Saturday, December 20, 2014

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Alan Seeger: I Have A Rendezvous With Death

Beano Niblock with a piece about a World War 1 poet. It appeared in Long Kesh Inside OutBeano Niblock is a former loyalist prisoner. He currently writes poetry, plays and commentary pieces.        


 
Alan Seeger was born in New York City in 1888.  His family moved to Mexico City when he was 10 years old and it was this period of his young life that was to influence much of his poetry.  By the time he was eighteen Seeger had enrolled in Harvard University.  Seeger’s brother Charlie was the father of the famous Seeger siblings…Pete, Mike and Peggy ... pioneers of the American Folk music scene.

 
In late 1914 and at the start of the First World War Seeger enlisted in the French Foreign Legion in order to fight for the Allies ... the US hadnt entered the War at this stage.  On the 4 July 1916 Seeger was wounded a number of times by machine gun fire at Belloy en Santerre ... it is claimed that he continued to shout encouragement to his fellow troops as they mounted an offensive-despite his grave wounds.  He died from those wounds.  All of Seeger’s poetry was published posthumously - his first book being published in December 1916.  By the next year his most famous poem was released for the first time and remains a standard almost one hundred years later.  By now the quality of his poetry attracted great acclaim and drew comparison with the great British poets of the time, in particular Rupert Brooke.

In 1923 the French government erected a monument to the 24 members of the French Foreign Legion who died during the conflict between 1914-18.  On the monument are inscribed these words..from the pen of Alan Seeger ……….
 
They did not pursue worldly rewards; they wanted nothing more than to live without regret, brothers pledged to the honor implicit in living one’s own life and dying one’s own death. Hail, brothers! Goodbye to you, the exalted dead! To you, we owe two debts of gratitude forever: the glory of having died for France, and the homage due to you in our memories.
 

I Have a Rendezvous with Death

Alan Seeger
 
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.