War: “I Have a Rendezvous with Death”

When I published the post “T.S. Eliot & April “(see here) where there was a connection between spring and death, our friend Pat (e-Quips) left a comment in which she said: “ Eliot’s poem reminds me of a more convoluted version of Alan Seeger’s ” I Have a Rendezvous with Death”

Here is the poem she was referring to:

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.

Alan Seeger (22 June 1888 – 4 July 1916) – the uncle of folk musician Pete Seeger – was an American poet who wrote “I Have a Rendezvous with Death” while serving as a soldier during World War I.
When the war began in 1914, Alan Seeger, who was leading a bohemian lifestyle in the Latin Quarter in Paris, felt compelled to volunteer to fight as a member of the Foreign Legion in the French Army. He thought it was the right thing to do, since he was critical of his country’s hesitation to join the war effort (the United States didn’t get involved in the war until 1917).
Shortly after composing this poem, he was mortally wounded during the Battle of the Somme.

Published posthumously in 1917, “I Have a Rendezvous with Death” is a moving wartime poem that describes a soldier’s coming, unavoidable death.

The soldier in question contemplates the unavoidable “rendezvous” he has with death, which will probably arrive in spring, as he says in the first stanza, juxtaposing the imminent end of his life to the rebirth brought by spring. By doing so, he seems to recognize that the world will continue to move forward even without him, nature will continue to blossom in a wonderful way despite the fact that he is destined to die cruelly on the battlefield. He even tries to imagine what his death will be like with a curiosity indicating that he does not disdain or fear it.
This doesn’t mean that he wants to die, but quite the opposite. He would rather live: he admits that lying in bed next to his sweetheart would be much “better” than facing death on a battlefield. Nevertheless he does not try to avoid this fate,
He concludes by asserting that he has made a solemn promise that he will not break: he has committed himself to facing death in the name of military service, thus, has accepted death as a part of that role.
In his attempt to accept death (although it would be preferable to avoid it) and not to escape this fate, he seems to embrace its inevitability and transform it into a form of duty, an honorable sacrifice rather than a meaningless tragedy. Life and the unstoppable passing of time, symbolized by spring itself, will continue, unaffected. after he has stopped living.

Quando ho pubblicato il post” T.S. Eliot & Aprile(vedi qui) dove c’era un collegamento tra la primavera e la morte, la nostra amica Pat (e-Quips) ha lasciato un commento in cui diceva: “La poesia di Eliot mi ricorda una versione più contorta di “I Have a Rendezvous with Death/ Ho un appuntamento con la morte” di Alan Seeger”

Ecco la poesia a cui si riferisce:

Ho un appuntamento con la Morte
su qualche barricata contesa,
quando la primavera tornerà con ombre sussurranti
e i fiori di melo profumeranno l’aria.
Ho un appuntamento con la Morte
quando la primavera riporterà le belle giornate azzurre.

Forse mi prenderà per mano
e mi condurrà nella sua terra oscura
e mi chiuderà gli occhi e toglierà il respiro.
O forse andrò ancora avanti.
Ho un appuntamento con la Morte
sul pendio sfregiato di una collina malconcia,
quando la primavera tornerà anche quest’anno
e sbocceranno i primi fiori di campo.

Dio sa che sarebbe meglio restare
appoggiati su sete profumate,
dove l’Amore palpita in un sonno beato,
battito accanto a battito e respiro a respiro,
dove i sereni risvegli sono cari …
ma ho un appuntamento con la Morte
a mezzanotte in una città in fiamme,
quando la primavera tornerà anche quest’anno su a nord,
e io fedele alla parola data,
non mancherò a quell’appuntamento.

(trad: L.Z.)

Alan Seeger (22 giugno 1888-4 luglio 1916) – zio del musicista folk Pete Seeger – fu un poeta americano che scrisse “I Have a Rendezvous with Death/Ho un appuntamento con la morte” mentre prestava servizio come soldato durante la prima guerra mondiale.

Quando la guerra iniziò nel 1914, Alan Seeger, che viveva da bohemien nel Quartiere Latino di Parigi, sentì il dovere di offrirsi volontario e si arruolò nella Legione Straniera nell’esercito francese. Pensava che fosse la cosa giusta da fare, perché disapprovava l’esitazione del suo paese a unirsi allo sforzo bellico (gli Stati Uniti non furono coinvolti nella guerra fino al 1917)
Poco dopo aver composto questa poesia, venne ferito a morte durante la battaglia della Somme.

