Charles Hamilton Sorley.

Marlborough : and other poems online

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and other poems


C. F. CLAY, Manager


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iP.efa Sorf;: G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS

!3ombn)7, CTnlriitta anO fSntitas: MACMIT,I.AN AND Co., Ltd.

^Toronto: J. M. DENT AND SONS, Ltd.


Ail rights reserved


and other poems




Third edition
ivith illustrations in prose


at the University Press



Published, January 191 6

Second edition, slightly enlarged, February 1916

Reprinted, February, April, May 1916

Third edition, with illustrations in prose, October 1916


WHAT was said concerning the author in the preface
to the first edition may be repeated here. He was
born at Old Aberdeen on 19 May 1895. From 1900
onwards his home was in Cambridge. He was at Marl-
borough College from September 1908 till December 19 13,
when he was elected to a scholarship at University College,
Oxford. After leaving school he spent a little more than
six months in Germany, returning home on the outbreak
of war. He was gazetted Second Lieutenant in the
Seventh (Service) Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment in
August 1914, Lieutenant in November, and Captain in
the following August. His battalion was sent to France
on 30 May. He was killed in action near Hulluch on
13 October 1915. "Being made perfect in a Uttle while,
he fulfilled long years."

Many readers have asked for further information
about the author or contributions from his pen. I am
not able to give all that is asked for ; but in this edition
I have done what I can to meet the wishes of my corre-
spondents by appending to the poems a certain number
of illustrations in prose. With the exception of a few
sentences from an early essay, these prose passages are
all taken from his letters to his family and friends. They
have been selected as illustrating some idea or subject
mentioned in the poems and prominent in his own mind.



But the relevancy is not always very close ; the moods
of the moment are sometimes expressed rather than
matured judgments; and it has to be remembered that
what was written was not intended for other eyes than
those of the person to whom it was addressed.

With the poems it is different; and, had he lived,
he would probably himself have published a selection of
them with such revision as he deemed advisable. But
when a suggestion about printing was made to him,
soon after he had entered upon his life in the trenches
of Flanders, he put the proposal aside as premature,
adding "Besides, this is no time for oliveyards and
vineyards, more especially of the small-holdings type.
For three years or the duration of the war, let be."
His warfare is now accomplished, and his relatives have
felt themselves free to publish.

The original order of the poems is retained in this
edition. The first place is assigned to the title-poem;
some early poems are printed at the end; the other
contents are arranged in the order of their composition,
as nearly as that order could be ascertained. When
the date given includes the day of the month, it has
been taken from the author's manuscript; some of the
other dates are approximate. Of the undated poems,
XIII to XVI were received from him in October 19 14,
XVII to XXIV in April 1915, xxvii was found in his kit
sent back from France, and xxviii (which appeared for
the first time in the second edition) was sent to a friend

towards the end of July 1915. A single piece of imagina-
tive prose has been included amongst the poems.

Some further information regarding them has been
obtained recently, xvi was written when he was at
the Officers' Training Camp at Churn early in September
1914, and XVII a few days later, xv had its origin in
his journey from Churn to join his regiment at Shorn cliff e
on 18 September. The first draft of it was sent to a friend
soon afterwards with the words: "enclosed the poem
which eventually came out of the first day of term at
Paddington. Not much trace of the origin left; but
I think it should get a prize for being the first poem
written since August 4th that isn't patriotic." This
draft differs slightly from the final form of the poem,
and instead of the present title ("Whom therefore we
ignorantly worship"), it is preceded by the verse "And
these all, having obtained a good report through faith,
received not the promise." The poem called "Lost"
(xxiv) was sent to the same friend in December 1914.
"I have tried for long," he wrote, "to express in words
the impression that the land north of Marlborough must
leave"; and he added, "Simplicity, paucity of words,
monotony almost, and mystery are necessary. I think
I have got it at last." The signpost, which figures here
as well as elsewhere in the poems, stands at "the junction
of the grass tracks on the Aldbourne down — to Ogbourne,
Marlborough, Mildenhall, and Aldbourne. It stands up
quite alone."

Three of the poems at least — ii, viii, and xii — were
written entirely in the open air. Concerning one of these
he said, " 'Autumn Dawn' has too much copy from
Meredith in it, but I value it as being (with 'Return')
a memento of my walk to Marlborough last September
[1913]." Sending his "occasional budget" in April 1915
he said, "You will notice that most of what I have written
is as hurried and angular as the handwriting: written
out at different times and dirty with my pocket : but I
have had no time for the final touch nor seem likely to
have for some time, and so send them as they are. Nor
have I had time to think out (as I usually do) a rigorous
selection as fit for other eyes. So these are my explana-
tions of the fall in quality. I like 'Le Revenant' best,
being very interested in the previous and future experience
of the character concerned: but it sadly needs the file."

