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Isaac Rosenberg
Isaac Rosenberg by Isaac Rosenberg.jpg
Self-portrait of Isaac Rosenberg, 1915.
Born (1890-11-25)25 November 1890
Bristol, England
Died 1 April 1918(1918-04-01) (aged 27)
Somme, France
Occupation poet

Isaac Rosenberg (25 November 1890 – 1 April 1918) was an English poet of the First World War. His Poems from the Trenches are recognised as some of the most outstanding written during the First World War.[1]

Early lifeEdit

Isaac Rosenberg was born in Bristol, the second of six children and eldest son of his parents, Barnett (formerly Dovber) and Hacha Rosenberg, who were Orthodox Jews from Dvinsk (now in Latvia). In 1897, the family moved to 47 Cable Street in a poor district of the East End of London, and one with a strong Jewish community.[1] He attended St. Paul's School Whitechapel around the corner in Wellclose Square, until his family (of Russian descent) moved to Stepney in 1900, so he could experience Jewish schooling, and he attended the Baker Street school. He left school at the age of fourteen and became an apprentice at a firm of engravers in Fleet Street.[1]

He was interested in both poetry and visual art, and attended evening classes at the Birkbeck College art school. He completed his apprenticeship in 1911, and managed to find the finances to attend the Slade School of Fine Art.[2] During his time at Slade School, Rosenberg notably studied alongside David Bomberg, Mark Gertler, Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, Edward Wadsworth, Dora Carrington, William Roberts, and Christopher Nevinson. He was taken up by Laurence Binyon and Edward Marsh, and began to write poetry seriously, but he suffered from ill-health.[1]

He published a pamphlet of ten poems, Night and Day, in 1912. He also exhibited paintings at the Whitechapel Gallery in 1914.

Afraid that his chronic bronchitis would worsen, Rosenberg hoped to try and cure himself by emigrating in 1914 to the warmer climate of South Africa, where his sister Mina lived in Cape Town.[1]

He wrote the poem "On Receiving News of the War" in Cape Town, South Africa. While others wrote about war as patriotic sacrifice, Rosenberg was critical of the war from its onset. However, needing employment in order to help support his mother, Rosenberg returned to England in October 1915, where he published a second pamphlet of poems, Youth and then enlisted in the British Army.

First World WarEdit

Rosenberg was assigned to the 12th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment, a bantam battalion for men under the usual minimum height of 5'3". After turning down an offer to become a lance corporal, Private Rosenberg was later transferred to another bantam battalion, the 11th (Service) Battalion of The King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. In June 1916, he was sent with his Battalion to serve on the Western Front in France. He continued to write poetry while serving in the trenches, including "Break of Day in the Trenches", "Returning we Hear the Larks", and "Dead Man's Dump".

Having just finished night patrol, he was killed at dawn on 1 April 1918; there is a dispute as to whether his death occurred at the hands of a sniper or in close combat. In either case, he died in a town called Fampoux, north-east of Arras. He was first buried in a mass grave, but in 1926, his remains were identified and reinterred at Bailleul Road East Cemetery, Plot V, Saint-Laurent-Blangy, Pas de Calais, France.[3]


His self-portraits hang in the National Portrait Gallery[4] and Tate Britain.[5]

A commemorative blue plaque to him hangs outside the Whitechapel Gallery, formerly the Whitechapel Library, which was unveiled by Anglo-Jewish writer Emanuel Litvinoff.[6]

On 11 November 1985, Rosenberg was among 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner.[7] The inscription on the stone was written by a fellow Great War poet, Wilfred Owen. It reads: "My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."[8]

Rosenberg appears in the novel Grosse Fugue by Ian Phillips.

In The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussell's landmark study of the literature of the First World War, Fussell identifies Rosenberg's "Break of Day in the Trenches" as "the greatest poem of the war."


  • Geoff Akers - Beating for Light: The Story of Isaac Rosenberg (2006)
  • Jean Moorcroft Wilson - Isaac Rosenberg, poet and painter (1975)
  • Word and Image VI. Isaac Rosenberg 1890-1918 (National Book League, 1975)
  • Jean Liddiard - Isaac Rosenberg; the Half Used Life (1975)
  • J. Cohen - Journey to the Trenches: The Life of Isaac Rosenberg 1890-1918 (1975)
  • Deborah Maccoby - God Made Blind: The Life and Work of Isaac Rosenberg (1999 Symposium Press; ISBN 1-900814-15-3)
  • Harold Finch - The Tower Hamlets Connection - a Biographical Guide (Stepney Books ISBN 0-902385-25-9)
  • Six Poets of the Great War: Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Isaac Rosenberg, Richard Aldington, Edmund Blunden, Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke and Many Others. (edited by Adrian Barlow) Cambridge University Press, 1995; ISBN 0-521-48569-X
  • Poets of the Great War: Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Isaac Rosenberg, Richard Aldington, Edmund Blunden, Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, and Many Others. (Naxos AudioBooks; ISBN 962-634-109-2)
  • Isaac Rosenberg - Selected Poems and Letters ed. Jean Liddiard (Enitharmon, 2003)
  • Jon Stallworthy, ‘Rosenberg, Isaac (1890–1918)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 2 Oct 2013


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Moorcroft Wilson, Jean (8 November 2003). "Visions from the trenches". The Guardian. Retrieved 2009-04-01. "Isaac Rosenberg was one of the finest and most distinctive poets of the first world war." 
  2. Sewell, Brian (25 April 2008). "Who was Isaac Rosenberg?". This is London. Retrieved 2009-04-01. 
  3. "Rosenberg, Isaac - Private, 1st Bn., King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment)". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Retrieved 2009-04-01. "Son of Barnet and Annie Rosenberg, of 87, Dempsey St., Stepney, London. Born at Bristol. Some critics of the time considered Rosenberg the best of the war poets after Wilfred Owen." 
  4. "Portrait NPG 4129 - Isaac Rosenberg". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 2009-04-01. 
  5. "Self-Portrait by Isaac Rosenberg". Tate Online. Retrieved 2009-04-01. 
  7. "Poets of the Great War". Retrieved 2009-04-01. 
  8. "Preface". Retrieved 2009-04-01. 

External linksEdit

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