The poets and the world war: "I Have a Rendezvous with Death" by Alan Seeger

Alan Seeger
This American poet, a class mate of  T.S. Eliot, was killed in action in France almost one hundred years ago, precisely on July 4, 1916 in Belloy-en-Santerre. He was 28 (he was born in New York in 1888) and he had started serving in the French Foreign Legion in 1914. The accounts we have say that he was smiling before dying. The splendid and lively literary commonplace of the "appointment with the Death" gives the title of the following poem. "I have a rendezvous with Death" is for sure his most popular poem, appreciated by the president of United States J.F. Kennedy who was used to ask his wife Jaqueline to recite it.
About his experience of war in France we would like to remind you the Letters and Diary of Alan Seeger you can find here in several formats. In one of the latest letters, addressed to a friend and dated June 28, 1916, Alan Seeger wrote: "We go up to the attack tomorrow. This will probably be the biggest thing yet. We are to have the honor of marching in the first wave. No sacks, but two musettes, toile de tente slung over shoulder, plenty of cartridges, grenades, and baïonnette au canon. I will write you soon if I get through all right. If not, my only earthly care is for my poems. Add the ode I sent you and the three sonnets to my last volume and you will have opera omnia quæ existant.  I am glad to be going in first wave. If you are in this thing at all it is best to be in to the limit. And this is the supreme experience."


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.

Women Writers of World War I. Interview with Margaret R. Higonnet

We are very pleased to host here below an interview with Margaret R. Higonnet, professor of English and Comparative Literature at University of Connecticut, Storrs. Our starting point is Lines of Fire. Women Writers of World War I, a very rich book she published in 1999.

Q: What was your main purpose when you started writing Lines of Fire. Women Writers of World War I?
A (MRH): When I decided to edit a collection of women’s texts about World War I, I was motivated in good part by my desire to write about some of these works and share their power. In order to reach my audience, I needed to make a group of those texts available. While certain major authors such as Virginia Woolf and Vera Brittain in England, or Edith Wharton, Willa Cather, and  Katherine Anne Porter in America were readily available, even famous authors such as Colette or Anna Akhmatova were harder for an Anglophone audience to track down. At the time, little work had been done to reprint women’s writings about the Great War. Among feminist critics, Jane Marcus, Claire Tylee, and Nosheen Khan had focused on English and American writers. As a comparatist, I was eager to bring to light those who wrote in other languages. While I wanted to include better known writers, I also was eager to include new names. Luckily, I could use the old card catalogue at Harvard’s Widener library, and call up books from the deposit library that had not been read for decades--not since they were first bought by librarians or donated by Harvard alumni in the years following the war. One of my favorite finds was a small selection of wartime issues from Anna Kuliscioff’s La difesa delle lavoratrici, which was lying on metal shelving in Harvard’s Littauer library. It was the only copy mentioned in the Library of Congress World Cat bibliography. Articles had been snipped out, perhaps even before the paper was acquired by Harvard. There I found the typical mix of material published in a women’s journal: political articles and poems, as well as advertisements.
Part of my interest in the project arose from the question, “What is a war text?” When Jean Norton Cru wrote his famous overview, Témoins (1929), which weighed the veracity of war memoirs and fiction, it never occurred to him that women might have anything to say about the matter. “War” meant “combat.” The underlying issue was whether a civilian population (whether female or male, adult or child) encountering war right on their doorstep might have “authentic” (and significant) experiences to recount. Should the record of a “total” war include the dramatic changes in women’s labor that had been precipitated, whether on farms, in factories, or in medical units on hospital trains? As it happens, the Great War was marked by the institutionalization of women soldiers on the Eastern Front, but their record had been largely forgotten, since the Russian Revolution and postwar political upheavals had refocused attention on other historical events.
At the same time, I belong to a generation of critics for whom the lines between “literary” texts and other kinds of discourse had been redrawn. Autobiographies were being reconsidered from aesthetic rather than historical perspectives. Critics reached back to a broader definition of “literature” that predated Immanuel Kant. Students of oral history had begun to interview women as well as men—and I was able to profit from the generosity of the historian Melvin E. Page, who sent me copies of interviews he had done in Malawi in 1973, but never used. Thus when I cast my net, I found myself reaching into territory that was largely unknown to me. Without the help of scholars like Page or translators like Ellen Elias-Bursac, I could never have put together this anthology. 