The letter in verse, fragments of which are given on
pages 73-78, was sent anonymously to an older friend
whose connexion with Marlborough is commemorated in
the poem entitled " J. B." J. B. discovered the authorship
of the epistle by sending the envelope to a Marlborough
master, and replied in the words which, by his permission,
are printed on the opposite page.

W. R. S.

21 September 1916.

From far away there comes a Voice,
Singing its song across the sea —

A song to make man's heart rejoice —
Of Marlborough and the Odyssey.

A voice that sings of Now and Then,
Of minstrel joys and tiny towns.

Of flowering thyme and fighting men.

Of Sparta's sands and Marlborough's Downs.

God grant, dear Voice, one day again

We see those Downs in April weather.

And snufi the breeze, and smell the rain.
And stand in C House Porch together!
















Marlborough .

Barbury Camp

What you will


Rooks (II)


East Kennet Chu

Autumn Dawn


Richard Jefferies

J. B. . .


at Evening

The Other Wise Man
The Song of the Ungirt Runners
German Rain ....

Whom therefore we ignorantly worship

To Poets

"A hundred thousand milUon mites we

Deus loquitur ....

Two Songs from Ibsen's Dramatic Poems














XX "If I have suffered pain" .... 53

XXI To Germany 56

XXII "All the hills and vales along" ... 57

XXIII Le Revenant 60

XXIV Lost 64

XXV Expectans expectavi ..... 65

XXVI Two Sonnets ....... 67

XXVII A Sonnet 69

XXVIII "There is such change in all those fields" . 70

XXIX "I have not brought my Odyssey" . . 73

XXX In Memoriam S.C.W., V.C 79

XXXI Behind the Lines 80

Earlier Poems:

XXXII A Call to Action 87

XXXIII Rain 91

XXXIV A Tale of Two Careers .... 95
XXXV Peace 100

XXXVI The River 103

XXXVII The Seekers 107

Illustrations in prose . . . . . .111


CROUCHED where the open upland billows down
Into the valley where the river flows.
She is as any other country town,

That little lives or marks or hears or knows.

And she can teach but little. She has not
The wonder and the surging and the roar

Of striving cities. Only things forgot

That once were beautiful, but now no more,

Has she to give us. Yet to one or two

She first brought knowledge, and it was for her

To open first our eyes, until we knew

How great, immeasurably great, we were.

s. M.

I, who have walked along her downs in dreams,
And known her tenderness, and felt her might.

And sometimes by her meadows and her streams
Have drunk deep-storied secrets of delight,

Have had my moments there, when I have been
Unwittingly aware of something more,

Some beautiful aspect, that I had seen
With mute unspeculative eyes before;

Have had my times, when, though the earth did wear
Her self-same trees and grasses, I could see

The revelation that is always there,

But somehow is not always clear to me.


So, long ago, one halted on his way

And sent his company and cattle on ;

His caravans trooped darkling far away
Into the night, and he was left alone.

And he was left alone. And, lo, a man

There wrestled with him till the break of day.

The brook was silent and the night was wan.

And when the dawn was come, he passed away.

The sinew of the hollow of his thigh

Was shrunken, as he wrestled there alone.

The brook was silent, but the dawn was nigh.

The stranger named him Israel and was gone.

And the sun rose on Jacob; and he knew

That he was no more Jacob, but had grown

A more immortal vaster spirit, who

Had seen God face to face, and still Hved on.

The plain that seemed to stretch away to God,

The brook that saw and heard and knew no fear,

Were now the self-same soul as he who stood
And waited for his brother to draw near.


For God had wrestled with him, and was gone.

He looked around, and only God remained.
The dawn, the desert, he and God were one.

— And Esau came to meet him, travel-stained.


So, there, when sunset made the downs look new
And earth gave up her colours to the sky.

And far away the little city grew

Half into sight, new-visioned was my eye.

I, who have lived, and trod her lovely earth.

Raced with her winds and listened to her birds,

Have cared but little for their worldly worth
Nor sought to put my passion into words.

But now it's different; and I have no rest

Because my hand must search, dissect and spell

The beauty that is better not expressed.

The thing that all can feel, but none can tell.

I March 191 4



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 Uked 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?

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 j^ou 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 ! "

24 March 1913




OCOME and see, it's such a sight,
So many boys all doing right :
To see them underneath the yoke.
Blindfolded by the elder folk,
Move at a most impressive rate
Along the way that is called straight.
O, it is comforting to know
They're in the way they ought to go.
But don't you think it's far more gay
To see them slowly leave the way
And limp and loose themselves and fall?
0, that's the nicest thing of all.

I love to see this sight, for then
I know they are becoming men.
And they are tiring of the shrine
Where things are really not divine.

I do not know if it seems brave

The youthful spirit to enslave,

And hedge about, lest it should grow.

