In Remembrance: The Somme, 1 July 1916

by Timothy Lusch

Of Spirit And Death

The Poetry of Alan Seeger 

In merely a hundred years since the Battle of the Somme, there has been a collective thinning of the character of our nation’s youth. Generations of adults, from the Boomers to GenX, have failed to form the character of our youth. Tiger Moms, Helicopter Parents, and My Mom Is My Best Friend parenting, have given us The Bubble Boys and Girls Club of America. Every kid gets a star, a trophy, or a diagnosis. Every kid is “amazing,” “exceptional,” and a “prodigy.” But one thing most of them are not. Resilient. The teen suicide rate has increased substantially in the last 30 years, teenage drug use and abuse is rampant, and many kids are in codependent relationships with their parents and cell phones.

During the First World War, young men went to war and young women bore the heavy burdens of home. They did what they had to do. They were grown-ups. Alan Seeger, an American poet living in France at the outbreak of the war, joined the French Foreign Legion to defend France and his beloved Paris. He found himself in the vanguard of one of the deadliest offensives of the war. The Somme is remembered for its carnage. The British alone suffered nearly 60,000 casualties, a third of those killed. In one day. For Seeger at the Somme, there was no safe space. The only trigger warnings were bullets and shells. Micro aggressions were machine gun nests. No stars or trophies for everyone, only the grim equality of Death.

He continued to write poetry during the war, and is perhaps most remembered for I Have A Rendezvous With Death. In his last letter he wrote to a friend:

“We go up to the attack tomorrow. This will probably be the biggest thing yet. We are to have the honor of marching in the first wave. I will write you soon if I get through all right. If not, my only earthly care is for my poems. I am glad to be going in first wave. If you are in this thing at all it is best to be in to the limit. And this is the supreme experience.”

Seeger was killed at the Somme on July 1, 1916.

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.