Katherine Anne Porter
Q: Could you briefly illustrate the structure of this book?
A (MRH): One historian recommended that I organize the selections by the proximity of their authors to the battlefront, a principle that would have reinforced the conventional focus on combat as the defining feature of war. Instead I followed a map of different kinds of public and private discourse to which women turned, at a time when their voices might have been repressed by traditional attitudes or censorship. My coeditors for Behind the Lines, Sonya Michel and Jane Jensen, urged me to include important political and historical texts. Political examples would be Klara Zetkin’s August 5, 1914, call for a mass protest by German workers against the war; the invitation by Dr. Aletta Jacobs to women to attend the International Congress of Women held at The Hague in April 1915, to urge the warring nations to use continuous negotiation in order to achieve peace; and the testimony of Hélène Brion at her trial for pacifist activities, considered to be treasonous. My first criterion of selection was a combination of historical significance and rhetorical power; I read one hundred pages for each page I included—and my editor at Penguin forced a further reduction, completely eliminating the genre of women’s drama and many of the images. By serendipity, I discovered that my five groupings of political texts, journalism, testimony (including diaries, memoirs, letters and interviews), short fiction, and elegiac poems corresponded roughly to five groups of women’s images, which range from political posters, to children’s literature, photographic documents, artistic lithographs and engravings, and memorial sculpture. 

Amy Lowell
Q: Different types of writing, this is the leitmotiv of your book. So not only poetry, but diaries, medical accounts, journalism etc. Is there a genre where the contribution of women writing is more meaningful according to your standpoint? If so, why?
A (MRH): You are quite right that the volume offers a broad spectrum of texts that address different kinds of audiences, in different voices, often hortatory, and sometimes in favor of war but most often opposed to it. One kind of meaning exposed is the gap between the responses by men and women; thus Zetkinand her female socialist colleagues opposed the war, while the German socialists in the Reichstag voted for the war credits. Another is the significance of the female body in wartime, both as a physical object of rape and as a political symbol. Women’s testimony brings their neglected experiences to the foreground. But from my own standpoint, the texts to which I keep returning are remarkable artistic responses to the impact of war, many of them written by women who had actually served in medical units. Some of my favorites are Mary Borden’s “Moonlight,” which explicitly describes the night-time dynamo of a hospital where sexual identities have been erased by cruel wounds; Hortensia Papadat-Bengescu’s “The Man Whose Heart They Could See,” which confronts a beating heart exposed by the slice of a shell across a man’s chest; or Gertrud Kolmar’s “November 9, ‘Eighteen,” which points toward the nostalgia for war that would erupt in the 1930s. A succinctly intense poetic form distinguishes the brilliance of Anna Akhmatova’s “Prayer” to God, to accept her sacrifice of all she holds dear, in order to halt the war. A two-line imagist description by Amy Lowell of a butterfly on a cannon projects the possibility of a peacefire, foreshadowing the conclusion of the movie, All Quiet on the Western Front. And the Malawi lament sung by Olivia Tambala poses the most important question we can ask: Why? 

