A blog for Senior Project 1 about sonnets and trenches
Pro Patria Mori
Friday, April 22, 2016
Sorley in uniform.
The next British war poet we'll talk about wrote very differently from our
previous poet, Rupert Brooke. Charles Sorley was born May 19, 1895 to
philosopher and professor William Richie Sorley in Aberdeen, Scotland.
Sorley attended Marlborough College in Wiltshire, England. There, he found a
fondness for cross country running, particularity in the rain. The strict
Protestant principals Sorley was raised with would stay with him into college,
even volunteering punishment for breaking school rules. Before Sorley would
have attended Oxford College on scholarship, he spent time in Germany and
attended University of Jena until the war broke out.
After British declaration of war, Sorley was detained in Trier, Germany, but
later released and instructed to leave Germany. When Sorley arrived in England,
he volunteered for the British Army and would be sent to the Western Front.
Sorley joined as a lieutenant, but would advance to captain within a month.
Staples of Sorley's life will show up as recurring themes in his writing. Like
rain in Barbury Camp
, To Germany
, and The Song of the Ungirt
, or religion in All the Hills and Vales Along
. In contrast to poets like Brooke, Sorley's tone is
noticeably less nationalistic. In To Germany
and Such, Such is
, Sorley writes German soldiers as equals in death and tragedy.
Sorley's depictions of death are less idealistic than Brooke's, calling death
a "empty pail" compared to Brooke's "richer dust."
Sorley describes conflict as futile in To Germany
, writing Britain and
Germany blindly fighting, and in Such, Such is Death
as "So poor, so
manifestly incomplete." The "bright Promise", a promise similar to Brooke's,
in Sorley's poem is "withered long and sped." This pessimism becomes a theme
in continuing poems during the war, and in art afterwards. The tone comes from
the conflict Sorley and others experienced in the trenches, and perhaps part of
why Brooke as a sailor had a vastly different views on the war.
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.
Sorley was killed in action on October 13, 1915 of a sniper shot to the head
during the Battle of Loos. Sorley's last poem, 'When You See Millions of the
Mouthless Dead', was found in his bag after his death. Without a known grave at
the end of the war, he was commemorated at the Loos Memorial.
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.