Isaac Rosenberg - Selfportrait

Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918) self-portrait, circa 1910. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Isaac Rosenberg
Born November 25 1890(1890-Template:MONTHNUMBER-25)
Died 1 1918(1918-Template:MONTHNUMBER-01) (aged 27)
Somme, France
Occupation poet

Isaac Rosenberg (25 November 1890 - 1 April 1918) was an English poet considered one of the greatest of all English war poets. His "Poems from the Trenches" are recognised as some of the most outstanding written during World War I.[1]


Rosenberg was born in Bristol[2] to Barnet and Annie Rosenberg (of Russian descent), who had fled Devinsk in Lithuania to escape anti-Jewish pogroms.

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] Isaac attended St. Paul's School around the corner in Wellclose Square, until his family moved to Stepney in 1900 so he could experience Jewish schooling. He left school at the age of 14 and became an apprentice engraver.[1]

He was interested in both poetry and visual art, and managed to find the finances to attend the Slade School,[3] where he studied alongside David Bomberg, Mark Gertler, Stanley Spencer, Paul Nash, Edward Wadsworth and Dora Carrington. He was taken up by Laurence Binyon and Edward Marsh, and began to write poetry seriously, but he suffered from ill-health.[1]

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

He was assigned to the 12th Suffolk Folk Regiment, a 'bantam' battalion (men under 5'3"). After turning down an offer to become a lance corporal, Private Rosenberg was later transferred to the 11th Battalion, The King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment (KORL). He was sent to the Somme on the Western Front in France where, having just finished night patrol, he was killed at dawn on April 1, 1918; there is a dispute as to whether his death occurred at the hands of a sniper or in close combat. In either case, Fampoux is the name of the town where he died. He was first buried in a mass grave, but in 1926, his remains were identified and reinterred, not in England, but at Bailleul Road East Cemetery, Plot V, St. Laurent-Blangy, Pas de Calais, France.[4]


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."

His self-portraits hang in the National Portrait Gallery[5] and Tate Britain.[6]

A commemorative blue plaque to him hangs in The Whitechapel Library, where it was unveiled by Anglo-Jewish writer Emanuel Litvinoff.[7]

On November 11, 1985, Rosenberg was among 16 Great War poets commemorated on a slate stone unveiled in Westminster Abbey's Poet's Corner.[8] 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."[9]



  • Night and Day. London: privately published, 1912.
  • Youth. London: privately published, 1915.
    • facsimile edition, London: Imperial War Museum, Department of Printed Books, 1990.
  • Poems (edited by Gordon Bottomley, with introductory memoir by Laurence Binyon). London: Heinemann, 1922.[10]
  • Collected Poems (edited by Gordon Bottomley & Denys Harding). London: Chatto & Windus, 1949; New York: Schocken, 1949, 1974.


  • Moses: A play. London: privately published, 1916.

Collected editionsEdit

  • Collected Works: Poetry, prose, letters, and some drawings (edited by Gordon Bottomley & Denys Harding, with foreword by Siegfried Sassoon). London: Chatto & Windus, 1937.[11]
  • Collected Works: Poetry, prose, letters, paintings, and drawings, (edited by Ian Parsons). London: Chatto & Windus, 1979.
  • Poems and Plays (edited by Vivien Noakes). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[12]

See alsoEdit

"Break of Day in the Trenches" by Isaac Rosenberg (read by Tom O'Bedlam)

"Break of Day in the Trenches" by Isaac Rosenberg (read by Tom O'Bedlam)


  • 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


  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. Dresser, Madge; Fleming, Peter (2007). Bristol: ethnic minorities and the city 1000-2001. Chichester: Phillimore and Company, Ltd. pp. 131. ISBN 9781860774775. 
  3. Sewell, Brian (25 April 2008). "Who was Isaac Rosenberg?". This is London. Retrieved 2009-04-01. 
  4. "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." 
  5. "Portrait NPG 4129 - Isaac Rosenberg". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 2009-04-01. 
  6. "Self-Portrait by Isaac Rosenberg". Tate Online. Retrieved 2009-04-01. 
  8. "Poets of the Great War". Retrieved 2009-04-01. 
  9. "Preface". Retrieved 2009-04-01. 
  10. Poems by Isaac Rosenberg (1922), Internet Archive, Web, Apr. 14, 2012.
  11. Poem info, Isaac Rosenberg, "Dead Man's Dump," Representative Poetry Online, University of Toronto,, Web, Dec. 15, 2011.
  12. Isaac Rosenberg 1890-1918, Poetry Foundation, Web, Nov. 23, 2012.

External linksEdit

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