Q: Finally, could you kindly share the titles of other studies on the topic? Thank you.
A (MRH): Probably my best known text about World War I is an essay I co-authored with my historian husband, Patrice Higonnet, entitled “The Double Helix,” in Behind the Lines. There we argued that in spite of women’s entry into new economic, social, and even military roles during the war, often replacing men who had previously held those positions, gender hierarchies tend to be reproduced. Recent work includes Margaret Hall’s Letters and Photographs from the Battle Country, 1918 – 1919 (2014), where I juxtapose the verbal narrative of a memoir with a visual narrative. Less familiar studies that I enjoyed writing might include "Civil Wars and Sexual Territory" in Arms and the Woman, edited by Helen Cooper, et al (1989), “The Great War and the Female Elegy,” which appeared in The Global South (2007), and “War Toys: Breaking and Remaking in Great War Narratives,” in The Lion and the Unicorn (2007), as well as “Child Witnesses: The Cases of World War I and Darfur,” in PMLA (2006). Outside the terrain of the war, I’ve enjoyed working on the relationships between words and images, as in a short essay, “Music Albums: A Tiny Gesamtkunstwerk” in Arcadia, ed. Mieke Bal (2003), as well as on the topic of suicide, for example, in “Frames of Female Suicide,” in Studies in the Novel (2000).

"Tracce del secolo breve"/"Traces of the Short Century". The remarkable catalogue of the exhibition curated by Piero Del Giudice

Today we just wanted to mention the precious work of the catalogue related to the exhibition "Tracce del secolo breve" ("Traces of the Short Century") curated by Piero Del Giudice and hosted in two different venues between 2014 and 2015. When an exhibition is over the catalogue remains as a precious tool and documentation of the work the curators have done. The exhibition was hosted in Trieste and Trento (the two cities of Italian irredentism), the first time at Magazzino delle idee between November 2014 and February 2015 and the second at Castello del Buonconsiglio, between April 2015 and September 2015. This huge catalogue (see the picture beside, curated by Piero Del Giudice, 1150 pages, edizioni ‘e’, Trieste, € 35,00) is a collection of essays, an anthology of poems and prose, a selection of letters and diaries, a great gallery of drawings, paintings and etchings. The point of view of the curator and his collaborators is far from the main tone of the Centenary celebrations, since they look deeply inside the movement of protest against the war. The catalogue reflects the structure of the exhibition that was divided into three sections: the first dedicated to the devastation of the soldiers in the trenches, the second to artists and their opposition to the war and the third to religiousness and devotion.

(We really invite you to surf the website here, even if only in Italian. For sure you will get a clear idea of the huge work done. There you will find the email of the main curator, Piero Del Giudice, just in case you want in contact with him.)

Virginia Woolf, Bloomsbury, and the War to End War (Call for papers)

We are pleased to share the following call for papers with Karen L. Levenback as Guest Editor. Karen L. Lavenback is the author of the book Virginia Woolf and the Great War (Syracuse University Press, 1999).

Virginia Woolf, Bloomsbury, and the War to End War for the Virginia Woolf Miscellany, Issue 91, Spring 2017

Special Topic: Virginia Woolf, Bloomsbury, and the War to End War--Virginia Woolf Miscellany, Issue 91, Spring 2017--Guest Editor: Karen Levenback contact email:
The Virginia Woolf Miscellany is an independent publication that has been sponsored by Southern Connecticut University since 2003. The current editor is Vara Neverow Founded in 1973 by J. J. Wilson, the publication was hosted by Sonoma State University for 30 years. The publication has always received financial support from the International Virginia Woolf Society and is available in print and in PDF format online. The Virginia Woolf Miscellany gladly accepts "truly miscellaneous" submissions in addition to the themed topics. To view the issues from Spring 2003 to the present online go to:

This issue commemorates the advent of the Great War and its representation by Virginia Woolf and her friends and colleagues in Bloomsbury and beyond (even H. G. Wells, who wrote a 1914 pamphlet called The War that Will End War)—noncombatants, combatants, and conscientious objectors; writers of prose, poetry, and drama; fiction and memoirs; criticism, reviews, and social commentary; journalists, historians, philosophers, and humanists.

We seek submissions from a range of disciplines exploring the work done during the Great War and work that gauges the war's effect on a wide range of topics and perspectives: cultural, socio-economic, modernist, feminist, to name the most obvious. Articles on other topics (e.g., constructions of self and identity in wartime, and post-war aesthetics) are also welcome.

Virginia Woolf, Bloomsbury, and the War to End War

Articles submitted on this topic will explore it from multinational and multicultural perspectives.
Articles may include the following approaches:

• How did war-consciousness, for example, affect views of mass culture and consumerism?
• How has our vantage for the study of the Great War changed over a hundred years and more?

