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Exiting 'Break of Day in the Trenches'

Rosenberg's signature, 1917

You have now completed your browsing. At the beginning of this session you were asked to record your initial impressions of the poem 'Break of Day in the Trenches' by Isaac Rosenberg. Once again, you are asked to read the poem and make appropriate comments this time noting whether your interpretation and analysis of the text has been changed by the information you were presented with relating to the poet's life. If you wish you can look at other user's initial impressions of the poem (plus (1), (2), (3), (4), (5), (6), (7), (8)), and their final thoughts on exiting (plus (1), (2), (3)). If you wish you can return to the main pages.

!!! N.B. This is only one in a series of FOUR tutorials on the poetry of the First World War. Three new ones are available at the JTAP Virtual Seminars Site. If you would like to discuss WW1 Poetry with scholars from around the world, please visit the WW1 Poetry Discussion Board. If you would like to access more manuscripts, video clips, and audio files please go to the Wilfred Owen Multimedia Archive. !!!.


Break of Day in the Trenches
The darkness crumbles away
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet's poppy (5)
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies,
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German (10)
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life, (15)
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame (20)
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver -what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in men's veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe, (25)
Just a little white with the dust.
- Isaac Rosenberg


Final impressions of the poem

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This is the SECOND tutorial on World War One poetry and is part of the Virtual Seminars course at Oxford University. For the other THREE tutorials (I. Introduction to WWI Poetry, III. Manuscript Study: 'Dulce et Decorum est', IV. Concordance of the Poems of Wilfred Owen) see The Virtual Seminars for Teaching Literature Project: Tutorials.