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by Charles Sorley |

Two Sonnets

 I

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. 

II

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.


by Charles Sorley |

The Song of the Ungirt Runners

 We swing ungirded hips,
 And lightened are our eyes,
 The rain is on our lips,
 We do not run for prize.
 We know not whom we trust
 Nor whitherward we fare,
 But we run because we must
 Through the great wide air.
 The waters of the seas
 Are troubled as by storm.
 The tempest strips the trees
 And does not leave them warm.
 Does the tearing tempest pause?
 Do the tree-tops ask it why?
 So we run without a cause
 'Neath the big bare sky.

 The rain is on our lips,
 We do not run for prize.
 But the storm the water whips
 And the wave howls to the skies.
 The winds arise and strike it
 And scatter it like sand,
 And we run because we like it
 Through the broad bright land.


by Charles Sorley |

All the Hills and Vales Along

 All the hills and vales along
 Earth is bursting into song,
 And the singers are the chaps
 Who are going to die perhaps.
 O sing, marching men,
 Till the valleys ring again.
 Give your gladness to earth's keeping,
 So be glad, when you are sleeping.
 Cast away regret and rue,
 Think what you are marching to.
 Little live, great pass.
 Jesus Christ and Barabbas
 Were found the same day.
 This died, that went his way.
 So sing with joyful breath,
 For why, you are going to death.
 Teeming earth will surely store
 All the gladness that you pour.

 Earth that never doubts nor fears,
 Earth that knows of death, not tears,
 Earth that bore with joyful ease
 Hemlock for Socrates,
 Earth that blossomed and was glad
 'Neath the cross that Christ had,
 Shall rejoice and blossom too
 When the bullet reaches you.
 Wherefore, men marching
 On the road to death, sing!
 Pour your gladness on earth's head,
 So be merry, so be dead.

 From the hills and valleys earth
 Shouts back the sound of mirth,
 Tramp of feet and lilt of sing
 Ringing all the road along.
 All the music of their going,
 Ringing swinging glad song-throwing,
 Earth will echo still, when foot
 Lies numb and voice mute.
 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.


by Charles Sorley |

A Letter From the Trenches to a School Friend

 I have not brought my Odyssey
With me here across the sea;
But you'll remember, when I say
How, when they went down Sparta way,
To sandy Sparta, long ere dawn
Horses were harnessed, rations drawn,
Equipment polished sparkling bright,
And breakfasts swallowed (as the white
Of eastern heavens turned to gold) -
The dogs barked, swift farewells were told.
The sun springs up, the horses neigh,
Crackles the whip thrice-then away!
From sun-go-up to sun-go-down
All day across the sandy down
The gallant horses galloped, till
The wind across the downs more chill
Blew, the sun sank and all the road
Was darkened, that it only showed
Right at the end the town's red light
And twilight glimmering into night.

The horses never slackened till
They reached the doorway and stood still.
Then came the knock, the unlading; then
The honey-sweet converse of men,
The splendid bath, the change of dress,
Then - oh the grandeur of their Mess,
The henchmen, the prim stewardess!
And oh the breaking of old ground,
The tales, after the port went round!
(The wondrous wiles of old Odysseus,
Old Agamemnon and his misuse
Of his command, and that young chit
Paris - who didn't care a bit
For Helen - only to annoy her
He did it really, K.T.A.)
But soon they led amidst the din
The honey-sweet -- in,
Whose eyes were blind, whose soul had sight,
Who knew the fame of men in fight -
Bard of white hair and trembling foot,
Who sang whatever God might put
Into his heart.
And there he sung,
Those war-worn veterans among,
Tales of great war and strong hearts wrung,
Of clash of arms, of council's brawl,
Of beauty that must early fall,
Of battle hate and battle joy
By the old windy walls of Troy.
They felt that they were unreal then,
Visions and shadow-forms, not men.
But those the Bard did sing and say
(Some were their comrades, some were they)
Took shape and loomed and strengthened more
Greatly than they had guessed of yore.
And now the fight begins again,
The old war-joy, the old war-pain.
Sons of one school across the sea
We have no fear to fight -

And soon, oh soon, I do not doubt it,
With the body or without it,
We shall all come tumbling down
To our old wrinkled red-capped town.
Perhaps the road up llsley way,
The old ridge-track, will be my way.
High up among the sheep and sky,
Look down on Wantage, passing by,
And see the smoke from Swindon town;
And then full left at Liddington,
Where the four winds of heaven meet
The earth-blest traveller to greet.
And then my face is toward the south,
There is a singing on my mouth
Away to rightward I descry
My Barbury ensconced in sky,
Far underneath the Ogbourne twins,
And at my feet the thyme and whins,
The grasses with their little crowns
Of gold, the lovely Aldbourne downs,
And that old signpost (well I knew
That crazy signpost, arms askew,
Old mother of the four grass ways).
And then my mouth is dumb with praise,
For, past the wood and chalkpit tiny,
A glimpse of Marlborough --!
So I descend beneath the rail
To warmth and welcome and wassail.

