I Have a Rendezvous with Death by Alan Seeger

Alan Seeger in French Foreign Legion uniform

Alan Seeger in French Foreign Legion uniform

Alan Seeger, born 22 June 1888, lived an interesting life, had interesting friends, and came from an interesting American family. His brother Charles was a musicologist, a pacifist and father to Pete, Mike, and Peggy Seeger, all of whom became folk singers. As a student at harvard, Alan Seeger edited and wrote for the Harvard monthly. He was buddies with John Reed, who witnessed the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia and wrote a book about the experience (Ten Days That Shook the World ,1919). Other literary classmates included T.S. Eliot and Walter Lippmant.

Living in Paris when the war broke out, Seeger decided it would be a good idea to join the French Foreign Legion in August 1914. On 4 July 1916 he died during the Battle of the Somme. Seeger wrote many peoms which were published posthumously in 1917. “I Have a Rendezvous with Death” is his most famous. As I share these poems from World War I do not plan to add a lot of my own commentary, but I have to say I think the word “rendezvous” is the key to the genius of this poem: it gives it the poem its “ringing in the ears” quality and of course, it is French.

I Have a Rendezvous with Death

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear . . .
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

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