A Rendezvous With Death: Alan Seeger in Poetry, at War

I Hope You See the Thing as I Do


As Alan Seeger perceived the landscape before him, everything was of a piece. Right and wrong were not ambiguous. Strife and tenderness had equal standing. All of it, good and bad, dark and light, could only be seen and acted upon in the frame of a universe that was beautiful in its design and ultimately compassionate. Life was to be played out as it presented itself, justice was to be sought, and, in 1914, war was inevitable.

He joined the French Foreign Legion. “I hope you see the thing as I do,” he wrote to his mother in the month after the German invasion of Belgium and France “ . . . the burden that so much of humanity is suffering under and, rather than standing ingloriously aside when the opportunity was given me, doing my share for the side that I think right . . .”

He thrilled to the battle that was to come, and to the poetic notion that it might take his life. Resting from hard days of drilling with his fellows, he could lie in the grass and hear within the ground the “steady pounding of the distant cannonade.” His was a vision of panoramas, and, as he marched toward the war, he saw 4,000 men moving forward before him in columns of four, “undulating” through the hills of France and firmly led by their captains and lieutenants on horseback.

“You have no idea how beautiful it is to see,” he told his mother, who was ever the touchstone with the life he had left behind forever in America. 


In “Rendezvous With Death,” Dickon, a veteran public television and radio producer, has written a worthwhile and important biography of Seeger that is meticulously researched, amply illustrated . . .  a masterful job of enabling the reader to view Seeger in his place and time and to evaluate his contribution to World War I and the poetry it produced. - Timothy J. Lockhart, The Virginian-Pilot

 In the end, of course, it is "I have a Rendezvous with Death"  which, rightly or wrongly, is Seeger's striking memorial . . . It dramatizes loneliness, courage, the speaker's sense of his relationship with the universe, and it shares those qualities with other poems which perhaps warrant greater critical attention. Chris Dickon puts it succinctly: 'The sub-conditions of time don't apply - the poem can be judged on its own merits, but it would be artificial (not to say impractical)to look at it out of its context, and the context is what Chris Dickon provides very satisfyingly. - Meg Crane,  War Poetry Review 2017 -2018, Journal of the War Poets Association (GB)  

Watch my discussion of Alan Seeger and this book at The American Library in Paris, June 2017


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