Isaac Rosenberg

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None saw their spirits' shadow shake the grass,
Or stood aside for the half used life to pass
Out of those doomed nostrils and the doomed mouth,
When the swift iron burning bee
Drained the wild honey of their youth.

Isaac Rosenberg (25 November 18901 April 1918) was an English poet of the First World War.

Some sources spell his name Rosenburg.


On Receiving News of the War[edit]

  • Snow is a strange white word.
    No ice or frost
    Has asked of bud or bird
    For Winter's cost.

    Yet ice and frost and snow
    From earth to sky
    This Summer land doth know.
    No man knows why.

    In all men's hearts it is.
    Some spirit old
    Hath turned with malign kiss
    Our lives to mould.

    Red fangs have torn His face.
    God's blood is shed.
    He mourns from His lone place
    His children dead.

    O! ancient crimson curse!
    Corrode, consume.
    Give back this universe
    Its pristine bloom.

Break of Day in the Trenches[edit]

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.


In his malodorous brain what slugs and mire,

Lanthorned in his oblique eyes, guttering burned!

His body lodged a rat where men nursed souls.

The world flashed grape-green eyes of a foiled cat

To him. On fragments of an old shrunk power,

On shy and maimed, on women wrung awry,

He lay, a bullying hulk, to crush them more.

But when one, fearless, turned and clawed like bronze,

Cringing was easy to blunt these stern paws,

And he would weigh the heavier on those after.

Who rests in God's mean flattery now? Your wealth

Is but his cunning to make death more hard.

Your iron sinews take more pain in breaking.

And he has made the market for your beauty

Too poor to buy, although you die to sell.

Only that he has never heard of sleep;

And when the cats come out the rats are sly.

Here we are safe till he slinks in at dawn.

But he has gnawed a fibre from strange roots,

And in the morning some pale wonder ceases.

Things are not strange and strange things are forgetful.

Ah! if the day were arid, somehow lost

Out of us, but it is as hair of us,

And only in the hush no wind stirs it.

And in the light vague trouble lifts and breathes,

And restlessness still shadows the lost ways.

The fingers shut on voices that pass through,

Where blind farewells are taken easily . . .

Ah! this miasma of a rotting God!

(written 1916 or before)

Louse Hunting[edit]

Nudes--stark and glistening,

Yelling in lurid glee. Grinning faces

And raging limbs

Whirl over the floor one fire.

For a shirt verminously busy

Yon soldier tore from his throat, with oaths

Godhead might shrink at, but not the lice.

And soon the shirt was aflare

Over the candle he'd lit while we lay.

Then we all sprang up and stript

To hunt the verminous brood.

Soon like a demons' pantomime

The place was raging.

See the silhouettes agape,

See the gibbering shadows

Mixed with the battled arms on the wall.

See gargantuan hooked fingers

Pluck in supreme flesh

To smutch supreme littleness.

See the merry limbs in hot Highland fling

Because some wizard vermin

Charmed from the quiet this revel

When our ears were half lulled

By the dark music

Blown from Sleep's trumpet.

Dead Man's Dump[edit]

The plunging limbers over the shattered track

Racketed with their rusty freight,

Stuck out like many crowns of thorns,

And the rusty stakes like sceptres old

To stay the flood of brutish men

Upon our brothers dear.

The wheels lurched over sprawled dead

But pained them not, though their bones crunched,

Their shut mouths made no moan,

They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,

Man born of man, and born of woman,

And shells go crying over them

From night till night and now.

Earth has waited for them

All the time of their growth

Fretting for their decay:

Now she has them at last!

In the strength of their strength

Suspended--stopped and held.

What fierce imaginings their dark souls lit

Earth! have they gone into you?

Somewhere they must have gone,

And flung on your hard back

Is their souls' sack,

Emptied of God-ancestralled essences.

Who hurled them out? Who hurled?

None saw their spirits' shadow shake the grass,

Or stood aside for the half used life to pass

Out of those doomed nostrils and the doomed mouth,

When the swift iron burning bee

Drained the wild honey of their youth.

What of us, who flung on the shrieking pyre,

Walk, our usual thoughts untouched,

Our lucky limbs as on ichor fed,

Immortal seeming ever?

Perhaps when the flames beat loud on us,

A fear may choke in our veins

And the startled blood may stop.

The air is loud with death,

The dark air spurts with fire

The explosions ceaseless are.

Timelessly now, some minutes past,

These dead strode time with vigorous life,

Till the shrapnel called 'an end!'

But not to all. In bleeding pangs

Some borne on stretchers dreamed of home,

Dear things, war-blotted from their hearts.

A man's brains splattered on

A stretcher-bearer's face;

His shook shoulders slipped their load,

But when they bent to look again

The drowning soul was sunk too deep

For human tenderness.

They left this dead with the older dead,

Stretched at the cross roads.

Burnt black by strange decay,

Their sinister faces lie

The lid over each eye,

The grass and coloured clay

More motion have than they,

Joined to the great sunk silences.

Here is one not long dead;

His dark hearing caught our far wheels,

And the choked soul stretched weak hands

To reach the living word the far wheels said,

The blood-dazed intelligence beating for light,

Crying through the suspense of the far torturing wheels

Swift for the end to break,

Or the wheels to break,

Cried as the tide of the world broke over his sight.

Will they come? Will they ever come?

Even as the mixed hoofs of the mules,

The quivering-bellied mules,

And the rushing wheels all mixed

With his tortured upturned sight,

So we crashed round the bend,

We heard his weak scream,

We heard his very last sound,

And our wheels grazed his dead face.

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