This from the battered trenches - rough,
Jingling and tedious enough.
And so I sign myself to you:
One, who some crooked pathways knew
Round Bedwyn: who could scarcely leave
The Downs on a December eve:
Was at his happiest in shorts,
And got - not many good reports!
Small skill of rhyming in his hand -
But you'll forgive - you'll understand.


by Charles Sorley |

When You See Millions Of The Mouthless Dead

 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." The 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.


by Charles Sorley |

Such Such Is Death

 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.


by Charles Sorley |

Expectans Expectavi

 From morn to midnight, all day through,
 I laugh and play as others do,
 I sin and chatter, just the same
 As others with a different name.
 And all year long upon the stage
 I dance and tumble and do rage
 So vehemently, I scarcely see
 The inner and eternal me.
 I have a temple I do not
 Visit, a heart I have forgot,
 A self that I have never met,
 A secret shrine -- and yet, and yet

 This sanctuary of my soul
 Unwitting I keep white and whole,
 Unlatched and lit, if Thou should'st care
 To enter or to tarry there.

 With parted lips and outstretched hands
 And listening ears Thy servant stands,
 Call Thou early, call Thou late,
 To Thy great service dedicate.


by Charles Sorley |

Barbury Camp

 We burrowed night and day with tools of lead,
Heaped the bank up and cast it in a ring
And hurled the earth above. And Caesar said,
“Why, it is excellent. I like the thing.”
We, who are dead,
Made it, and wrought, and Caesar liked the thing.

And here we strove, and here we felt each vein
Ice-bound, each limb fast-frozen, all night long.
And here we held communion with the rain
That lashed us into manhood with its thong,
Cleansing through pain.
And the wind visited us and made us strong.

Up from around us, numbers without name,
Strong men and naked, vast, on either hand
Pressing us in, they came. And the wind came
And bitter rain, turning grey all the land.
That was our game,
To fight with men and storms, and it was grand.

For many days we fought them, and our sweat
Watered the grass, making it spring up green,
Blooming for us. And, if the wind was wet,
Our blood wetted the wind, making it keen
With the hatred
And wrath and courage that our blood had been.

So, fighting men and winds and tempests, hot
With joy and hate and battle-lust, we fell
Where we fought. And God said, “Killed at last then? What!
Ye that are too strong for heaven, too clean for hell,
(God said) stir not.
This be your heaven, or, if ye will, your hell.”

So again we fight and wrestle, and again
Hurl the earth up and cast it in a ring.
But when the wind comes up, driving the rain
(Each rain-drop a fiery steed), and the mists rolling
Up from the plain,
This wild procession, this impetuous thing.

Hold us amazed. We mount the wind-cars, then
Whip up the steeds and drive through all the world,
Searching to find somewhere some brethren,
Sons of the winds and waters of the world.
We, who were men,
Have sought, and found no men in all this world.

Wind, that has blown here always ceaselessly,
Bringing, if any man can understand,
Might to the mighty, freedom to the free;
Wind, that has caught us, cleansed us, made us grand,
Wind that is we
(We that were men)—make men in all this land,

That so may live and wrestle and hate that when
They fall at last exultant, as we fell,
And come to God, God may say, “Do you come then
Mildly enquiring, is it heaven or hell?
Why! Ye were men!
Back to your winds and rains. Be these your heaven and hell!”


by Charles Sorley |

The Song of the Ungirt Runners

 We swing ungirded hips,
And lightened are our eyes,
The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
We know not whom we trust
Nor whitherward we fare,
But we run because we must
Through the great wide air.

The waters of the seas
Are troubled as by storm.
The tempest strips the trees
And does not leave them warm.
Does the tearing tempest pause?
Do the tree-tops ask it why?
So we run without a cause
'Neath the big bare sky.

The rain is on our lips,
We do not run for prize.
But the storm the water whips
And the wave howls to the skies.
The winds arise and strike it
And scatter it like sand,
And we run because we like it
Through the broad bright land.


by 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.