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Short poem

Isaac Rosenberg (1890-1918)

Dead Man's Dump

              1The plunging limbers over the shattered track
              2Racketed with their rusty freight,
              3Stuck out like many crowns of thorns,
              4And the rusty stakes like sceptres old
              5To stay the flood of brutish men
              6Upon our brothers dear.

              7The wheels lurched over sprawled dead
              8But pained them not, though their bones crunched,
              9Their shut mouths made no moan.
            10They lie there huddled, friend and foeman,
            11Man born of man, and born of woman,
            12And shells go crying over them
            13From night till night and now.

            14Earth has waited for them,
            15All the time of their growth
            16Fretting for their decay:
            17Now she has them at last!
            18In the strength of their strength
            19Suspended--stopped and held.

            20What fierce imaginings their dark souls lit?
            21Earth! have they gone into you!
            22Somewhere they must have gone,
            23And flung on your hard back
            24Is their soul's sack
            25Emptied of God-ancestralled essences.
            26Who hurled them out? Who hurled?

            27None saw their spirits' shadow shake the grass,
            28Or stood aside for the half used life to pass
            29Out of those doomed nostrils and the doomed mouth,
            30When the swift iron burning bee
            31Drained the wild honey of their youth.

            32What of us who, flung on the shrieking pyre,
            33Walk, our usual thoughts untouched,
            34Our lucky limbs as on ichor fed,
            35Immortal seeming ever?
            36Perhaps when the flames beat loud on us,
            37A fear may choke in our veins
            38And the startled blood may stop.

            39The air is loud with death,
            40The dark air spurts with fire,
            41The explosions ceaseless are.
            42Timelessly now, some minutes past,
            43Those dead strode time with vigorous life,
            44Till the shrapnel called `An end!'
            45But not to all. In bleeding pangs
            46Some borne on stretchers dreamed of home,
            47Dear things, war-blotted from their hearts.

            48Maniac Earth! howling and flying, your bowel
            49Seared by the jagged fire, the iron love,
            50The impetuous storm of savage love.
            51Dark Earth! dark Heavens! swinging in chemic smoke,
            52What dead are born when you kiss each soundless soul
            53With lightning and thunder from your mined heart,
            54Which man's self dug, and his blind fingers loosed?

            55A man's brains splattered on
            56A stretcher-bearer's face;
            57His shook shoulders slipped their load,
            58But when they bent to look again
            59The drowning soul was sunk too deep
            60For human tenderness.

            61They left this dead with the older dead,
            62Stretched at the cross roads.

            63Burnt black by strange decay
            64Their sinister faces lie,
            65The lid over each eye,
            66The grass and coloured clay
            67More motion have than they,
            68Joined to the great sunk silences.

            69Here is one not long dead;
            70His dark hearing caught our far wheels,
            71And the choked soul stretched weak hands
            72To reach the living word the far wheels said,
            73The blood-dazed intelligence beating for light,
            74Crying through the suspense of the far torturing wheels
            75Swift for the end to break
            76Or the wheels to break,
            77Cried as the tide of the world broke over his sight.

            78Will they come? Will they ever come?
            79Even as the mixed hoofs of the mules,
            80The quivering-bellied mules,
            81And the rushing wheels all mixed
            82With his tortured upturned sight.
            83So we crashed round the bend,
            84We heard his weak scream,
            85We heard his very last sound,
            86And our wheels grazed his dead face.

Online text copyright © 2003, Ian Lancashire for the Department of English, University of Toronto.
Published by the Web Development Group, Information Technology Services, University of Toronto Libraries.

Original text: Isaac Rosenberg, The Collected Works of Isaac Rosenberg: Poetry, Prose, Letters, and Some Drawings, ed. Gordon Bottomley and Denys Harding, with a Foreword by Siegfried Sassoon (London: Chatto and Windus, 1937): 81-84. PR 6035 O67 1937 Robarts Library
First publication date: 1922
RPO poem editor: Ian Lancashire
RP edition: RPO 1996-2000.
Recent editing: 2:2002/3/14

Composition date: 1916 - 1918
Rhyme: occasionally rhyming

Other poems by Isaac Rosenberg