Isaac Rosenberg (1890–1918)

141 Study Questions and Activities

Study Questions and Activities

Returning, We Hear the Larks

  1. Give an example or two of irony in this poem.

Break of Day in the Trenches

  1. Listen to the audio clip of the poem.
  2. What lines differ from that in your Oxford tutorial? Compare the open text version (which is the same as that published in the Norton and Longman anthologies) with the original version published in Poetry magazine, 1916. Which do you prefer? You will find an earlier version (see page 6, Poetry magazine) as it is reproduced in the following link: “Collecting Isaac Rosenberg”. You will also find it under variants here.
  3. Are there any elements of the pastoral in the poem?
  4. Look up “crown of thorns” and “sceptre” in an appropriate reference source. What is ironic about their use here?
  5. How does this poem differ from other apostrophes to rodents or insects, such as Burns’s “To a Mouse” or “To a Louse”?
  6. How does the phrase “haughty athletes” contribute to irony in the poem?

Dead Man’s Dump

  1. Find an example of alliteration, apostrophe and personification.
  2. What does the metaphor “swift iron humming bee” suggest?
  3. In an earlier version, the 8th stanza begins, “Maniac earth!” It does not appear in our version in the Oxford tutorial. Why do you think it was later removed from the poem? Would you have retained it? Why or why not?

Further Activity:

Browse the very informative National Archive Exhibit on Isaac Rosenberg. In addition to biographical and historical material, it contains the texts and holograph (hand-written) images of three more Rosenberg poems: “The Immortal”, “Spring”, and “Of any old man”.

Essay Topics

  1. “Where Rosenberg differs from Owen and Sassoon is in his avoidance of a shrill rhetoric that tends to drown the private voice in a blast of moral outrage” (Lisa Broadway). Discuss.
  2. Download the archival letter from Isaac Rosenberg to Edward Marsh, October 1915.
  3. The original of the letter to Edward Marsh is now in the Berg Collection, New York Public Library. Experiment with the various images, but click on “Maximum resolution” and “Fit to width.” Then print it, after using the zoom feature if you have trouble deciphering it. Next, prepare your own edition of the letter, with footnotes identifying Marsh and other necessary explanatory details, especially the reference to “Falstaff’s scarecrows.” Your goal is to provide an accurate transcription as well as useful explanatory footnotes. You should also read “Collecting Isaac Rosenberg”. It will give needed background and will help you with some of the hard-to-decipher words in the archival photo.


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English Literature: Victorians and Moderns by James Sexton is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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