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
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies
(And God knows what antipathies).
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German–
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;
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 boom, the hiss, the swiftness,
The irrevocable earth buffet–
A shell's haphazard fury.
What rootless poppies drooping? . . .
But mine in my ear is safe,
Just a little white with the dust.


Isaac Rosenberg, The Collected Works of Isaac Rosenberg, Chatto & Windus, 1979.