Biography of Isaac Rosenberg
Isaac Rosenberg was an English poet of the First World War who was considered to be one of the greatest of all English war poets. His "Poems from the Trenches" are recognised as some of the most outstanding written during the First World War.
Isaac Rosenberg was born to Barnet and Annie Rosenberg, who had fled Devinsk in Lithuania to escape anti-Jewish pogroms. In 1897, the family moved to 47 Cable Street in a poor district of the East End of London, and one with a strong Jewish community. He attended St. Paul's School around the corner in Wellclose Square, until his family (of Russian descent) moved to Stepney in 1900, so he could experience Jewish schooling. He left school at the age of fourteen and became an apprentice engraver.He was interested in both poetry and visual art, and managed to find the finances to attend the Slade School.
During his time at Slade School, Rosenberg notably studied alongside David Bomberg, Mark Gertler, Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, Edward Wadsworth and Dora Carrington. He was taken up by Laurence Binyon and Edward Marsh, and began to write poetry seriously, but he suffered from ill-health. Afraid that his chronic bronchitis would worsen, Rosenberg hoped to try and cure himself by emigrating to the warmer climate of South Africa, where his sister Mina lived.
He wrote the poem On Receiving News of the War in Cape Town, South Africa. While others wrote about war as patriotic sacrifice, Rosenberg was critical of the war from its onset. However, needing employment in order to help support his mother, Rosenberg returned to England in October 1915 and enlisted in the army. He was assigned to the 12th Suffolk Folk Regiment, a 'bantam' battalion (men under 5'3"). After turning down an offer to become a lance corporal, Private Rosenberg was later transferred to the 11th Battalion, The King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment (KORL). He was sent to the Somme on the Western Front in France where, having just finished night patrol, he was killed at dawn on April 1, 1918; there is a dispute as to whether his death occurred at the hands of a sniper or in close combat. In either case, Fampoux is the name of the town where he died. He was first buried in a mass grave, but in 1926, his remains were identified and reinterred, not in England, but at Bailleul Road East Cemetery, Plot V, St. Laurent-Blangy, Pas de Calais, France.
In The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussell's landmark study of the literature of the First World War, Fussell identifies Rosenberg's Break of Day in the Trenches as "the greatest poem of the war."
Isaac Rosenberg's Works:
His self-portraits hang in the National Portrait Gallery and Tate Britain.
A commemorative blue plaque to him hangs outside The Whitechapel Gallery, formerly the Whitechapel Library, which was unveiled by Anglo-Jewish writer Emanuel Litvinoff.
On November 11, 1985, Rosenberg was among 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner.The inscription on the stone was written by a fellow Great War poet, Wilfred Owen. It reads: "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."
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Isaac Rosenberg Poems
Break of Day in the Trenches
The darkness crumbles away It is the same old druid Time as ever, Only a live thing leaps my hand, A queer sardonic rat,
Dead Man's Dump
The plunging limbers over the shattered track Racketed with their rusty freight, Stuck out like many crowns of thorns, And the rusty stakes like sceptres old
Returning, We Hear the Larks
Sombre the night is. And though we have our lives, we know What sinister threat lies there.
In the Trenches
I snatched two poppies From the parapet’s ledge, Two bright red poppies That winked on the ledge.
I killed them, but they would not die. Yea! all the day and all the night For them I could not rest or sleep, Nor guard from them nor hide in flight.
Nudes -- stark and glistening, Yelling in lurid glee. Grinning faces And raging limbs Whirl over the floor one fire.
On Receiving News of the War
Snow is a strange white word. No ice or frost Has asked of bud or bird For Winter's cost.
Through These Pale Cold Days
Through these pale cold days What dark faces burn Out of three thousand years, And their wild eyes yearn,
Moses, from whose loins I sprung, Lit by a lamp in his blood Ten immutable rules, a moon For mutable lampless men.
In his malodorous brain what slugs and mire, Lanthorned in his oblique eyes, guttering burned! His body lodged a rat where men nursed souls. The world flashed grape-green eyes of a foiled cat
What in our lives is burnt In the fire of this? The heart’s dear granary? The much we shall miss?
‘A worm fed on the heart of Corinth'
A worm fed on the heart of Corinth, Babylon and Rome: Not Paris raped tall Helen, But this incestuous worm,
Soldier: Twentieth Century
I love you, great new Titan! Am I not you? Napoleon or Caesar Out of you grew.
Marching (As Seen From the Left File)
My eyes catch ruddy necks Sturdily pressed back - All a red brick moving glint. Like flaming pendulums, hands
I killed them, but they would not die.
Yea! all the day and all the night
For them I could not rest or sleep,
Nor guard from them nor hide in flight.
Then in my agony I turned
And made my hands red in their gore.
In vain - for faster than I slew
They rose more cruel than before.