Pubblicata postuma nel 1917, “I Have a Rendezvous with Death” è una commovente poesia di guerra che descrive l’avvicinarsi della morte per un soldato.

Il soldato in questione contempla l’inevitabile “appuntamento” che ha con la morte, che probabilmente avverrà in primavera, come dice nella prima strofa, contrapponendo l’imminente fine della sua vita alla rinascita portata dalla primavera. Così facendo sembra riconoscere che il mondo continuerà ad andare avanti anche senza di lui, la natura continuerà a sbocciare in modo meraviglioso nonostante lui sia destinato a morire cruentamente sul campo di battaglia. Cerca perfino di immaginare come sarà la sua morte con una curiosità che indica che non se ne indigna né la teme.
Questo non significa che voglia morire, anzi. Preferirebbe vivere: ammette che sdraiarsi su di un letto accanto alla sua innamorata sarebbe molto “meglio” che affrontare la morte su un campo di battaglia. Tuttavia non cerca di sottrarsi a questo destino,
Conclude affermando di aver fatto una promessa solenne a cui terrà fede: si è impegnato ad affrontare la morte come parte del suo ruolo di soldato.
In questo suo tentativo di accettare la morte (anche se sarebbe preferibile evitarla) e di non sfuggire a questo destino, sembra abbracciarne l’inevitabilità e trasformarla in una forma di dovere, un sacrificio onorevole piuttosto che una tragedia senza senso. La vita e il trascorrere inarrestabile del tempo, simboleggiati dalla primavera, continueranno, inalterati, dopo che lui avrà cessato di vivere.

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82 thoughts on “War: “I Have a Rendezvous with Death”

  1. Your blog provides us knowledge and a way of life —– both . Alan Seeger’s poem ‘ I Have a Rendezvous with Death ‘ reminds us the purpose of life as to what the life is meant for , or shall I say , what is the crux of life in the hours of need . During the first world War , since America had adopted the policy of ‘Splendid Isolation’ , that’s why the American were not supposed to go for war . But Alan Seeger preferred death to life during the war realizing the fact that the world would not stop moving even afte2r his death . And nature would contwinue to blossom without him . Such sacrificial poem provides real since of life to the mankind . As death is an unimportant thing for the future life of the mankind . Your blog is

    Liked by 3 people

    1. You’re right, our death is irrelevant to the passing of the seasons. We should remember this more often to become a little humbler
      Thanks a lot for your kind comment and for your added interesting information.🙏🙏🙏

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Your blog provides us knowledge and a way of life —– both . Alan Seeger’s poem ‘ I Have a Rendezvous with Death ‘ reminds us the purpose of life as to what the life is meant for , or shall I say , what is the crux of life in the hours of need . During the first world War , since America had adopted the policy of ‘Splendid Isolation’ , that’s why the American were not supposed to go for war . But Alan Seeger preferred death to life during the war realizing the fact that the world would not stop moving even after his death . And nature would contwinue to blossom without him also . Such sacrificial poem provides real sense of life to the mankind . As death is an unimportant thing for the future life of the mankind . Your blog is nice and beautiful . Thanks !

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Words to contemplate Luisa. No person feels approaching death more than a one who is prepared to give his life in the ultimate battle. The Seegers sound like a talented family. Thanks for sharing. Allan

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is, Luisa, an apt and poignant essay. The First World War was, as we know, a pointless sacrifice.
    The war in Ukraine is a noble one, as they defend their homeland, and it is spring…
    Thank you for your erudite reminder!

    Joanna

    Liked by 5 people

  5. Wow. This is a truly awesome, fabulous, and a very beautiful poem conveying the reality of life. It’s my good luck that I got to read your fascinating blogs. They are soooo good. I feel I am learning something new and discovering some amazing poets and authors. Thank you so much.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. I can see where Pete Seeger got his influence from now. There were some terrific poets during WWI, and your interpretation of this poem is brilliant Luisa. Well done to Pat for recognising the similarities to your post.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. è una mia interpretazione. Lui sapeva che rischi correva e che poteva morire da un momento all’altro. Quindi fatalismo perché tutto dipende dal tuo destino ma nessuna rassegnazione a morire.

        Liked by 2 people

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