly of WW1, if the internet and social media had been available then, as now, how long would it have been before a different course of events had been followed? I wonder, I wonder …

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  3. I have “Such, Such …” in an anthology that I am currently reading, “The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry”. There is much to recommend this book, with so many of the great WW1 poets represented there. Interesting that “Such, Such …” is the second part of his two part poem, “Two Sonnets”. The first part is, how can I describe it, quite ethereal …

    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 friendless, but a land
    I did not know and that I wished to know.

    It is certainly a haunting, perhaps haunted voice I hear in this poem; almost as if he had a premonition of his own death. So very sad, but he left us with something that is, dare I say, uplifting.

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  4. Oh my. We watched one hour of WWII coverage yesterday evening. Death was everywhere. (it had such graphic shots of the concentration camps and so many more). I felt literally nauseated. The question that haunts me: To what use? Horror.

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