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I Have a Rendezvous with Death

The remarkably impressive and beautiful poem by Alan Seeger which bears the above title naturally attracted universal attention. I had supposed the idea originated with Stephen Crane, who, in his novel The Red Badge of Courage, Chapter IX, has the following paragraph:

  At last they saw him stop and stand motionless. Hastening up, 
  they perceived that his face wore an expression telling that 
  he had at last found the place for which he had struggled. His 
  spare figure was erect; his bloody hands were quietly at his 
  side. He was waiting with patience for something that he had 
  come to meet. He was at the rendezvous. They paused and 
  stood, expectant.

But I am informed both by Professor F. N. Robinson of Harvard and by Mr. Norreys Jephson O'Conor that the probable source of the title of the poem is Irish. Professor Robinson writes me, “The Irish poem that probably suggested to Seeger the title of his Rendezvous is the Reicne Fothaid Canainne (Song of Fothad Canainne), published by Kuno Meyer in his Fianaigecht (Dublin, 1910), pp. 1-21. Seeger read the piece at one of my Celtic Conferences, and was much impressed by it. He got from it only his title and the fundamental figure of a rendezvous with Death, the Irish poem being wholly different from his in general purport. Fothad Canainne makes a tryst with the wife of Ailill Flann, but is slain in battle by Ailill on the day before the night set for the meeting. Then the spirit of Fothad (or, according to one version, his severed head) sings the reicne to the woman and declares (st. 3): 'It is blindness for one who makes a tryst to set aside the tryst with death.'“

Miss Amy Lowell, however, believes that Seeger got the idea from a French poet. Wherever he got it, I believe that he made it his own, for he used it supremely well, and it will always be associated with him.

At Harvard, Alan Seeger took the small and special course in Irish, and showed enthusiasm for this branch of study. Wishing to find out something about his undergraduate career, I wrote to a member of the Faculty, and received the following reply: “Many persons found him almost morbidly indifferent and unresponsive, and he seldom showed the full measure of his powers.... I grew to have a strong liking for him personally as well as a respect for his intellectual power. But I should never have expected him to show the robustness of either mind or body which we now know him to have possessed. He was frail and sickly in appearance, and seemed to have a temperament in keeping with his physique. It took a strong impulse to bring him out and disclose his real capacity.”

There is no doubt that the war gave him this impulse, and that the poem I Have a Rendezvous with Death must be classed among the literature directly produced by the great struggle. After four years, I should put at the head of all the immense number of verses inspired by the war John Masefield's August 1914, Alan Seeger's I Have a Rendezvous with Death, and Rupert Brooke's The Soldier; and of all the poems written by men actually fighting, I should put Alan Seeger's first.

While reading these proofs, the news comes of the death of a promising young American poet, Joyce Kilmer, a sergeant in our army, who fell in France, August, 1918. He was born 6 December, 1866, was a graduate of Rutgers and Columbia, and had published a number of poems. His supreme sacrifice nobly closed a life filled with beauty in word and deed.