Isaac Rosenberg – artist and poet

To commemorate the College’s bicentenary in 2023, we’re showcasing 200 ‘Birkbeck Effects’ which capture the incredible stories of our vibrant and diverse community, highlighting their achievements and impact on the world. 

Isaac Rosenberg

Isaac is heralded as one of the greatest of the war poets, reflecting on the horrors of conflict through art and poetry. As an art student at Birkbeck, Isaac won the College’s Mason Prize; though his art career was brought to an abrupt ending when he was killed at the age of twenty-seven while serving in the First World War.

From the trenches on 28 March 1918, just four days before his death, he reflected that “during our little interlude of rest from the line I managed to do a bit of sketching – somebody had colours – and they werent [sic] so bad. I don’t think I have forgotten my art after all.”

Isaac left school at the age of fourteen years but went on to study at Birkbeck in the evenings. Today, he is known for his posthumously published war poems. In one, entitled Dead Man’s Dump, Rosenberg describes, “The wheels lurched over sprawling dead…their bones crunched. They lie there huddled, friend and foemen…Man born of man and born of woman, And shells go crying over them, From night till night and now.”

In the foreword to these poems, fellow English war poet and soldier, Siegfried Sassoon noted how Rosenberg’s poems encapsulated the “hateful and repellent, unforgettable and inescapable” realities of life in the frontlines.


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