In May 1915 Charles Hamilton Sorley crossed to France to serve in the trenches during the First World War. In October of that year he was killed in action at the Battle of Loos. He was twenty years old. He left only 37 complete poems. The one reproduced here is from Marlborough, And Other Poems, a collection published three months after his death. The book became a popular and critical success during the 1920′s and ran through six editions.
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
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.
Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895-1915)
There is a distinctly melancholy tone about this poem, and it’s always brought to mind by this piece of music composed by Montreal Musician Kevin Dean. It is performed here by Kevin Dean and his uncle, Allan Dean, another highly noted musician. They are accompanied on piano by the talented Marie-Fatima Rudolf.