Isaac Rosenberg, poet, painter, artist

Isaac Rosenberg by Isaac Rosenberg.jpg

His self-portrait hangs in London’s National Portrait Gallery.

David Daiches, wrote about him, in Commentary, “”Had (he) lived to develop further along the lines on which he had already moved, he might have changed the course of modern English poetry, producing side by side with the poetry of Eliot and his school a richer and more monumental kind of verse, opposing a new romantic poetry to the new metaphysical brand.”

He  was born in 1890, enlisted in the Great War, what we now call World War I,  in 1915 and died in the battle of Arras on April 1, 1918.

He is Isaac Rosenberg, born in Bristol, UK, 1n 1890, to immigrants who escaped religious persecution in Lithuania. His family was poverty-striken, but Rosenberg began writing poetry at the age of 15 and, fortunate for him, his great gifts were recognized early on.

Rosenberg’s writing during his early days reflects heavily the styles of Keats, Shelly, and Swinburne and Hardy, and showed great promise, but his writing between 1912 and 1914 becomes to show his own voice, a trend which continued and developed through his days in the trenches. Robert Graves called him “a born revolutionary.” Sadly, his death in battle in 1918 silenced his great promise.

Below are two poems written in 1914.

Far Away

By what pale light or moon-pale shore
Drifts my soul in lonely flight?
Regions God had floated o’er
Ere He touched the world with light?

Not in Heaven and not in earth
Is this water, is this moon;
For there is no starry birth,
And no dawning and no noon.

Far away — O far away,
Mist-born — dewy vapours rise
From the dim gates of the day
Far below in earthly skies.


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.
Yet ice and frost and snow
From earth to sky
This Summer land doth know.
No man knows why.
In all men’s hearts it is.
Some spirit old
Hath turned with malign kiss
Our lives to mould.
Red fangs have torn His face.
God’s blood is shed.
He mourns from His lone place
His children dead.
O! ancient crimson curse!
Corrode, consume.
Give back this universe
Its pristine bloom.

During his enlistment, Rosenberg’s poetry was written in letters and sent back and is thus reserved for posterity.

Here are two from 1916, two years in battle, when his poetry seems to have flowered:

The Jew 

Moses, from whose loins I sprung,
Lit by a lamp in his blood
Ten immutable rules, a moon
For mutable lampless men.
The blonde, the bronze, the ruddy,
With the same heaving blood,
Keep tide to the moon of Moses.
Then why do they sneer at me?

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.


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