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.