Monday, April 9, 2018

The Jew - Isaac Rosenberg

Moses, from whose loins I sprung,
Lit by a lamp in his blood
Ten immutable rules, a moon
For mutable lampless men.

The blonde, the bronze, the ruddy,
With the same heaving blood,
Keep tide to the moon of Moses.
Then why do they sneer at me?

Isaac Rosenberg was a British poet who died in 1918 at age 28, a victim of the first World War.  Prior to the war, he had published two volumes of poetry, which had a somewhat tepid reception.  Critics found his poems beautiful, but not yet mature, still very much in the style of the Romantic poets, particularly Keats.  His highly poetical language detracted from his sentiment, and critics said he had not yet found his voice.

It is impossible to ignore Rosenberg's Jewish heritage.  Born in 1890 in Bristol, England, his family faced terrible discrimination, and ended up in the Jewish ghetto in London.  His Jewish identity is important to his poems, particularly his war poetry, of which this is one example.  The Old Testament informs the relationships between God and man in his poetry, as we can see here.

What we can see in this poem is a clear establishment of Rosenberg's Jewish identity, the acknowledgment that much of the world (particularly Christians) recognize Moses and the Ten Commandments, and an anguish at the historical castigation of the Jewish people.  I particularly like the image of Moses being the lamp that brought light to the world, "immutable rules" for "mutable lampless men."

Rosenberg goes on to note that among men, "The blonde, the bronze, the ruddy" all "keep tide" (live) "to the moon of Moses" (the Ten Commandments, God).  So why then do they sneer at him, the Jew?  It's a question to continue asking, as anti-Semitic thought sees a rise again in the West.  Embracing his Jewish identity during his war poetry, Rosenberg began finding a unique voice, and had he survived the war, may have become a true force in English poetry.  As it stands, his poetry is interesting, and in this example, heart-wrenching. 

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