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11-11-1918

11 November 2018

Alan Seeger (1888-1916) has a slight Mexican connection, his family having business concerns here, the Seegers moved to Mexico City in 1902. From a wealthy, cultured background, during his Harvard education, he became friends with another young poet, T.S. Eliot, both publishing their first works in the Harvard Monthly. Following his graduation in 1910, he moved to Greenwich Village. With his family disapproving of his “bohemian lifestyle”, he couch-surfed for a few years, often staying with Communist journalist and writer John Reed. two years of that was enough, and he moved to Paris in 1912.

At the outbreak of the war, Seeger joined the French Foreign Legion. He was killed on 4 July 1916 at Belloy-en-Santerre, where he was shot in the stomach. Following his death, the French military awarded him the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille Militaire. He was buried in a mass grave.

His posthumously published poems (1917) were dismissed as “immature” and too much influenced by the English romantics, while others, including Eliot, saw them as evidence of a poetic career cut tragically short… a step towards modernism in literature, and a testament to the horrors of the time.

Known, if at all in the United States, as Pete Seeger’s uncle, he is well-remembered in France. In Mexico City, the American Legion hall… probably unique in hosting poetry readings and giving space to a small English language bookshop… is named in his honor:

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.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. 12 November 2018 9:09 am

    Thank you, Richard.

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