Mike Canoy

Recent CS Grad from WWU

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CSCI 491: Dulce et Decorum est

A blog for Senior Project 1 about sonnets and trenches

Enlist Now Rupert Brooke Charles Sorley Edward Thomas Isaac Rosenberg Wilfred Owen Pro Patria Mori

Isaac Rosenberg: Break of Day in the Trenches

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Self-portrait by Rosenberg. Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Previously, we've covered a variety of poets. Their poems describe large concepts to solitary scenes, and from glory to horrors felt in war. Though some themes will carry to our next poet, an aspect of their writing will be something new we've haven't covered yet, and important to the way we see the war.

Issac Rosenberg was born November 24, 1890 in Bristol, Gloucestershire to a family of Jewish immigrants. [1] When Rosenberg was seven, his family moved to Stepney, a Jewish ghetto in the East End of London. [2] On a good conduct award, Rosenberg was allowed to take classes at the Arts and Crafts School while attending Baker Street Board School in Stepney. By fourteen, Rosenberg left Baker Street Board School and started an apprenticeship with an engraver in Central London. While an apprentice, Rosenberg attended evening classes at Birkbeck College. By 1911, Rosenberg had saved enough to withdraw from his apprenticeship and attend the Slade School of Fine Art at University College, London. In 1914, Rosenberg was concerned that his chronic bronchitis would be aggravated by the wet British weather and moved to Cape Town, South Africa. After recovering, Rosenberg returned home seeking work as an artist. Unable to find stable work, Rosenberg enlisted in the British Army in 1915. Rosenberg ceded half his military pay to be payed out to his mother.

Rosenberg in uniform. Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Rosenberg was critical of the war before he arrived to the Western Front. In a letter, Rosenberg says "I never joined the army for patriotic reasons. Nothing can justify war. I suppose we must all fight to get the trouble over." Themes of God, Old Testament, and Jewish heritage is found in Rosenberg's writing in France. Alongside these grand themes, there are also small moments found in a poppy flower or a louse. Our previous poets described either abstract scenes like Ropurt Brooke or Charles Sorley, or very minimal settings like Edward Thomas alone with the rain. In Rosenberg's Break of Day in the Trenches, the scene starts with a myopic focus on a poppy flower, but pans out to a view of war on the french countryside. Rosenberg's moment with the poppy is interrupted by a rat, and satires it's 'traitorous' behavior. Yet, the moment moves to a realization of the proximity of the German soldiers and notes that the rat would likely live longer than the healthy British soldiers. Rosenberg describes the war torn French countryside and death ridden skies, back down to poppies growing on top the graves of soldiers.

Rosenberg's attitude is similar to Sorley and Thomas, but his words create a strong visual along with the emotion of living in the trenches. It's important that ordinary British citizens we're reading these poems as the war was happening across the channel. The emotions and visuals helped tell the tale of the Western Front back home, informing how people should feel about the war. Media is important to how people will perceive war, and first hand accounts of the horrific new breed of war were published in mass. Poet's stories have been preserved to continue to inform us about that frame of time and the people pictured in it. These poems were important to journalism of their time, and our understanding of history now.

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.

On March 28, 1918, Rosenberg sent his last letter containing Through these Pale Cold Days before arriving on the front lines. On April 1, 1918, Rosenberg was killed in action in Fampoux, France. Rosenberg's self-portraits are now kept in the National Portrait Gallery and Tate Britain in London.

Through these Pale Cold Days

Through these pale cold days What dark faces burn Out of three thousand years, And their wild eyes yearn, While underneath their brows Like waifs their spirits grope For the pools of Hebron again— For Lebanon's summer slope. They leave these blond still days In dust behind their tread They see with living eyes How long they have been dead.