Isaac Rosenberg

Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918)
Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918)
Isaac Rosenberg, a private on the Western Front, was killed while on a patrol in the early hours of 1 April 1918. It was not possible to identify his body. Rosenberg was born into a family of Russian Jewish immigrants and grew up in poverty in the East End of London. He trained at art school, but by the time he enlisted in 1915 he saw himself as ‘more of a poet than a painter’.

I am determined that this war, with all its powers for devastation, shall not master my poeting; that is, if I am lucky enough to come through all right… Isaac Rosenberg writing to Laurence Binyon in Autumn 1916

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,
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 heavens?
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.