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Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895-1915) - Poet

He was born on 19th May 1895 in Aberdeen, Scotland, the elder of twin boys. His father was William Ritchie Sorley, Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, and his mother was the daughter of George Smith, an Edinburgh journalist. In 1900 Sorley's father was appointed Knightbridge Professor of Moral Sciences at the University of Cambridge. Sorley was educated at King's College Choir School and in 1908 he won a scholarship to Marlborough College, where he started writing poetry strongly influenced by the Wiltshire countryside. In December 1913, having won a place at University College, Oxford, he spent seven months in Germany and learned the language while attending a seminar at the University of Jena. At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 he returned to Britain and was gazetted as a second lieutenant in the Suffolk Regiment. Sorley had an ambivalent attitude towards the war and towards Germany. Although he was one of the first officers in Kitchener's Army his decision was fired neither by jingoistic patriotism nor by hatred of many. In his first war poem, the sonnet ' To Germany', he shows a subtle understanding of the brutalization of war and of a people Ied blindly by their rulers. War, for him, was a necessary evil. In March 1915 his battalion was moved to France, he was promoted captain and four months later was in action on the Western Front. He was killed by a sniper's bullet at the Battle of Loos in October 1915. Sorley's collection Marlborough and Other Poems was published posthumously in January 1916 and although it contains much of his juvenilia it became an instant success, owing to the inclusion of his war poems. Of these, his sonnets to death, the last, 'When you see Millions of the Mouthless Dead' being written immediately before his own death, and the often anthologized 'All the Hills and Dales Along' are perhaps the best-known. Because he died at such an early age Sorley had no opportunity to develop his powers, yet his war poetry reveals him as a poet of maturity and marked potential.

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