A blog for Senior Project 1 about sonnets and trenches
Pro Patria Mori
Saturday, May 07, 2016
Self-portrait by Rosenberg.
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
Issac Rosenberg was born November 24, 1890 in Bristol, Gloucestershire to a
family of Jewish immigrants.
When Rosenberg was seven, his family moved to Stepney, a Jewish ghetto in the
East End of London.
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
Rosenberg in uniform.
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.
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
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.