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Poem of the Week #2: I Have a Rendezvous With Death (Alan Seeger)

Like plenty of other young men, I have an occasional fascination with death. There’s something in the psychological makeup of young men that gives them a craving to die for a cause. This useful lemming instinct that has found service throughout history for generals, politicians and revolutionaries in need of a fanatical army willing to throw their lives away for something bigger than themselves. This poem by Alan Seeger isn’t a brilliant poem by most standards of judgment, but it does, I think, capture this craving to die for something.

I Have A Rendezvous With Death

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.

Incidentally, Seeger met his own rendezvous on the battlefields of World War I in 1916. An American, he joined the French Foreign Legion in order to fight, and apparently cheered on and encouraged his men as he died of his wounds in No Man’s Land. A reasonably heroic death in a useless war.

Naturally, it seems prudent to end with this quote by Wilhelm Stekel:

“The mark of the immature man is that he wants to die nobly for a cause, while the mark of a mature man is that he wants to live humbly for one”

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