You are on page 1of 3

‘August 1914’

What in our lives is burnt
In the fire of this?
The heart’s dear granary?
The much we shall miss?
Three lives hath one life –
Iron, honey, gold.
The gold, the honey gone –
Left is the hard and cold.
Iron are our lives
Molten right through our youth.
A burnt space through ripe fields
A fair mouth’s broken tooth.

This poem reflects on the beginning of the First World War, questioning the consequences of its destruction:
Rosenberg declares that a hard and cold age of fire, iron and death has been ushered in by the war.
August 1914: Though the title refers to the first month of the war, this poem was actually written in 1916, as
Rosenberg trained as a private soldier for the front line.
STRUCTURE: This is, typically for Rosenberg, a poem of precise images that are also symbols that invite
broader interpretation. ‘August 1914’ offers these images and symbols in fragmentary style.

“The much we shall miss?”: An image of great (“much”) personal loss. This heated iron suggests the misplaced passion of the young men fighting. as burning fragments of shrapnel pierce their skin. into “molten” iron. health and preciousness (Canaan is the “land of milk and honey”). is ushering the “hard and cold” Age of Iron. by the fire of war. Heroic then Iron Age. but also a fluid spirit of Iron within the young. August 1914. Note another typical Rosenberg archaism (hath for has). This metaphorical element of iron is then transformed. dishonest and tyrannical. however: because molten iron literally is flying right through the bodies of young men on the battlefield.”: Another example of Rosenberg favouring the common noun over adjectives. . honey. while “honey” seems to have more Biblical associations of plenitude. mortars and shells. Bronze. the sweetness and preserving power of honey. and declaring a lack of knowledge.NOTES “What in our lives is burnt / In the fire of this?”: The opening stanza begins with questions— anxious wonder about the consequences of the war. This line perhaps imagines one life having three elements— those subsequently named. or heat. A granary is where grain is stored for winter.”: The critic Bernard Bergonzi. “Three lives hath one life—”: A cryptic statement that I must admit I find difficult. Here the things named have a number of different associations that the reader may apply to them: Iron’s hard and cold nature. refers to the “multiple associations of his images” which “can be construed both literally and figuratively” (p. if the heart has a granary. Any number of valid interpretations can be made as to why these three substances are peculiarly inherent to a human life. the honey gone— / Left is the hard and cold. defined by callousness and cruelty. “Gold” here might refer to that paradisal state. “This”. seems to emphasise the emotional cost of war. comparing the heart to a granary. “The gold. the preciousness of gold. a “golden” age. moving then through the Silver. gold. is the war: Rosenberg wonders what is being destroyed by its “fire”. Rosenberg does not shy away from questioning in his poetry. a limited insight. Each stage (besides the Heroic) traces a gradual fall from a higher state.109). as we read on. The word has hellish or sacrificial connotations. “The heart’s dear granary?”: the metaphor here.”: The references to gold and honey here are to me suggestive of a narrative common in human religion and myth— the story of man’s degeneration from an original paradisal state of absolute happiness. but also literally describes the firing of bullets. described these Ages of Man as beginning with the Golden Age. until in the Iron Age man has become unjust. of course. Figuratively—which means a transformation of the world in language— “Iron are our lives” suggests the “hard and cold” nature of the struggle for life alluded to in the previous stanza. an ancient Greek writer. “Iron are our lives / Molten right through our youth. We can also read these words literally. we might suppose it is where gathered affections are stored for sustenance— but have now been consumed. “Iron. Rosenberg may be suggesting. Note the alliteration here and the stress placed on these two words that signify plenty and its loss. writing about Rosenberg. Hesiod. in an Age of Iron. Here is an example of this.

its difficult syntax: and the striking nature of this fragmentation.”: at harvest time in France in August 1914 there will have been many burnt fields. Again this line can be read figuratively (a fine civilization is being thoughtlessly destroyed) or literally (the faces of handsome young men are being smashed in). Note the fragmentary nature of the sentences in this last stanza. and the emotional devastation that war has brought with it.“A burnt space through ripe fields. razing their “ripe” potential. but this line can also. . of course.”: the disturbing image of violence done to beauty closes the poem. yet the ripe fields also seem to recall the “heart’s granary” of the first stanza. be read figuratively. The destroyed crops allude. of course. to the loss of young men’s lives. “A fair mouth’s broken tooth.

Related Interests