This time of year, I like to re-post the series The War Poets. Just some of the men and women who served on the front line on all sides of the conflict who fought, died or returned scarred by their experiences.
They are going out at 4.a.m each morning my time, which is the coldest before the dawn, and as they would have woken in the trenches to prepare for another day of horror, bravery and sacrifice.
War has always inspired writers to communicate their experiences and of those they stand side by side with. From Victorian times through to the Second World War when correspondents from the press and Pathe News provided images as well as words, poetry was the preferred medium.
This last post is a tribute to the fallen, and those who survived with physical and mental scars across all conflicts and on all sides in the last 100 years. Old men start wars and young men and women fight them, and bear the cost.
The last poet in this short series is Isaac Rosenberg born in November 1890 to Dovber and his wife, Russian Jewish immigrants who found their way to England. His father was a highly educated and devout man, but to support his family in their new life he had to turn to more hand’s on work. He became a pedlar and he and his wife and family of now six children, moved to London in the late 1800’s so the eldest boy, Isaac could take advantage of a better education within the Jewish community.
An accomplished water-colourist, Isaac left school at fourteen and attended an art school in Stepney Green, supported by the Jewish Education Aid Society and private donations. He then moved to Fleet Street as an apprentice engraver until 1911. He then enrolled at the prestigious Slade School of Fine Art where he studied painting and indulged another passion which was writing poetry. Unfortunately, whilst his artwork received good reviews, his poetry appeared to fall on deaf ears.
His health at this time also deteriorated as he suffered respiratory problems and fearing he might have contracted TB he took off for South Africa where his sister lived. He spent nearly a year in Cape Town, where he lectured on art and actually managed to have some of his poetry published. He returned to the UK in February 1915 and although very short and slight and under the 5’3” height requirement for the army at the time, he joined a specially formed regiment called the ‘Bantams’.
He was posted to the Somme with his regiment and he was to spend the remainder of his life in the trenches. It was here in this dark place that he wrote his best poetry including my chosen piece today – Break of Day in the Trenches.
He was killed on 1st of April, 1918 by a German raiding party. He was buried in a mass grave and until 1926 his headstone in the military cemetery guarded an empty grave. His friends arranged for his poems – Collected Works – published in 1922.
Isaac Rosenberg, Break of Day in the Trenches (1916)
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.
Find out more : The War Poets – Great War Isaac Rosenberg
Thanks for dropping in today Sally.