Rosenberg statue

There’s a decent Telegraph article about Isaac Rosenberg by Harry Mount, detailing plans for a statue of him to be unveiled on April 1st, 1918, the anniversary of his death.
A very worthy project – but how correct is Mount in labeling Rosenberg an overlooked war poet when the canon was formed?

He has always been low down on that list, however, a forgotten addendum to the first division; he has never broken through into the pantheon of familiar poets. Not out of snobbery or anti-Semitism, these days; more because that pantheon was set in stone half a century or so ago, and it’s hard to break down the familiar boundaries of popular memory.

Yet he had strong champions among literary opinion-makers – he was the only war poet enthusiastically championed by Scrutiny, for example.
I think his lower ranking in the public mind comes from the fact that his poetry doesn’t easily fit into political agendas the way that Owen’s and Sassoon’s do. He’s more individual, more quirky, with a greater appeal to people who like poetry than to people who like gestures.

4 Comments

  1. Tom Deveson
    Posted October 4, 2013 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I think you are 100% right. I knew his poems when I was at school in the mid-1960s, but that was because of having Leavis in the school library and DW Harding on our reading list. ‘Isaac Rosenberg was equally remarkable [the comparison is with Owen], and even more interesting technically, and he is hardly known.’ [New Bearings, p.65 Peregrine edition of 1963] And yes, he ‘doesn’t easily fit into political agendas’.

  2. Posted October 5, 2013 at 3:06 pm | Permalink

    The pantheon ‘set in stone fifty years ago’? Rupert Brooke has completely disappeared from the modern pantheon because his poems are now politically incorrect.

    • Posted October 5, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      Rupert Brooke is included in every Great War anthology that I can think of – though on occasion editors’ comments can be sniffy. He remains an important fact about WW1 poetry, even for those who dislike his work and attitudes.
      Tim Kendall in his very good new Poetry of the First World War anthology, which I shall be reviewing here soon, gives a sympathetic account of him and includes, as well as the celebrated sonnets, the fragment written on shipboard, in which he considers his fellow soldiers as ‘Perishing things, and strange ghosts – soon to die / To other ghosts – this one, or that, or I.’

      • Posted October 6, 2013 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        I stand corrected! I was basing my view on the fact that he’s not read in schools.


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