To shoe the hoofs of death

Isaac Rosenberg’s work remains vivid and praised

Ed. Note: November 2018 marks 100 years since the end of World War I. The San Diego Reader will devote this month’s poetry columns to the poets who wrote about their experiences of that war.

August 1914

  • What in our lives is burnt
  • In the fire of this?
  • The heart’s dear granary?
  • The much we shall miss?
  • Three lives hath one life—
  • Iron, honey, gold.
  • The gold, the honey gone—
  • Left is the hard and cold.
  • Iron are our lives
  • Molten right through our youth.
  • A burnt space through ripe fields,
  • A fair mouth’s broken tooth.


  • My eyes catch ruddy necks
  • Sturdily pressed back.
  • All a red-brick moving glint.
  • Like flaming pendulums, hands
  • Swing across the khaki—
  • Mustard coloured khaki—
  • To the automatic feet.
  • We husband the ancient glory
  • In these bared necks and hands.
  • Not broke is the forge of Mars;
  • But a subtler brain beats iron
  • To shoe the hoofs of death.
  • Who pays dynamic air now?—
  • Blind fingers loose an iron cloud
  • To rain immortal darkness
  • On strong eyes.

The Troop Ship

  • Grotesque and queerly huddled 
  • Contortionists to twist 
  • The sleepy soul to a sleep, 
  • We lie all sorts of ways 
  • And cannot sleep. 
  • The wet wind is so cold, 
  • And the lurching men so careless, 
  • That, should you drop to a doze, 
  • Wind’s fumble or men’s feet 
  • Is on your face.

Isaac Rosenberg

Isaac Rosenberg

Isaac Rosenberg was an English poet and one of the War Poets of World War I. His volume Poems from the Trenches remains one of the most vivid and praised works of poetry written during the First World War. Born into a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant family in London, Rosenberg served in the 12th Bantam Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment (a bantam designated men under the usual minimum height of 5’3”). He first began writing poetry before the start of the war and continued to write about his experiences in the trenches during the war. He and another soldier were killed at the end of a night patrol on April 1, 1918.

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