It was like a prophecy when a Legionnaire in the French Foreign Legion named Alan Seeger wrote his poem about meeting Death before he marched with his bayonet in the first wave of Belloy-en-Santerre during the Battle of Somme in 1916. In his poem titled “I Have a Rendezvous With Death,” he said:

When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true.
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

And he didn’t.

A Promising Poet

Alan Seeger grew up in a family of artists in varied forms. His father was an influential actor in the late 19th century. His elder brother Charles became a noted musicologist (and would later become the father of American folk singers Pete, Mike, and Peggy Seeger). His younger sister Elizabeth became an author in New York City. As for Alan, he had a way with words and studied at Harvard with poetry legends like T.S Eliot. There, he joined the Harvard Daily as an editor, where he also published many of his poems. He graduated with a BA as part of class 1910. Fresh from school, wide-eyed and idealistic, he moved to New York in Greenwich Village to live out his dream of bohemian life, living as a wanderer instead of pursuing a professional career. His father was understandably against his decision, but Alan pushed through with it and continued writing poetry, couch-surfing from one generous friend’s house to another, including John Reed, a known journalist and Marxist revolutionary. Two years passed before Alan realized that his life in New York wasn’t what he thought it would be, so again, with the help of his friends, he left to explore and live in Paris, France.

Paris lived up to his expectations, and he fell in love with the place. He enjoyed his new friendship among the artists in the Latin Quarter. A poet can make the best pieces whenever they feel the strongest emotions, be it sorrow, grief, and in Alan’s case, a great sense of belongingness in his new home. His two poems “Do You Remember Once” and “The Rendezvous” also indicated that he fell in love, saying,

You were my queen and I the charming prince
Elected from a world of mortal men.
You loved me once. . . . What pity was it, then,
You loved not Love. . . . Deep in the emerald west,
Like a returning caravel caressed
By breezes that load all the ambient airs
With clinging fragrance of the bales it bears

Romanticizing War

War broke out between France and Germany in 1914. Alan, seeking excitement in life and wanting to defend his beloved France at the same time, enlisted in the French Foreign Legion. If anything, he was enthusiastic about the war. As Victor Chapman wrote in his “Victor Chapman’s letters from France“:

“…remember Alan Seeger was an appalling wreck before the war.”