Source: Four Canadian soldiers, sleeping and writing letters in the trenches near Willerval. (IWM, 2019). Insert image: Isaac Rosenberg. (The National Archives, 2019).
"The ‘war poet’ and ‘war poetry’, observed Robert Graves in 1942, were ‘terms first used in World War I and perhaps peculiar to it’. From Anglo-Saxon times to the Boer War, war poetry in English was written largely by civilians and did not have a clearly defined identity; with the extraordinary outpouring between 1914 and 1918, it established itself as a genre and the soldier-poet became a species." (Das, 2014)
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Isaac Rosenberg (25 November 1890 – 1 April 1918)
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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 man’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe—
Just a little white with the dust.
Source: Rosenberg, I. (1916) Break of Day in the Trenches. Retrieved from https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/13535/break-of-day-in-the-trenches