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Poem “Louse Hunting” by Isaac Rosenberg’s

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In Isaac Rosenberg’s poem “Louse Hunting,” a motley collection of World War I soldiers rise from their beds one night to wage battle-against the insects that dwell on their persons and in their uniforms. After months of serving on the front lines, living and fighting in the squalor of the trenches, these men have become infested with lice. How do the meanings of the words in the phrase “verminous brood” (line 11) demonstrate how head lice endangered the psyches of these combatants?

In Isaac Rosenberg’s poem “Louse Hunting,” he describes a battle being fought by each individual soldier, not on the battlefield, but on the their own bodies. The enemy was head lice and there was no way of stopping them. After months of being on the front lines the soldiers found themselves infested with vermin that nearly drove them mad. The poem itself has a slight comical tone, but at the same time a sense of despair and a much deeper meaning. In the trenches the soldiers had security and had a stronger sense of control, but outside of the trenches they didn’t have any control. The lice symbolized this. Each individual soldier was small and insignificant in comparison with the war, but together they were strong. One insect didn’t make an impact but eventually the soldiers became infested by the lice and had no control or ability to stop them. Rosenberg’s diction and connotation strongly influenced how head lice was a threat to the mentally of the soldiers. One of the phrases he uses to describe the lice is “verminous brood.”

The word verminous is defined as of or with vermin, being infested with vermin. The lice used the soldiers as their breeding place and eventually became strong in numbers. Instead of an external war, the soldiers were fighting a war within the trenches against the lice. The lice endangered the psyches of these men and caused them to lose them military bearing. Rosenberg described the men running around, stripping of their clothes, and lighting them on fire. Because they were already physically, mentally and emotionally distraught the lice had a strong impact on their way of thinking. They were fighting this huge war and they couldn’t even defeat the lice. The word verminous can also mean disgusting, extremely unpleasant or offensive. In any wartime situation the conditions are most likely going to be unpleasant and mentally challenging. The soldiers are already going through a difficult time and the lice are parasites that are constantly reminding them of the situation that they are in. The word brood has several meanings that relate to this poem. The first is to sit on or incubate eggs, to produce by as if by incubation. The lice used the soldiers as a place to breed.

They had no control over the situation and didn’t realize it until it was too late. It was as if the enemy had snuck up on them and used their own weapons to defeat them. They lost their composer when they began to yell and burn their clothes. This showed how emotionally tired the men had become after fighting for so long. They were helpless and no longer had the control and stability that they once had. The lice were driving them mad. Another meaning of the word brood is to be in a state of depression. This reflects on the mentality of the soldiers. They were most likely exhausted in all aspects and saw no hope in the near future. Rosenberg uses other words such as lurid and rage to further describe the feeling of depression.

The pressures of war have always had a strong influence on the mentality of the combatants. In this poem, the lice are real, but they are also used as a symbolic representation of the lack of control and stability there is on the battlefield. The soldiers were in constant battle against the enemy and the lice that infested their uniforms and bodies. Although the head lice seem insignificant in a time of war, they became so powerful that they endangered the mentality of the soldiers. Isaac Rosenberg shows how something as small as lice can have such a strong impact. His diction is both influential and fitting in describing the feelings that the soldiers endured.

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