There is currently a campaign underway to honour First World War poet Isaac Rosenburg by erecting a statute near Birkbeck College and the Slade where he studied. I was rather shocked to learn that this will be only the fifth statute of a poet in London and only the second in Britain of a Jewish literary figure.
Rosenberg was killed near Arras on 1st April 1918. He wrote what is probably one of the most significant poems of the war, Break of Day in the Trenches – written in June 1916
Break of Day in the Trenches
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 men’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe,
Just a little white with the dust.