"To Germany"

“To Germany”

This hook is a poem written by a British student whose experiences in Germany before the First World War influenced his response to the conflict.

Context 

Charles Hamilton Sorley was a young English student who enlisted in 1914. Robert Graves described him as “one of the three poets of importance killed during the War” (Goodbye to All That, 1929). 

Sorley had spent around six months in Germany just before the First World War and felt a deep respect and affection for the German people. When he returned to England in 1914, he was repulsed by the jingoism he encountered there. His poem “To Germany” indicates his refusal to take a simplistic stance to the war. Sorley’s maturity and perceptiveness were evident throughout his military training: 

“Two Centenary Salutes: Charles Hamilton Sorley and Robert Graves” (external link)

“Two Centenary Salutes: Charles Hamilton Sorley and Robert Graves” by Anne Powell (Gravesiana: The Journal of the Robert Graves Society, volume 1, issue 1, 1996), pages 21–32.

Tragically, Charles Hamilton Sorley died at the Battle of Loos in 1915, aged 20. He left behind the small body of poems that was first published after his death. 

Possible discussion questions 

Why did Sorley write this poem? How might his experiences in Germany and friendships with German people have influenced his thinking? 

How might people in England at the time have reacted to this poem? What might be some reasons for their reactions? 

How has war poetry changed over the past 100 years? What different perspectives do these changes show? 

Sorley wrote that “all parties engaged in [war] must take an equal share in the blame of its occurrence”. Do you agree with this statement? Why or why not? How might this attitude change the way people view the other side in a conflict? 

Why might Sorley have enlisted even though he was aware of the futility of war? 

What are some of the causes and consequences of jingoistic thinking? What are some examples of jingoistic thinking about current conflicts? How might we encourage people to think more critically about issues of conflict? 

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