It’s been 101 years and three days since the death of Alan Seeger (1888-1916); for those of us who remember the 1960’s, he was the uncle of the very popular folk singer, composer, musicologist  and Vietnam War protester Pete Seeger (who died in 2014 at age 94). Additionally, Alan’s brother Charles (Pete’s father) was also a musicologist and also prominently anti-war – in 1916 he was sacked by the University of California at Berkeley for his outspokenness. How times have changed.

Alan graduated from Harvard in 1910, along with T.S. Eliot, and he embarked upon a Bohemian literary lifestyle (it helps to come from money). He spent two years in Greenwich Village hobnobbing with the poet and playwright John B. Yeats, the father of W.B. Yeats.

Alan moved to Paris in 1912 and took residence in the Latin Quarter. He was caught up in the patriotic fervor that followed the German invasion and the looming threat to Paris and he joined the Foreign Legion on August 24th, 1914.

It is not well-known that the French Army also attacked in the Somme Sector in July of 1916, notwithstanding their heavy involvement at Verdun, and in the early phases of the Somme the French achieved more success than the British. Alan Seeger was killed in action when his battalion briefly captured a part of the German Second Line at Belloy-en-Senterre on July 4th, 1916.

There is a memorial to him in the rebuilt village (see photograph above). The actual site of the 1916 German Second Line captured by Seeger’s unit is in the middle of a field traversed by a high-voltage power line (also see photograph right). What did we do before we had GPS?

It is not known when Alan wrote this tragically prophetic work, his most famous. It was published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in December 1916 and is considered by many the most famous war poem by an American to come out of WW1:

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.

 

James (“Jim”) Patton BS BA MPA is a retired state official living in Shawnee, Kansas and a frequent contributor to several WW1 e-publications, including "Roads to the Great War," "St. Mihiel Tripwire," "Over the Top" and "Medicine in the First World War." He has spent many hours walking the WW1 battlefields, and is also an authority on British regiments and a collector of their badges. An Army Engineer during the Vietnam War, he does work for the US World War 1 Centennial Commission and has memberships in the WW1 Historical Association, the Western Front Association, the Indian Military Historical Society and the Salonika Campaign Society.