Isaac Rosenberg

October 4, 2006


Born into a working-class Jewish family
Major poet of WWI
While others wrote about war as patriotic sacrifice, Rosenberg was critical of the war from its onset
Suffered from chronic bronchitis: tried to cure himself by moving to South Africa
Hoped to make a career as a portrait artist but failed
For financial reasons, Rosenberg returned to England in 1915 and joined the Bantam Batallion of the 12th Suffolk Regiment, 40th division
Some critics suggest that, had he survived the war, he might have been an outstanding poet, equalling Pound and Eliot (both admirers of his work) in reputation
He was killed at dawn on April 1, 1918 while on night patrol : there is a dispute as to whether his death occurred at the hands of a sniper, or in close combat


Earth has waited for them / All the time of their growth / Fretting for their decay: / Now she has them at last! / In the strength of their strength / Suspended- stopped and held.
What fierce imaginings their dark souls lit / Earth! have they gone into you? / Somewhere they must have gone, / And flung on your hard back / Is their souls’ sack, / Emptied of God-ancestralled essences. / Who hurled them out? Who hurled?
None saw their spirits’ shadow shake the grass, / Or stood aside for the half used life to pass / Out of those doomed nostrils and the doomed mouth, / When the swift iron burning bee / Drained the wild honey of their youth.
What of us, who flung on the shrieking pyre, / Walk, our usual thoughts untouched, / Our lucky limbs as on ichor fed, / Immortal seeming ever? / Perhaps when the flames beat loud on us, / A fear may choke in our veins / And the startled blood may stop.
the air is loud with death, / The dark air spurts with fire / The explosions ceaseless are. / Timelessly now, some minutes past, / These dead strode time with vigorous life, / Till the shrapnel called ‘an end!’ / But not to all. In bleeding pangs / Some borne on streatchers dreamed of home, / Dear things, war-blotted from their hearts.

Will they come? Will they ever come? / Even as the mixed hoofs of the mules, / The quivering-bellied mules, / And the rushing wheels all mixed / With his tortured upturned sight. / So we crashed round the bend, / We heard his weak scream, / We heard his very last sound, / And our wheels grazed his dead face.

-Dead Man’s Dump

Compare to Sanburg’s ‘Grass’ and Teasdale’s ‘Ther Will Come Soft Rains’
What is the role of the earth in these war poems?

The darkness crumbles away. / It is the same old druid Time as ever, / Only a live thing leaps my hand, / A queer sardonic rat, / As I pull the parapet’s poppy / To stick behind my ear. / Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew / Your cosmopolitan sympathies. / Now you have touched this English hand / You will do the same to a German / Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure / To cross the sleeping green between. / It seems you inwardly grin as you pass / Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes, / Less chanced than you for life, / Bonds to the whims of murder, / Sprawled in the bowels of the earth, / The torn fields of France. / What do you see in our eyes / At the shrieking iron and flame / Hurled through still heaven? / What quaver- what heart aghast? / Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins / Drop, and are ever dropping; / But mine in my ear is safe- / Just a little white with the dust.

-Break of Day in the Trenches (in whole)


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