Isaac Rosenberg: Early Poetry and Related Documents from the Joseph Cohen Collection of World War I Literature

Irvin Department of Special Collections

Rosenberg, recognized as the first significant Jewish poet in English literature, was one of the major poets whose life was cut short by the Great War, and the only one who served in the ranks. He died on the Somme in 1918 at the age of 27. But before his death, he wrote some of literature’s most evocative accounts of the ravages of war. His poem “Break of Day in the Trenches” is among the best-known poems of the war.

This online collection includes one of only three known copies of Rosenberg’s first book of poems, Night and Day (1912), making the University of South Carolina one of only three libraries in the world to have all three of Rosenberg’s publications.

Rosenberg was born into a working-class family that had emigrated from Lithuania and eventually moved to the East End of London. He attended the Slade School of Art in London, and was part of a circle of emerging modern artists that included Mark Gertler, Paul Nash, Stanley Spencer, and Dora Carrington. While primarily recognized as a poet, his career as an artist has increasingly been seen as significant. In spite of ill health, he enlisted in 1915 and served on the Western Front until his death.

Rosenberg’s first publications were produced in modest quantities by a small print shop in London, and are among the great rarities in 20th-century English poetry. Our copy of Night and Day has an additional manuscript poem added by Rosenberg in his own hand. Also included in this collection are: Youth, a book of poems from 1915; his play Moses (1916); a letter of Rosenberg’s written from the trenches; the only known surviving copy of his essay on art from The Jewish Standard (1915); a letter from a friend onto which Rosenberg has added a watercolor drawing; studies of nudes and of a barrister; and a self-portrait in pencil, all of which are part of the library’s holdings.

The collection was acquired from Joseph Cohen, a Tulane University English professor who began collecting material on Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves, Rupert Brooke and other Great War figures while working on his dissertation. His research culminated in the publication of his book, Journey to the Trenches: The Life of Isaac Rosenberg 1890-1918 (London and New York, 1975).

In addition to Rosenberg’s poetry, the Cohen collection includes autograph letters from Robert Graves and Ezra Pound, extensive research files preserving Cohen’s contacts in the 1950s with people who had known Rosenberg and Wilfred Owen before and during the war, art by Rosenberg, and more than 300 volumes by or about the Great War poets, notably Owen, Graves and Sassoon.

The Cohen Collection complements the Joseph M. Bruccoli Great War Collection, which was begun in 1997 by Arlyn and Matthew J. Bruccoli as a research archive for the literary, historical, and cultural aspects of World War I. It includes literature of the American Expeditionary Force, British novels and poetry of the war, and materials about the air war and trench warfare. The collection includes books, newspapers, sheet music, posters, original art, manuscripts, correspondence, photo albums, scrapbooks, and glass slides.

– Dr. Patrick Scott and Jeffrey Makala
Rare Books and Special Collections, Thomas Cooper Library


“Thanks to Rare Books and Special Collections Librarians, Dr. Patrick Scott and Jeffrey Makala, for making this project possible. The project could also not have been completed without the work of Tony Branch of the Systems Department, and Kate Boyd, Laura Masce (MLIS,2006), and Stewart Baker (MLIS, 2007) from the Digital Activities Department.

This collection of eight works by Isaac Rosenberg was scanned on a HP Scanner #C7776 with HP PrecisionScan software. Jeffrey scanned the images as color TIFFs at 24-bit and 300 ppi. From the TIFFs Laura created high quality JPEGs and added the preservation metadata to the TIFF and JPEG images. She then OCR’ed the JPEGs, using Omni Pro software to create text files for the full text search ability. The JPEGs and text files were then uploaded to CONTENTdm. The TIFFs will be maintained as the archival masters on a SAN server, backed-up to DVD and tape. Tony Branch is the systems administrator for the CONTENTdm database and helps to manage the computers and scanners in the Digital Activities Department.

Kate created the metadata from the catalog records and uploaded them with the images from a tab-delimited file. The metadata records follow the Western States Best Practices Dublin Core format. Laura created a home page, which Robert Blank (MLIS 2013) later updated and changed the webiste (August 2012), and Jeffrey and Patrick wrote an introduction.

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