Isaac Rosenberg

Many dispute the claim that Wilfred Owen is the greatest of the Great War poets. For those who think differently about the title, Isaac Rosenberg is believed to hold this recognition. Unlike Owen, Rosenberg was an enlisted man. An accomplished artist (see his self portraits to the left), Rosenberg, was Jewish and regarded as one of England’s outstanding Georgian poets.  

Rosenberg joined the war in 1915, already in poor health and served on the Western Front from 1916 until he was killed in early 1918. It is felt that his poem, “Break of Day in the Trenches” is one of the best, if not the best poem of the war. Another poem that deserves recognition is “Dead Man’s Dump.”

“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. 


Reflective Questions: “Break of Day in the Trenches”  

  1. What do you feel is the significance of the “rat” and the “poppy” in this poem?
  2. Who has more chance for survival in this poem, the “rat” or the soldier?
  3. What feelings does the soldier seem to how for his situation and his future?