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Isaac Rosenberg poetry- On Receiving News of the War- August 1914-Artist and Poet-WW1

Updated on August 1, 2015

Isaac Rosenberg- 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.

His mourns from his lone place

His children Dead.

O! Ancient crimson curse!

Corrode, consume.

Give back this Universe

its pristine bloom.

Isaac Rosenberg

Isaac Rosenberg- On receiving news of the War

When Britain declared War on Germany on the 4th of August 1914.

The poet and artist Isaac Rosenberg had been living in Cape Town South Africa.

He was residing there trying to recover from chronic bronchitis.

This is where Isaac Rosenberg wrote the poem "On receiving news of the War"

By late October 1915 he had returned to Britain and enlisted in the British Army.

Thousands of men enlisted at the beginning of the War.

Many people believed at that time the War would be over quickly.

By 1916 Men were being conscripted into the Army.

The people at home were employed in ammunition factories.

Many woman worked as voluntary Nurses.

Amongst them were the poets and artists of that generation.

The majority of War poets from England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland had been influenced by Traditional Romantic poetry-

Isaac Rosenberg loved Keats and D.H Lawrence.

This meant their poetry was still written in the same verse styles as their mentors.

They also drew on nature and the spiritual creation of the world, as a source of beauty and inspiration.

The war poets often still wrote from the romantic tradition but as they became conflicted with the realities of becoming a soldier and killing.

The content is changed for example -As once the dawn revealed a fresh new day and perhaps delicate frost forms

In their poetry the Dawn "crumbles out of darkness" and what lay beneath the frosted form would be a horror of War.

Poets like Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon gave voice to the realities and horrors that were happening in the trenches.



Isaac Rosenberg- August 1914

What in our lives is burnt

In the fire of this?

The Hearts dear Granary?

The much we shall miss?

Three lives- hath one life-

Iron, Honey and Gold.

The gold, the honey gone-

Left is the hard and cold.

Iron are our lives

Molten right through our Youth

A burnt space through ripe fields

A fair mouth's broken tooth

Isaac Rosenberg

He wrote this poem in 1916 but refers back to the beginning of the War in August 1914.


Isaac Rosenberg Biography 1890-1918

Isaac Rosenberg was born in Bristol UK on November 25th 1890.

His parents were Jewish Immigrants from Russia. They had fled Lithuania as refugees.

They were called Douber "Barnett" & Hacha "Hannah" Davidon Rosenberg.

During his childhood they moved to London. They lived at 47 Cable street in the East End.

The living conditions were squalid and the area was known locally then as a Ghetto.

His parents worked very hard and began to run a Butchers Shop.

But due to legislation of the time this was eventually confiscated .

Despite these uncertain and stressful conditions.

Isaac Rosenberg became very inspired by the visual arts and poetry.

He attended school briefly but at the age of fourteen began an apprentice job

with "Carl Heistshels " Engravers.

Isaac's spare time was spent painting. He showed so much promise encouragement was given.

In the form of grants to attend "London Slade Art School"

All the while working and studying.

In 1911 & 1915 he self published volumes of poetry entitled "Night & day" "Youth". Throughout his life

Isaac was frail in health suffering with chronic bouts of bronchitis.

After a severe infection He travelled to South Africa and had a brief convalescence period there.

In August 1914 World War 1 was declared

Although a talented artist and poet. Isaac was still attracted to become an conscription soldier because of the steady wage, it would also help support his mother.

Isaac Rosenberg enlisted in October 1915.

He was part of the Suffolk Regiment but transferred to the Lancaster Regiment.

Although offered promotion Isaac Rosenberg remained a Private throughout.

He served and fought at the Somme on the Western Front in France.

Isaac was killed at Dawn April 1918- Whilst returning from night patrol.

His remains are buried at Baileul Cemetery France.

Today his poems are taught to students at Schools and Colleges.

His amazing talent as a visual artist is recognised.

His Self Portraits are exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery. London.

Isaac's landscapes are at the IWM London.


Isaac Rosenberg- Break of day in the trenches

Break Of Day In the trenches

By Isaac Rossenberg

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 is your pleasure

To cross the sleeping green between

It seems you inwardly grin as you pass

Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes

Less chance 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 men's veins

Drop and are ever dropping;

But mine in my ear is safe,

Just a little white with dust

Isaac's Break of day

Isaac Rosenberg does not refer to dawn in his poem. It is a mere break of day.

The darkness does not break at dawn- into expansive light of renewal or promise.

"The darkness crumbles"

There is a realization that it is the same dawn that has ever been.

That man has somehow changed it's meaning with " man's iron and flame"

A melancholy that Driuids and mystic experiences of dawn are lost to that place, ww1.

There is a dark humour in his poem- in the dawn that only reveals parapets, shadowy trenches and rats.

That is his "Cosmopolitan rat" and the insight that comes from his dialogue with the rat.

Isaac realizes that this rat has more freedom of movement then he.

He also ponders the truth of a mere rat having a better chance of life than any soldier (ww1)

English or German- this also seems to be part of his ponder.

His Romantic earth became so torn and ragged - Isaac's earth is angry and consuming.

Soldiers and Officers worked through the night during WW1 undercover of darkness on both sides.

They built and repaired barbed wire defences, monitored in Listening posts and sentry duty,

As Dawn came it heralded a day where you had to remain concealed and on alert from snipers or constant shelling.

Men slept during the day in dug-outs.

There was also a ritual of early morning Officer Inspection that became known as the "Morning hate".

The accounting for the wounded, fallen & missing would become clear in the light of dawn.

The break of day in the trenches of World War 1 was grim.

Dawn for many at this time must have become devoid of hope and spirit.

Isaac Rosenberg's poem "Break of day in the trenches" speaks of the infinite

"Poppies whose roots are in men's veins, drop and are ever dropping"

On April 1st 1918 at Fampoux in France.

Returning from a night patrol. Isaac Rosenberg was killed at dawn.

It is unclear if it was a sniper or hand to hand combat.

His remains are interred at Pas de Calais, Plot V, Bailleul, France.

Today his poems are still much read and cherished.

"Dawn has never recovered from what the great war did to it" Paul Fussel- Great War and Modern Memory

Isaac Rosenberg



Thank you



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