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Pale Battalions

What I’m Reading: Charles Hamilton Sorley, in World War One British Poets: Brooke, Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg and Others (1997, ed. Candace Ward).

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. 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 (1915/1916)When you see millions of the mouthless dead…
World War One British Poets: Brooke, Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg and Others

This was Sorley’s last poem. The manuscript was recovered from his soldier’s kit after a sniper killed him at Loos.

It was published posthumously in Marlborough and Other Poems (Cambridge, 1916). I read it, and copied it out of, the Dover anthology World War One British Poets: Brooke, Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg and Others (1997, ed. Candace Ward).

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