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Isaac Rosenberg: Birkbeck’s War Poet:


Rosenberg was resolved to subject the experiences of the War to a kind of symbolic transfiguration. He wrote in the Autumn of 1916, ‘I am determined that this war, with all its powers for devastation, shall not master my poeting; that is, if I am lucky enough to come through all right, I will not leave a corner of my consciousness covered up, but saturate myself with the strange and extraordinary new conditions of this life, and it will all refine itself into poetry later on.’ For most of the poets who fought in and wrote of the First World War, experience at the front served to tear apart the inherited forms and conventions of Romantic poetry, giving them access to a new harshness and documentary directness, though only rarely impelling them into wholly new poetic languages. Rosenberg too was forced into a new kind of poetry, perhaps even in a sense forced altogether out of the conception of poetry with which he had entered the War. Rosenberg was determined that his life’s work was to be in the following through of epic conceptions and he spent the years before the War bricking himself up in an impossible, unachievable poetic posture. In fact the poetry that he discovered, or was discovered in his situation, was to be a poetry of snatchings and spasms and fragments, of pouncings and fallings short rather than followings through, which it took the savage tedium and distractedness of war to force out. (More...)

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