WEIDENFELD & NICOLSON £25 (468PP) £22.50(FREE P&P) FROM 0870 079 8897

Isaac Rosenberg: the making of a Great War poet, by Jean Moorcroft Wilson

East End to Western Front

In May 2005 the doors of the Whitechapel Library, the street-corner university of so many East End Jewish writers and artists, closed for the last time. Bernard Kops wrote a poem, remembering that "The door of the library was the door into me." Michael Kustow commemorated the library and the Whitechapel Art Gallery next door in a wonderful elegy in the Jewish Quarterly. Of all those who flourished under the care of the dedicated librarians and curators of these cherished institutions, none led a more bifurcated and poignant life than Isaac Rosenberg, who died in the trenches at Arras in 1918, aged 28.

Though this new study covers many of the same climactic periods of Rosenberg's "half-used life" detailed in Jean Liddiard's admired biography of 1975, it confirms that Rosenberg's poetry, though stylistically different to that of Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and other poets of the First World War, has proved equally enduring. As a painter, Rosenberg exhibited an equal talent, as the haunting self-portrait in the National Portrait Gallery reveals. He was adept in self-portraits, for while he could not afford to pay models, his tenement home at least had a mirror. Wilson's book is particularly good on his early painting ambitions, providing a sympathetic description of Rosenberg's time at the Slade, where fellow students included David Bomberg, Mark Gertler, Paul Nash and Stanley Spencer.

Few artists or writers were able to develop their talent in those days without the support of mentors and patrons, and Rosenberg was aided by a variety of people. These included Laurence Binyon and the civil servant Edward Marsh, also a keen supporter of another poet-painter, DH Lawrence.

The critic FR Leavis later claimed that Rosenberg and Lawrence exhibited a common "radical and religious" interest in life. Rosenberg was introduced to Marsh by the painter Mark Gertler at the Café Royal, where he also met the Imagist poet, TE Hulme. Like many other members of the Whitechapel Group, Rosenberg lived in two separate worlds. While occasionally mixing with aristocratic patrons in West End salons and galleries, he was more often to be found wandering the streets of Stepney in the company of Jewish friends and comrades, making night-time forays into Epping Forest, the one true arcadia of east London. Dawn and dusk were favourite times, when the everyday world seemed transfigured.

Much of Rosenberg's poetry was considered difficult, employing a personal repertoire of religious and mythological imagery. It was a far cry from the quietist Georgian poetry of the time. Yiddish was Rosenberg's first language; he did not learn English until he went to school. This bilingualism, critics claim, accounts for his unusual syntax and vocabulary.

Wilson rightly dwells on the reasons why the small and sickly Rosenberg, a pacifist by temperament, enlisted in the Army. He suffered all his life from chronic bronchitis. The principal reason, she suggests, was to provide a regular allowance for his mother's upkeep. Life in the Army was thoroughly miserable: arriving at camp without any spare clothing or equipment, for the first few weeks he had to dry himself with a pocket handkerchief. Once in France, as a front-line soldier and occasional stretcher-bearer, he finally descended into a hell of mud, slurry and unburied corpses, which made him write in a letter to Marsh on 26 January 1918: "Christ never endured what I endure. It is breaking me completely." This sentence was crossed out by the censor.

These extreme conditions, and a lack of time for self-doubt, produced the great poems such as "Dead Man's Dump", "Louse Hunting", "Returning We Hear The Larks" and "Break of Day in the Trenches", in which his apocalyptic imagery meshed perfectly with the grim detail of the rats, the poppies, and the squelching of the limber carts as they rolled over the bodies of the dead. This last poem Paul Fussell thought the finest of any written during the First World War.

There were over 100,000 Jews living in the East End in Rosenberg's time, and the area teemed with poverty, but also with political radicalism and artistic ambition. All this is well captured in Wilson's generous life of the unhappy, but richly talented, poet and painter who, while conscious of his own abilities, was continually frustrated in life and claimed he had "no more free will than a tree".

Ken Worpole's 'Dockers and Detectives' is published by Five Leaves

Arts and Entertainment
The Rolling Stones at the Roundhouse in London in 1971: from the left, Keys, Charlie Watts, Mick Taylor and Mick Jagger

Music ...featuring Eric Clapton no less
Arts and Entertainment
In the dock: Dot Branning (June Brown); Union boss claims EastEnders writers are paid less than minimum wage

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Roger Christian wrote and directed the 1980 Black Angel original, which was lost until 2011

film
Arts and Entertainment
Professor Green (Hand out press photograph provided by Camilla Gould)

TV
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones reviewWarning: Spoilers aplenty
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific