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Isaac Rosenberg Biography

(1890–1918), émigré, Night and Day, Youth, Moses, Georgian Poetry, Collected Works, The Half Used Life

poetry war traditional poems

British poet and painter, the son of a Russian-Jewish émigré, born in Bristol; from the age of seven he grew up in Stepney, London. He worked as an apprentice engraver before becoming a student at the Slade School of Art, and began his career as an artist in 1913. Examples of his work are on permanent exhibition in the Tate Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery in London. His early poetry is collected in Night and Day (1912) and Youth (1915), which display considerable accomplishment in the use of traditional forms and marked originality in the compression and imaginative force of much of the verse. Edward Marsh was impressed by his work and encouraged him to attempt verse-drama. Of the several plays and fragments he produced, Moses (1916), an ambitious adaptation of biblical material, is the best-known; an excerpt formed his sole contribution to the Georgian Poetry series. In 1916 he volunteered for active service. The poetry he wrote as a private on the Western Front prior to his death in action near Arras is characterized by the concrete particularity of its imagery, its angrily unsentimental tone, and its freedom from the constraints of traditional versification; ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’, ‘Dead Man's Dump’, ‘Louse Hunting’, and others are among the finest and most realistic of the poems of the First World War. His achievement was not widely appreciated until the publication of the Collected Works of 1937, edited by Gordon Bottomley and D. W. Harding. Ian Parsons's comprehensive edition of the poems, plays, essays, and letters, which contains plates of fifty of Rosenberg's paintings and drawings, was published in 1979. Biographical studies include Jean Liddiard's The Half Used Life (1975) and Joseph Cohen's Journey to the Trenches (1975). See also war poetry.

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