I have chosen to write about ‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ by Isaac Rosenberg, and ‘Rumour’ by Major Owen Rutter. My decision was made as the poems made me feel completely different emotions.
Rutter’s poem is humorous and fun, quite the opposite to the sadness of the war displayed in Rosenberg’s free verse poem, a stanza of 26 lines which begins with an amazing picture being formed of the new day being born by stating ‘The darkness crumbles’, with nature arriving along with the new days light. Great depth is added to the arrival of light by writing ‘Same old druid time’. The air of mystery surrounding druids helps sets a mysterious scene, the new day Rosenberg witnesses arriving would have also been mysterious, a time full of uncertainty for him. Druids are perceived to have deep knowledge of the earth’s foundations, and I think he used that phrase as he was at the gates of life and death, at any time he could have became part of the unknown the druids secretly hold knowledge of.
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The rat’s freedom is unaffected by the chaos around him, for once the rat has the upper hand over the human, changing status, placed in a sinister setting as normal but this time the humans are the ones riddled with darkness and evil. He shows this realization that the roles are switched by writing ‘Less chanced than you for life’. Using the adjective ‘sardonic’ is a perfect, describing the rat as being almost cheeky with its privileged presence. I find it wonderful how Rosenberg holds no anger and hate towards the rat by using the adjective ‘droll’ and admiring the rat as he inspects its ‘Strong eyes, fine limbs’. Rosenberg shows envy as it’s him who has ‘Bonds to the whims of murder’, not the rat. This is such a contrast, as if the same rat appeared in a British home; it would have been murdered and talked of in a whole different manner. The personification of the green creates a brilliant silence between his trench and his enemy, the rat can roam freely onto the ‘sleeping green’ but it’s there where Rosenberg could become part of the ‘Torn fields of France’ if he were to try the same.
‘What do you see in our eyes, at the shrieking iron and flame’ stands out to me as the most powerful part of the poem as he wonders what the rat can see, this makes me think of the pain & terror Rosenberg may have seen in soldiers’ eyes during his time in the trenches. The whole poem is very melancholic but then ends with some hope, closing with a powerful image of Rosenberg exposed to bloodshed, sharing the trench with vermin, with the effeminate act of a soldier placing a poppy behind his ear. The poem ends with him holding onto his life, and holding onto the poppy, the one beautiful thing he has left tucked behind his ear whilst realizing just how detached he is from nature as the rat, the poppy’s and the sleeping green live on throughout the man made war.
All the sadness and grey contemplation of existence in the trenches disappears as we move into Major Owen Rutter’s iambic poem “Rumour”, where in this jolly 21 lined stanza, Rutter uses a rhythm of 4 feet to a line, using language that is light and peaceful considering it was written during the war. The language style is universal, children could enjoy this and not be fearful of its contents, for example I feel the most negative word used throughout the duration is ‘minions’, possibly showing some hostility toward the Queens Nurses for only existing to follow orders whilst spreading rumours.
The 1st line instantly paints a strong positive image of the British Army using the adjective ‘mighty’ declaring their importance, then stating that rumours are the only thing that becomes bigger once it leaves the ‘Base supply park’. Rutter then says ‘Possibly in lieu of lime-juice’, since lime juice would have been effective to treat illnesses such as scurvy, it could be said that Rutter is implying here that the absence of the juice was the thing that gave birth to the rumour, as perhaps those needy of it who were ill, started a rumour? The illness itself may have made them ill in the mind, making them speak untruths? He then says ‘Heaven only knows its maker’ which given my theory of the lime juice, this line could be taken as sarcasm, or of course he really had no idea at all who started them.
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‘Like a toy balloon it swells up’ is a great metaphor to use for a rumour on many levels, as children are attracted to and play with balloons, and those who spread rumours could be said to be childish. The balloon is also a product of the lungs, of our own breath, our individual input determines the shape and size of the balloon, and rumours are constructed from the words we breathe and its strength and size is again a direct result of what words the individual contributes to it. Too much breath into the balloon will cause the balloon to pop and cause an impact and stir people in its radius, which can also be said about the effect of rumours.
More gentle yet humorous words are used talking of the ‘Mr knowalls’ at the dump who add to the rumour, maybe Rutter chose the dump as the place he felt the know alls were worthy of working at, being surrounded by rubbish worthless to anyone. He then says the transport drivers ‘Puff their hardest’, which could mean the drivers give the rumour more power and strength (‘Make it change a little’) as they would have been driving, spreading the rumour to many whilst on their travels. Stating at the end that the Sergeant Major takes a ‘Lusty breathe’ to ‘Fix’ the rumour, brings us back to the beginning of the poem, showing the British Army as being mighty, winning its battles. The Sergeant’s actions also suggest to me that the balloon had no more space once he fixed it, it became full blown and the rumour became shaped and finalized, fit for the ears of those in the trenches. I did not like how the poem concluded as the balloon metaphor creates the expectation of it popping at the end, reaching a climax but instead it’s diffused, but then again if it were to pop, his portrayal of the ‘Mighty’ Army would not have been as effective. I also did not like the fact that the poem does not tell you exactly what the rumours he was clearly agitated by actually were, but using the balloon metaphor to describe the rumours creation and movements was the element that made me enjoy this poem, despite not revealing the rumours motives.
Both poems appear to me as opposites, Rosenberg’s is a glimpse into the mind of a man on the dark side, the WW1 trenches, whilst Rutter’s quirky rhythmic poem dissolves the sadness I felt from “Breaking Of Day In The Trenches” and made me smile with his childlike tale of rumours during the war. Both poems gave me an insight into being alive during the war, Rutter’s shown me how during such a difficult time, one could still smile and poke fun at the goings on around them, whilst Rosenberg transported me into the battlefield and made me feel how scared and alone the soldiers would have felt on the dawn of each day of uncertainty in
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