1 year ago

Poems by Isaac Rosenberg


INTRODUCTORY MEMOIR on alien things and dull has strained my memory/ 1 But he endured the inhuman horror of modern war with a great heart ; he would not have liked to be called a hero, but his fortitude was truly heroic. On the first of April, 1918, he was killed in action. II The poems collected in this volume speak for themselves. The obscurities, the straining and tormenting of language in the effort to find right expression, the immaturities of style and taste, are apparent on the surface. The imaginative conceptions and the frequent gleam of imaginative phrasing should be equally apparent. But what does not appear on the surface is the fine intention, the ardent toil, and the continual self-criticism which underlay his work. Rosenberg's aim was, in his own words, a kind of poetry " where an interesting complexity of thought is kept in tone and right value to the dominating idea so that it is understandable and still ungraspable." The sentence occurs in one of his letters, and from this point on I wish to let Rosenberg speak for himself. His letters give a picture both of his mind and character, far more vivid than anything one 11

I POEMS BY ISAAC ROSENBERG could write about him. He very rarely dated a letter, but the address and internal evidence give a clue to the date. The first extract is from a letter written, while he was still an apprentice, to Miss Winifreda Seaton, a friend to whom Mr. Amschewitz introduced him. Miss Seaton lent him books, encouraged him to write, discussed art and literature with him, and criticized his poems. "It is horrible to think that all these hours, when my days are full of vigour and my hands and soul craving for self-expression, I am bound, chained to this fiendish mangling-machine, without hope and almost desire of deliverance, and the days of youth go by. . . . I have tried to make some sort of self-adjustment to circumstances by saying, 'It is all experience''; but, good God! it is all experience, and nothing else. ... I really would like to take up painting seriously ; I think I might do something at that ; but poetry— despair of ever writing excellent poetry. I can't look at things in the simple, large way that great poets do. My mind is so cramped and dulled and fevered, there is no consistency of purpose, no oneness of aim ; the very fibres are torn apart, and V2