• How do cultural differences and national boundaries affect our 21st century-understanding of the experiences of war on the front and on the homefront?

• In a 21st-century world where national and cultural boundaries are blurred, what salient lessons can we discover in Woolf's own war-consciousness?

• Do contemporary shifts and developments in the communications paradigm affect our pedagogical methodology in regard to both Woolf and the Great War?

We are also seeking book reviews of scholarly texts that have been published within the past two years (2012 to present). Reviews should be no more than 1,000 words and should conform to the MLA guidelines listed below. Please contact the book review editor, Karen Levenback, at, for more information.


The submission deadline for our Spring 2017 issue will be 1 August 2016.

Please send Inquiries and submissions of not more than 2500 words electronically to

The poets and the world war: "In Memoriam, July 19, 1914" by Anna Akhmatova

Anna Akhmatova, 1889–1966
Both in Anna Akhmatova and in Osip Mandel'štam’s poems dedicated to the Great War we find a kind of an obsession for the “century” and for the “age” they were living in. And this obsession is clearly developed in the famous Akhmatova’s poem proposed today in the translation by Stephen Edgar. In Memoriam, July 19, 1914 is included in the book “White Flock” (Belaya Staya) of 1917 and was written exactly one hundred years ago as a recollection of memories and sensations brought by the beginning of the war in July 1914. It is therefore a poem of memories, of "recollection", two years after the war outbreak. It is one of the great poems in the heritage of First World War literature: it's about time, compression of time, psychological percetion of time, duration, war, God and the role of the poet. "A book of portents terrible to read" is at the end the heritage of the World War I itself. One of the reasons why we consider comparation (and comparative literature as well?) useful is the huge difference from this recollected memories of the beginning of war and, for example, the way other poets welcomed the war in other countries. The feeling of acceleration, that was one of the distinctive marks of the Twentieth century lies there, in the first two verses of this poem composed one hundred years ago.


We aged a hundred years and this descended
In just one hour, as at a stroke.
The summer had been brief and now was ended;
The body of the ploughed plains lay in smoke.

The hushed road burst in colors then, a soaring
Lament rose, ringing silver like a bell.
And so I covered up my face, imploring
God to destroy me before battle fell.

And from my memory the shadows vanished
Of songs and passions—burdens I'd not need.
The Almighty bade it be—with all else banished—
A book of portents terrible to read.

(Translation by Stephen Edgar)


Мы на сто лет состарились, и это
Тогда случилось в час один:
Короткое уже кончалось лето,
Дымилось тело вспаханных равнин.

Вдруг запестрела тихая дорога,
Плач полетел, серебряно звеня.
Закрыв лицо, я умоляла Бога
До первой битвы умертвить меня.

Из памяти, как груз отныне лишний,
Исчезли тени песен и страстей.
Ей – опустевшей – приказал Всевышний
Стать страшной книгой грозовых вестей.

First World War on the Macedonian Front: Remembrance through the cultural heritage. An initiative by ALDA International Summer School

We would like to give evidence to this initiative by ALDA International Summer School about World War One and the Macedonian front. ALDA organizes its first International Summer School on the topic of “Remembrance through the cultural heritage of the First World War on the Macedonian Front”. This experience provides a unique opportunity to visit and research untouched cultural heritage from the First World War in the Republic of Macedonia. This summer school will take place in Bitola (R. Macedonia) from 25 to the 30 June 2016. More information is available in this brochure. The summer school is open to students of history, archeology, ethnology or other related fields, civil society representatives or activists on remembrance questions, history enthusiasts (age: 18 to 30). The deadline for application is 25 May 2016.

