Tuesday, June 14, 2011


Act as of Old, When Men Were Men

Charles Hamilton Sorley (1895-1915), A Call to Action, from Marlborough and Other Poems, 4th ed. (Cambridge: University Press, 1919), pp. 45-47:

A thousand years have passed away,
   Cast back your glances on the scene,
Compare this England of to-day
   With England as she once has been.

Fast beat the pulse of living then:
   The hum of movement, throb of war,
The rushing mighty sound of men
   Reverberated loud and far.

They girt their loins up and they trod
   The path of danger, rough and high;
For Action, Action was their god,
   "Be up and doing" was their cry.

A thousand years have passed away;
   The sands of life are running low;
The world is sleeping out her day;
   The day is dying—be it so.

A thousand years have passed amain;
   The sands of life are running thin;
Thought is our leader—Thought is vain;
   Speech is our goddess—Speech is sin.


It needs no thought to understand,
   No speech to tell, nor sight to see
That there has come upon our land
   The curse of Inactivity.

We do not see the vital point
   That 'tis the eighth, most deadly, sin
To wail, "The world is out of joint"—
   And not attempt to put it in.

We see the swollen stream of crime
   Flow hourly past us, thick and wide;
We gaze with interest for a time,
   And pass by on the other side.

We see the tide of human sin
   Rush roaring past our very door,
And scarcely one man plunges in
   To drag the drowning to the shore.

We, dull and dreamy, stand and blink,
   Forgetting glory, strength and pride,
Half—listless watchers on the brink.
   Half—ruined victims of the tide.


We question, answer, make defence,
   We sneer, we scoff, we criticize,
We wail and moan our decadence,
   Enquire, investigate, surmise;

We preach and prattle, peer and pry
   And fit together two and two:
We ponder, argue, shout, swear, lie—
   We will not, for we cannot, do.

Pale puny soldiers of the pen,
   Absorbed in this your inky strife,
Act as of old, when men were men,
   England herself and life yet life.
Charles Hamilton Sorley

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