Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895-1915) was only twenty when he was shot through the head by a sniper at the Battle of Loos. He was regarded by some, including Robert Graves and John Masefield, as one of the great poetic losses of the war. I think this poem has a bit of a shaky start – you think oh, just the usual diction of a young man aping the rhetoric of his time – but then it shifts into something quite different with an individual native strength, a strength which may derive in part from Sorley’s passion for cross-country running in wild weather, exercised on the downs near Marlborough where he was at school. I guess that is why this poem has a particular resonance for me: I know that country and that weather, and have shared that passion, such has been my luck, for many more years than were granted to Charles Sorley.
Saints Have Adored The Lofty Soul Of You
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.
Charles Hamilton Sorley
This ‘other’ place is really fascinating. I always go back to Bede and the sparrow in the mead hall. Something bugged me for years about that. It’s thast the sparrow came from ‘out there’, that was its/our real home.
I admit to admiring Sorley’s writing. His letters are wonderful. there is a strange see-saw effect between letters and poems: as one becomes more explicit, ruminative, the other falls off in quality, and vice versa.
Really good post. Thank you!