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Charles Hamilton Sorley
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by John Press

This book, or possibly more accurately, pamphlet, is essentially an essay which acts as an introduction to the war poet, Charles Hamilton Sorley. Sorley was killed relatively early in the War, in battle on 13th October 1915. He was a mere twenty years old at the time.

He came from Scottish Protestant stock and, although proud of his inheritance, spent most of his short life in England where his father was the Knightsbridge Professor of Philosophy at Cambridge. He was surrounded by poetry and wrote himself, from a young age, although little of this work remains.

Cecil Woolf, 2006
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Sorley appears to have had a most strict sense of duty and Press recounts two incidents from his time in Marlborough School where he almost demanded physical punishment for rule infringement; infringement caused by his own feelings of "rightness" on some matters. It seems, as he developed, he both lost his religious feelings and started developing desires to improve society. We are talking of a serious young man.

Sorley was familiar with, and indeed much admired Germany. Despite this he volunteered for military service as soon as he was able and received a commission in the Regular Army. It is at this point that Press starts quoting heavily from Sorley’s poetry and rightly so. I shall just quote one stanza:

"On marching men, on

To the gates of death with song.

Sow your gladness for earth’s reaping,

So you may be glad, though sleeping.

Strew your gladness on earth’s bed,

So be merry, so be dead."

At this point I will stop. Press’s essay continues to Sorley’s death and beyond. It was the first time I had ever heard the poet’s name but I do not intend it to be the last. This is a short, economic but effective introduction to one of the many talents removed early from the world by what will always remain a gigantic blot on the page of our history. I urge you to check out what work this man was allowed to do before being killed; I certainly intend doing so. John Press’s essay is a very good place to start.

Open Book

Review by Chris Williams