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Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895-1916) from The Letters of Charles Sorley, 1919. . Courtesy Internet Archive.

Charles Hamilton Sorley (19 May 1895 - 13 October 1915) was a Scottish poet killed in World War I.

Life Edit

Sorley was born in Aberdeen, Scotland, the son of Janet (Smith) and William Ritchie Sorley. He was educated, like Siegfried Sassoon, at Marlborough College (1908-1913). At Marlborough, Sorley's favourite pursuit was cross-country running in the rain, a theme evident in many of his pre-war poems, including "Rain" and "The Song of the Ungirt Runners". Before taking up a scholarship to study at University College, Oxford, Sorley spent a little more than six months in Germany, three months of which were at Schwerin studying the language and local culture. Then he enrolled at the University of Jena, and studied there up to the outbreak of World War I.[1] After Britain declared war on Germany, Sorley was detained for an afternoon in Trier, but released on the same day and told to leave the country.[2]

He returned to England and volunteered for military service, joining the Suffolk Regiment. He arrived at the Western Front in France as a lieutenant in May 1915, and quickly rose to the rank of captain at the age of 20. Sorley was killed in action near Hulluch,[1][3] where he was shot in the head by a sniper at the Battle of Loos on 13 October 1915.[2]


Robert Graves, a contemporary of Sorley's, described him in his book Goodbye to All That as "one of the three poets of importance killed during the war". (The other two were Isaac Rosenberg and Wilfred Owen.) Sorley may be seen as a forerunner of Sassoon and Owen, and his unsentimental style stands in direct contrast to that of Rupert Brooke. Sorley's last poem was recovered from his kit after his death, and includes some of his most famous lines:

When you see millions of the mouthless dead
Across your dreams in pale battalions go


Sorley's sole work was published posthumously in January 1916 and immediately became a critical success, with six editions printed that year. Sorley was regarded by some, including the Poet Laureate John Masefield (1878-1967), as the greatest loss of all the poets killed during the war.

On November 11, 1985, Sorley was among 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner. The inscription on the stone was written by Wilfred Owen. It reads: "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."[3]

Publications Edit


Collected editionsEdit

  • Poems and Selected Letters (edited by Hilda D. Spear). Dundee, Scotland, UK: Blackness Press, 1978.


  • Letters from Germany and the Army (edited by W.R. Sorley). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1916.
  • The Letters of Charles Sorley: With a chapter of biography (edited by W.R. Sorley & Janet Smith Sorley). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1919.
  • Collected Letters (edited by Jean Moorcroft Wilson). London: Cecil Woolf, 1987.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[4]

"When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead" by Charles Sorley

"When You See Millions of the Mouthless Dead" by Charles Sorley

Poems by Charles Hamilton Sorley Edit

  1. The Song of the Ungirt Runners

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. 1.0 1.1 Osborne, E.B. The New Elizabethans. NY: John Lane Company, 1919.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Prose & Poetry - Charles Hamilton Sorley, First World Retrieved on 21 August 2009.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Poets of the Great War. Retrieved on 21 August 2009.
  4. Search results = au:Charles Hamilton Sorley, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Feb. 27, 2015.

External linksEdit

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