Historical Context
Battle of Kaymakchalan
The Macedonian Front is also known as “the forgotten Front”, it is true that History celebrates the triumphs and losses of the Western Front, while the Macedonian Front also known as the Salonika Front, Front d’Orient or the Southern Front has been disregarded. Nonetheless, all the belligerent armies were stationed and battled at one point thousands of soldiers perished on the Macedonian Front, often because of the terrible conditions due to sicknesses and famine. Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia (which encompasses the current territory of the Republic of Macedonia) and Albania were at the heart of the Macedonian Front. The losses on the Macedonian Front of the First World War were heavily neglected throughout history, even though, nearly one million soldiers of ten different armies fought and died there between autumn 1915 and September 1918. The Commemoration of Centenary of the First World War is an opportunity to remember and contextualize this forgotten Front. 

The remains from the First World War in the Republic of Macedonia is an invaluable terrain for research in social, military and cultural history, ethnology and archeology. This school is an opportunity for pioneer work on the subject of First World War in the Republic of Macedonia for it has been scarcely researched as is the case for the whole history of the Macedonian Front. The battle of Monastir (now Bitola) is one of the crucial battles where the Allied forces won. As a result of that battle the city was almost completely destroyed. One hundred years later the cultural heritage of that period (cemeteries, war constructions, trenches) is a silent witness of the struggles and victories of soldiers and locals. 

In September 1918, the Allied troops led by French General Franchet d’Esperey overthrew the enemy forces and conquered the current territory of the Republic of Macedonia. Indeed, the great battle that took place near Bitola (formerly Monastir) is considered as a crucial event which led to the eventual defeat of the Central Powers. The current territory of the Republic of Macedonia was the battle scene between the Austro-Hungarian armies, German, Bulgarian and Turkish, on the one hand and the French armies, English, Greek, and Serbian on the other. Thus, the current territory of the Republic of Macedonia was one of the most affected territories in the action of the Macedonian Front. The cities: Bitola, Dojran, Gevgelija, Kukush, Ohrid, Prilep, Krushevo were almost completely destroyed during the War. In Novaci, the trenches and remains of the Allied as well as the Central Powers front’s positions are still visible and can be visited on the field.

The poet and the world war: "I Looked Up From My Writing" by Thomas Hardy

Thomas Hardy (Upper Bockhampton, 2 June 1840 – Dorchester, 11 January 1928) was of course too old to take part to the war. Nevertheless he wrote a relevant number of war poems and poets like Siegfried Sassoon and Rupert Brooke (he wrote about the Boer War, too). The poem we choose today, taken from Poems of War and Patriotism (1917), seems to reply to two fundamental questions: how is writing poetry in war time? And what does writing poetry mean under the bombs? The action of writing is a blinkered gesture. The beginning in the first stanza looks like a typical full moon scenery and a dialogue between the soldier and the satellite begins. The turning point is perhaps the fifth stanza and the crucial moon's words ("And now I am curious to look / Into the blinkered mind / Of one who wants to write a book / In a world of such a kind”.)


I looked up from my writing,
And gave a start to see,
As if rapt in my inditing,
The moon’s full gaze on me.

Her meditative misty head
Was spectral in its air,
And I involuntarily said,
“What are you doing there?”

“Oh, I’ve been scanning pond and hole
And waterway hereabout
For the body of one with a sunken soul
Who has put his life-light out.

Did you hear his frenzied tattle?
It was sorrow for his son
Who is slain in brutish battle,
Though he has injured none.

And now I am curious to look
Into the blinkered mind
Of one who wants to write a book
In a world of such a kind”.

Her temper overwrought me,
And I edged to shun her view,
For I felt assured she thought me
One who should drown him too.

The Great War of Mario Puccini. The special project of "IoDeposito" dedicated to the Italian writer

A special thanks to the "IoDeposito" organization and in particular to Chiara Isadora Artico, Tancredi Artico and Joshua Cesa. They kindly accepted the invititation to reply to the below interview about their special project dedicated to Mario Puccini, an Italian writer whose legacy is particularly connected with the First World War in the Eastern front between the regions of Friuli and Veneto and Slovenia.

