Poetry Out of My Head and Heart

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An astonishing discovery was made in 1995 during the British Library's removal from the British Museum. Thirty-four letters and eighteen draft poems, including Break of Day in the Trenches , Dead Man's Dump , and Returning, We Hear the Larks by the poet and artist Isaac Rosenberg were found in a bundle of papers stored by former museum keeper Laurence Binyon, himself a poet and Rosenberg's mentor. After his death as a private soldier on the Western Front on 1 April 1918, Isaac Rosenberg, now regarded as a major poet of the First World War, was largely forgotten, and only the devotion of his family and the support of his fellow poets rescued his work for posterity. Binyon and another older poet, Gordon Bottomley, encouraged and corresponded with Rosenberg until his death, and then edited his poems and extracts from his letters for publication. The newly discovered papers include all Rosenberg's complete letters and draft poems to Binyon and Bottomley, together with material about Rosenberg from family, friends and mentors such as his sister Annie, Whitechapel librarian Morley Dainow, schoolteacher Winifreda Seaton, and patron Frank Emmanuel. All are published here, most for the first time. At first overshadowed by the more acceptably English war poets, Rosenberg's poetry did not fit the poetic ideals of the time, just as he, an East End Jew born of immigrant parents, did not present the accepted public image of the heroic soldier poet. The originality and strength of his poetry were rooted in the struggle with the opposing elements of his life, which did not follow the conventions of any role he played: East End Jew, poet, painter or soldier. In one unpublished letter from the trenches he reveals his difficulties, 'I don't suppose my poems will ever be poetry right and proper until I shall be able to settle down and whip myself into more expression. As it is, my not being able to get poetry out of my head & heart causes me sufficient trouble out here.' (Letter to Bottomley, postmarked 11 July 1917)