I don't know if it's better so

In the long end. I only know

That when I have a son of mine,

He shan't be made to droop and pine,

Bound down and forced by rule and rod

To serve a God who is no God.

But I'll put custom on the shelf

And make him find his God himself.


Perhaps he'll find him in a tree,
Some hollow trunk, where you can see.
Perhaps the daisies in the sod
Will open out and show him God.
Or will he meet him in the roar
Of breakers as they beat the shore?
Or in the spiky stars that shine?
Or in the rain (where I found mine)?
Or in the city's giant moan?

— A God who will be all his own.
To whom he can address a prayer
And love him, for he is so fair,
And see with e3'es that are not dim
And build a temple meet for him.

June 1913




THERE, where the rusty iron lies,
The rooks are cawing all the day.
Perhaps no man, until he dies.

Will understand them, what they say.

The evening makes the sky Hke clay.

The slow wind waits for night to rise.
The world is half-content. But they

Still trouble all the trees with cries,
That know, and cannot put away.

The yearning to the soul that flies

From day to night, from night to day.

21 June 1913



THERE is such cry in all these birds,
More than can ever be express'd;
If I should put it into words,

You would agree it were not best
To wake such wonder from its rest.

But since to-night the world is still
And only they and I astir,

We are united, will to will.

By bondage tighter, tenderer
Than any lovers ever were.


And if, of too much labouring,

All that I see around should die

(There is such sleep in each green thing,
Such weariness in all the sky),
We would live on, these birds and I.

Yet how? since everything must pass
At evening with the sinking sun.

And Christ is gone, and Barabbas,

Judas and Jesus, gone, clean gone,
Then how shall I live on?

Yet surely, Judas must have heard
Amidst his torments the long cry

Of some lone Israelitish bird.

And on it, ere he went to die.
Thrown all his spirit's agony.


And that immortal cry which welled
For Judas, ever afterwards

Passion on passion still has swelled

And sweetened, till to-night these birds
Will take my words, will take my words,

And wrapping them in music meet

Will sing their spirit through the sky,

Strange and unsatisfied and sweet —

That, when stock-dead am I, am I,
O, these will never die!

July 191 3



THIS field is almost white with stones
That cumber all its thirsty crust.
And underneath, I know, are bones.
And all around is death and dust.

And if you love a livelier hue —

O, if you love the youth of year.

When all is clean and green and new,
Depart. There is no summer here.

Albeit, to me there lingers yet
In this forbidding stony dress

The impotent and dim regret

For some forgotten restlessness.


Dumb, imperceptibly astir,

These relics of an ancient race,

These men, in whom the dead bones were,
Still fortifying their resting-place.

Their field of life was white with stones;

Good fruit to earth they never brought.
O, in these bleached and buried bones

Was neither love nor faith nor thought.

But like the wind in this bleak place.

Bitter and bleak and sharp they grew.

And bitterly they ran their race,
A brutal, bad. unkindly crew:

Souls like the dry earth, hearts like stone.
Brains like that barren bramble-tree:

Stern, sterile, senseless, mute, unknown —
But bold, O, bolder far than we I

14 July 191 3

s. M. 17


I STOOD amongst the corn, and watched
The evening coming down.
The rising vale was like a queen,
And the dim church her crown.

Crown-like it stood against the hills.

Its form was passing fair.
I almost saw the tribes go up

To offer incense there.

And far below the long vale stretched.

As a sleeper she did seem
That after some brief restlessness

Has now begun to dream.


(All day the wakefulness of men,
Their lives and labours brief.

Have broken her long troubled sleep.
Now, evening brings relief.)

There was no motion there, nor sound.

She did not seem to rise.
Yet was she wrapping herself in

Her grey of night-disguise.

For now no church nor tree nor fold

Was visible to me:
Only that fading into one

Which God must sometimes see.

No coloured glory streaked the sky
To mark the sinking sun.

There was no redness in the west
To tell that day was done.



Only, the greyness of the eve

Grew fuller than before.
And, in its fulness, it made one

Of what had once been more.

There was much beauty in that sight
That man must not long see.

God dropped the kindly veil of night
Between its end and me.

24 July 191 3



AND this is morning. Would you think
That this was the morning, when the land
Is full of heavy eyes that blink
Half-opened, and the tall trees stand
Too tired to shake away the drops
Of passing night that cling around
Their branches and weigh down their tops:
And the grey sky leans on the ground?
The thrush sings once or twice, but stops
Affrighted by the silent sound.
The sheep, scarce moving, munches, moans.
The slow herd mumbles, thick with phlegm.
The grey road-mender, hacking stones.
Is now become as one of them.