Mario Puccini
Would you briefly explain who is Mario Puccini to the International audience of World War I Bridges and could you state why he is a crucial point in the understanding and study of World War I in Italy?
TANCREDI ARTICO: Mario Puccini was a prolific and versatile Italian writer: born in 1887, he voluntarily took part of the WWI and eventually became an officer, between 1915 and 1918. He wrote thousands of pages: not only novels and collections of short novels, the genres for which he’s best known, but also poems, essays, translations, articles.
In a large quantity of his works he depicts the war experience, and he is able to do that in a poignant way, that touches the soul of the reader. His pen is emotional and precise, shows us not only the most terrible aspects of the conflict, such as death and human degradation, but also highlights what conflict - not only war - means to people, and how it destroys the simplicity of humanity. Puccini describing the WWI speaks to the present: he teaches to respect diversity and each form of life.

"Davanti a Trieste"
Q: Let's go now specifically inside your recent project namely the edition of the works by Mario Puccini. Could you describe it? How did you cooperate for the new edition of the books that Mario Puccini dedicated to his experience on the Kars and after Caporetto?
TANCREDI ARTICO: The aim of the project is to print Davanti a Trieste, the third (and least) Puccini’s war book, in the hope that this could be the first step of a Puccini’s “renaissance”. With that book I want to give to the reader the full text of this war diary (which is very difficult to find in libraries and is not available online), but at the same time I expect to give a general idea of Puccini’s three war books and a complete discussion of bibliography. This is not an useless operation, if we consider that the last research on Puccini’s literary production was done in the early 80’s, and that it doesn’t give an overview of his war books.

Q: This project is not only on paper. There's a multimedia side of it. Is it bilingual or are you planning to make it available as a multimedia bilingual project soon?
JOSHUA CESA: Technically speaking, the integration of a multi-language system is quite simple: the heart of the multimedia system created is a database which, because of its nature, lends to the cloning of the individual fields, automatically predisposing the translation.
Nevertheless, there is an issue intrinsically tied to the specific contents we want to propose in the project: Davanti a Trieste is a very complex work of literature, the interest of the project lies specifically in the nuances of the Italian language used by Mario Puccini: pulling up alongside a didactic apparatus in a different language besides the Italian one, could be a dangerous operation, if seen from the point of view of the Italian studies.
We are reflecting on the possibility of a multi-language hypertext, but the first step would be to prepare an accurate translation of the Puccini's text, which captures all the specificities of the author's writing style (and than, it would be possible to create also a critical apparatus in other languages).

"Il soldato Cola",
a popular novel by Puccini
Q: How are you going to promote your project? Are you planning presentations also outside Italy?
TANCREDI ARTICO & JOSHUA CESA: We have already started the promotion of the project: we have just organized a tour presentations in Italy (in libraries, universities and museums mainly in the region of Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia) and in Slovenia, interesting areas for our projects, rich of materials and experiences connected the theme of the world's conflicts.
We plan to continue the presentations again next year in Italy and abroad. The project has always had an international vocation: it was presented in London, and we are planning presentations and book trailers projections in Canada, United States, Australia, Belgium (leveraging on our network of international research partners).
This project is strongly connected with the area of the Italian studies, and as you know is not yet multilingual, but the methodologies we are using, and the author's literary production itself, it is raising a lot of interest in the international research community and towards the audience from different countries.

Q: What are your personal points of view on the several initiatives popping up for this Centenary?
TANCREDI ARTICO & JOSHUA CESA: We see around us that people are critical towards the idea of the Centenary: it is happening a moltiplication of the activities on the theme, and sometimes these activities seem a little bit forced. But we also see that the Centenary is bringing a new sensibility, which is more and more necessary today.
We believe that this centenary represents a real opportunity to give voice to the collective memory and to the investigation of the human experience during the First World War, exploring other perspectives on the conflict, looking at the individual and collective point of view, searching for the 'B sides' of the story, not considering anymore only the nationalist visions.
The centenary is a possibility to help us in facing the contemporary legacies of the conflict (invisible but still very present in our daily life) of which the today's generations are heirs.

IoDeposito Ong:
Direct links to the web page about this project: