Isaac Rosenberg – Self Portrait – 1915
Born in Britain to a family of immigrant Lithuanian Jews, 25th November 1890. In East London he gravitated towards the arts and was taken under the wing by Laurence Binyon and Edward Marsh.
He permanently suffered from bad health, bronchitis in particular, and emigrated to South Africa for the better air and warmer climate. At the outbreak of WW1 he returned to Britain to do his duty and “get the trouble over” despite being anti-war.
Because of his small size, an outcome of poor health, he was assigned to a “Bantam” battalion which was a unit for men under the normal height.
He served for the entire war, despite bad health, until his death in action in 1918, producing some of the best poetry of the war.
As a side note the Tory Government of the UK today would not allow Rosenbergs family into the country if they have their way. Priti Patel, herself a daughter of immigrants, wants to close the door. England had no better servant than Isaac Rosenberg.
Break Of Day In The Trenches; by Isaac Rosenberg
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 men’s veins
drop, and are ever dropping;
but mine in my ear is safe,
just a little white with the dust.