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Dead Man's Dump -- Isaac Rosenberg

Guest poem submitted by Nick Grundy:
(Poem #746) Dead Man's Dump
 The plunging limbers over the shattered track
 Racketed with their rusty freight,
 Stuck out like many crowns of thorns,
 And the rusty stakes like sceptres old
 To stay the flood of brutish men
 Upon our brothers dear.

 The wheels lurched over sprawled dead
 But pained them not, though their bones crunched;
 Their shut mouths made no moan,
 They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,
 Man born of man, and born of woman;
 And shells go crying over them
 From night till night and now.
 Earth has waited for them,
 All the time of their growth
 Fretting for their decay:
 Now she has them at last!
 In the strength of her strength
 Suspended - stopped and held.

 What fierce imaginings their dark souls lit?
 Earth! Have they gone into you?
 Somewhere they must have gone,
 And flung on your hard back
 Is their souls' sack,
 Emptied of God-ancestralled essences.
 Who hurled them out? Who hurled?
 None saw their spirits' shadow shake the grass,
 Or stood aside for the half-used life to pass
 Out of those doomed nostrils and the doomed mouth,
 When the swift iron burning bee
 Drained the wild honey of their youth.

 What of us who, flung on the shrieking pyre,
 Walk, our usual thoughts untouched,
 Our lucky limbs as on ichor fed,
 Immortal seeming ever?
 Perhaps when the flames beat loud on us,
 A fear may choke in our veins
 And the startled blood may stop.
 The air is loud with death,
 The dark air spurts with fire,
 The explosions ceaseless are.
 Timelessly now, some minutes past,
 These dead strode time with vigorous life,
 Till the shrapnel called 'An end!'
 But not to all. In bleeding pangs
 Some borne on stretchers dreamed of home,
 Dear things, war-blotted from their hearts.
 A man's brains splattered on
 A stretcher-bearer's face;
 His shook shoulders slipped their load,
 But when they bent to look again
 The drowning soul was sunk too deep
 For human tenderness.

 They left this dead with the older dead,
 Stretched at the cross roads.
 Burnt black by strange decay
 Their sinister faces lie,
 The lid over each eye;
 The grass and coloured clay
 More motion have than they,
 Joined to the great sunk silences.
 Here is one not long dead.
 His dark hearing caught our far wheels,
 And the choked soul stretched weak hands
 To reach the living word the far wheels said;
 The blood-dazed intelligence beating for light,
 Crying through the suspense of the far torturing wheels
 Swift for the end to break
 Or the wheels to break,
 Cried as the tide of the world broke over his sight,
 'Will they come? Will they ever come?'
 Even as the mixed hoofs of the mules,
 The quivering-bellied mules,
 And the rushing wheels all mixed
 With his tortured upturned sight.
 So we crashed round the bend,
 We heard his weak scream,
 We heard his very last sound,
 And our wheels grazed his dead face.
-- Isaac Rosenberg

Ok - one or two comments - in isolation, there are parts of this poem I find
rather irritating - but there are some lines in there I absolutely adore.
 "Earth has waited for them,
  All the time of their growth
  Fretting for their decay:"
is really ghoulish, and reminds me slightly of the start of '1 Henry IV',
where the earth is described in similar terms -
 "No more the thirsty entrance of this soil
  Shall daub her lips with her own children's blood."
Thata also ties in reasonably nicely with the "old sceptres" a few lines up,
too - "Who hurled them out? Who hurled?".



        born Nov. 25, 1890, Bristol, Gloucestershire, Eng.
        died April 1918, France

British poet and painter killed in World War I.

Rosenberg first trained to be a painter, winning several prizes at the Slade
School of Art, London. He enlisted in the British Army in 1915 and is best
known for his 'trench poems', written between 1916 and 1918, which showed
great imaginative power and originality in imagery. His Collected Works,
with a foreword by Siegfried Sassoon, first appeared in 1937; an edition by
Ian Parsons including poetry, prose, letters, paintings and drawings, was
published in 1979.

        -- EB

14 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

davies said...

The poem has far reaching implications even for a modern day reader who has never experienced war.
The imagery used such as "sceptres" and that of "None saw their spirits' shadow shake the grass" is unearthly in many senses and evokes many a powerful emotion in the most balse of readers. I love the poem.

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