Old mother Earth has rubbed her eyes
And stayed, so senseless, lying down.
Old mother is too tired to rise
And lay aside her grey nightgown.
And come with singing and with strength
In loud exuberance of day.
Swift-darting. She is tired at length,
Done up, past bearing, you would say.
She'll come no more in lust of strife.
In hedges' leap, and wild birds' cries,
In winds that cut you like a knife,
In days of laughter and swift skies.
That palpably pulsate with life.
With life that kills, with life that dies.
But in a morning such as this
Is neither life nor death to see,
Only that state which some call bliss,
Grey hopeless immortalityo


Earth is at length bedrid. She is
Supinest of the things that be:
And stilly, heavy with long years,
Brings forth such days in dumb regret.
Immortal days, that rise in tears.
And cannot, though they strive to, set.

The mists do move. The v/ind takes breath.
The sun appeareth over there.
And with red fingers hasteneth
From Earth's grey bed the clothes to tear.
And strike the heavy mist's dank tent.
And Earth uprises with a sigh.
She is astir. She is not spent.
And yet she lives and yet can die.
The grey road-mender from the ditch
Looks up. He has not looked before.
The stunted tree sways like the witch
It was: 'tis living witch once more.


The winds are washen. In the deep
Dew of the morn they've washed. The skies
Are changing dress. The clumsy sheep
Bound, and earth's many bosoms rise,
And earth's green tresses spring and leap
About her brow. The earth has eyes,
The earth has voice, the earth has breath,
As o'er the land and through the air.
With winged sandals. Life and Death
Speed hand in hand — that winsome pair!

1 6 September 191 3




STILL stand the downs so wise and wide?
Still shake the trees their tresses grey?
I thought their beauty might have died
Since I had been away.

I might have known the things I love,
The winds, the flocking birds' full cry.

The trees that toss, the downs that move,
Were longer things than I.

Lo, earth that bows before the wind,
With wild green children overgrown.

And all her bosoms, many-whinned.
Receive me as their own.


The birds are hushed and fled: the cows

Have ceased at last to make long moan.

They only think to browse and browse
Until the night is grown.

The wind is stiller than it was,

And dumbness holds the closing day.

The earth says not a word, because
It has no word to say.

The dear soft grasses under foot
Are silent to the listening ear.

Yet beauty never can be mute.
And some will always hear.

1 8 September 191 3




(liddington castle)

I SEE the vision of the Vale
Rise teeming to the rampart Down,
The fields and, far below, the pale
Red-roofedness of Swindon town.

But though I see all things remote,
I cannot see them with the eyes

With which ere now the man from Coate

Looked down and wondered and was wise.


He knew the healing balm of night,

The strong and sweeping joy of day,

The sensible and dear delight
Of life, the pity of decay.

And many wondrous words he wrote.

And something good to man he showed.

About the entering in of Coate,

There, on the dusty Swindon road.

19 September 191 3


J- B.

THERE'S still a horse on Granham hill,
And still the Kennet moves, and still
Four Miler sways and is not still.
But where is her interpreter?

The downs are blown into dismay,
The stunted trees seem all astray,
Looking for someone clad in grey
And carrying a golf-club thing;

Who, them when he had lived among,
Gave them what they desired, a tongue.
Their words he gave them to be sung

Perhaps were few, but they were true.


The trees, the downs, on either hand,
Still stand, as he said they would stand.
But look, the rain in all the land

Makes all things dim with tears of him.

And recently the Kennet croons.
And winds are playing widowed tunes.
— He has not left our "toun o' touns,"
But taken it away with him!

October 191 3




(Scene : A valley with a wood on one side and a road rtmning
up to a distant hill : as it might be, the valley io the east
of West Woods, that runs up to Oare Hill, only much
larger. Time: Autumn. Four wise men are marching
hilhi>ard along the road.)

One Wise Man

I wonder where the valley ends?
On, comrades, on.

Another Wise Man

The rain-red road,
Still shining sinuously, bends
Leagues upwards.


A Third Wise Man

To the hill, O friends,
To seek the star that once has glowed
Before us; turning not to right
Nor left, nor backward once looking.
Till we have clomb — and with the night
We see the King.

All the Wise Men
The King! The King!

The Third Wise Man
Long is the road but —

A Fourth Wise Man

Brother, see,
There, to the left, a very aisle
Composed of every sort of tree —

The First Wise Man
Still onward —


The Fourth Wise Man

Oak and beech and birch,
Like a church, but homeher than church.
The black trunks for its walls of tile;
Its roof, old leaves; its floor, beech nuts;
The squirrels its congregation —

The Second Wise Man

For still we journey —

The Fourth Wise Man
But the sun weaves
A water-web across the grass.
Binding their tops. You must not pass
The water cobweb.

The Third Wise Man
Hush! I say.

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Online LibraryCharles Hamilton SorleyMarlborough : and other poems → online text (page 1 of 5)