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Charles Hamilton Sorley Biography

(1895–1915), Malburian, 1914, Marlborough and Other Poems, The Ungirt Runner, Collected Poems, Collected Letters

poems ungirt college published

Scottish poet, born in Aberdeen, where his father was Professor of Moral Philosophy, educated at Marlborough College. He was noted for the confidence and critical maturity of his addresses to the college's literary society; its magazine, the Malburian, published twelve of his poems in 1913. His experiences of the Wiltshire Downs, where he was fond of running, inform much of his work, most notably the celebrated ‘Song of the Ungirt Runners’. In 1914 he went to Germany and spent a term at the University of Jena. Briefly held under arrest as a spy after the outbreak of the war, upon returning to England he applied for a commission. The poetry he wrote during training anticipates active service with a fatalistic pantheism that is clearest in the unsettlingly spirited ‘All the hills and vales along’, with its refrain of ‘So be merry, so be dead’. He was killed at the Battle of Loos in October 1915. His brief exposure to the realities of the Western Front gave rise to a number of poems, including ‘When you see millions of the mouthless dead’ and ‘Such, such is Death: no triumph: no defeat’, which form emphatically bitter repudiations of Brooke's 1914 sequence. Sorley's Marlborough and Other Poems appeared in 1916. Despite the book's success and the claims made for his work by Graves, Bridges, and Blunden, Sorley received little attention for several decades; T. B. Swann's biography The Ungirt Runner was published in 1965, since when there have been several editions of his writings, principally Collected Poems (1985) and Collected Letters (1989), both edited by Jean Moorcroft Wilson.

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