Isaac Rosenberg Short Biography
Born: 25 November 1890, Bristol, UK
Died: 1 April 1918, Somme, France
Occupation: poet, artist, soldier
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Son of Jewish immigrants: Dobver “Barnett” and Hacha “Hannah” Rosenberg, All about Isaac Rosenberg discussed in this short biography.
Isaac Rosenberg was the second of six children of a Jewish family who lived in a poor district of East London and raised in extreme poverty in a strong Jewish community.
In 1902, he began classes in arts and crafts. He left school in 1904 to take an apprenticeship in engraving and became interested in poetry and visual art, attending evening classes at Birkbeck College.
In 1911, Rosenberg left his apprenticeship to join the Slade School of Fine Art at the University College, London, where he studied alongside other prominent and rising artists.
He mixed with other poets including Laurence Binyon and Edward Marsh and began to write poetry seriously. His first pamphlet of ten poems, Night and Day, was published in 1912, while his art was exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1914.
However, Rosenberg suffered from chronic bronchitis and in 1914, on doctors advice, went to stay with his sister who lived in South Africa, in hope that the warmer climate would help his illness. His fare was paid for by the Jewish Educational Society and he continued writing poetry from Cape Town.
As England prepared to go to war, Rosenberg penned On Receiving News of the War, a poem which marked his criticism of the war from the outset, unlike many other poets’ who were writing of sacrifice and patriotism.
Rosenberg returned to England when he recovered from his illness. His second collection, Youth was published and he set out to find work but was unsuccessful in finding a permanent income.
In October 1915, despite his family’s pacifism and his horror of war, he enlisted in the British Army as a Private Soldier in the Bantam Regiment, a regiment for men under the minimum height of five foot and three inches. Rosenberg requested for half his pay to be sent home to his mother.
By June 1916, Rosenberg was at the Western Front. He continued to write poetry from the trenches, two of which: Break of Day in the Trenches and Returning We Hear the Larks, were published in the December edition of Poetry Magazine 1916.
He continued suffering from his illness and spent two months in a field hospital. He was removed from front line duties at the request of his family and friends in January 1917.
His new role saw him delivering barbed wire to the trenches which inspired his piece, Dead Man’s Dump, in which he reflects on the fate of his fallen brothers-in-arms.
In March 1918, during the German Spring Offensive, Rosenberg wrote Through These Pale Cold Days, which he sent to England before being returned to the front line.
On 1 April 1918, at the Battle of Arras, Isaac Rosenberg was killed while returning from a night patrol. His body was never found and he is buried in a mass grave north-east of Arras.
Rosenberg’s early poems were criticized for lacking originality and a distinctive voice, perhaps too highly influenced by the Romantics. He is best known for his stoic, brutal, and compassionate poems from the trenches between 1916 and 1918.
His works were gathered and published in The Collected Works of Isaac Rosenberg: Poetry, Prose, Letters, Paintings, and Drawings by Oxford University Press in 1979.
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Isaac Rosenberg Quotes:
“Nothing can justify war.”
“Nobody ever told me what to read, or ever put a book in my way.”
“I wanted to write a battle song for the Judeans but so far, I can think of nothing noble and weighty enough.”