If Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon remain the most popular poets of the First World War, David Jones and Isaac Rosenberg have claims to be their betters. In a typically cautious comment, that maker of reputations, T S Eliot, said of Rosenberg that he was ‘perhaps the greatest English poet to be killed in the war’ – a judgement that characteristically left Eliot scope for good relations with other nationalities and those who survived. So why has Rosenberg remained in comparative obscurity to this day? After all, interest in the war has, if anything, increased over the last half century.
Answers to this question soon begin to emerge from Jean Moorcroft Wilson’s new biography of the poet. The first and most obvious can be summed up in one word: difficulty. Part of what appealed to Eliot about Rosenberg – and about his fellow poet-painter, David Jones – was their modernism: