notes from PhD land - Isaac Rosenberg
Mar 14, 2013
Today I taught, or rather, introduced, my class to Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918). Rosenberg is in my opinion the greatest of the First World War poets, and a beautiful painter. His sense of ironic humour so recognizably that of an enlisted man, still, and his heartbreakingly courteous letters from the front, tell us of a gorgeous soul. That he was a kitbomb (as am I apparently) with pockets full of little scraps of poems written on toilet paper, a page torn from a schoolbook, a receipt book – anything that could contain his words – endears him even more. Untidy. Lousy punctuation and spelling, a few of his hallmarks. But a belief in his words so fierce that he needed to get them down before he was dead, for surely he knew his chances at survival were not good.
Rosenberg, to me, is the Chagall of the trenches with his poetic imagery rooted in Kabbalah, his Lithuanian-Jewish heritage, and his bright hungry mind that desired to read so much, and which compensated for an upbringing in poverty in any way it could.
Because he couldn’t find work he enlisted. Wanted to go officer class but was refused. He was so small in stature he joined the Bantam Battalion (for men under the regulation 5’3”) and as a Private endured so much cold, so much torment, bullying, anti-Semitism, at the hands of others (and the torment of the elements) at the Front. And still he wrote on. Grabbed words and scribbled them on little pieces of paper, anything he could find.
Sent out on 1st April, 1918, into No Man’s Land on a wiring patrol he and 11 brothers failed to come back, their bodies, or rather parts of their bodies, found much later.
A century nearly, has passed, the landscape they tell me, has turned to grass. But today in class, through his words read aloud, his paintings projected on a classroom wall, we remembered Isaac Rosenberg.