Break Of The Day In The Trenches
By Isaac Rosenberg

Today we share the poem Break of Day In The Trenches by Isaac Rosenberg. Written while serving on the front line, Rosenberg’s poetry was, and still is, considered some of the greatest of the First World War. Sadly, Rosenberg would be killed north-east of Arras on 1 April 1918 during the German Spring Offensive.

Poet Isaac Rosenberg from an autographed postcard, September 1917.
Credit: IWM – Q 93488

Break of Day in the Trenches
-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.

(As it appeared in Poetry – A Magazine of Verse,  Vol. IX, No. III, December 1916 Issue)

 

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