Alan seeger3

Alan Seeger (1888-1916). Courtesy Poets' Corner.

Alan Seeger (June 22, 1888 - July 4, 1916) was an American poet who fought and died in World War I serving in the French Foreign Legion. A statue to his memory and to the memory of his comrades, Americans who had volunteered to fight for France, was erected in the Place des Etats-Unis, Paris. He is best known for his poem, "I Have a Rendezvous with Death."



Born in New York City on June 22, 1888, Seeger moved with his family to Staten Island at the age of one and remained there until the age of 10. In 1900, his family moved to Mexico for two years, which influenced the imagery of some of his poetry.

His brother Charles Seeger, a noted musicologist, was the father of the American folk singer, Pete Seeger.

Alan Seeger

Alan Seeger in 1910, at Harvard. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.[1]


Seeger entered Harvard University in 1906 after attending several elite preparatory schools, including Hackley School.

At Harvard, T.S. Eliot was Seeger's classmate.[1] Seeger edited and wrote for the Harvard Monthly.

After graduating in 1910, he lived in Greenwich Village for two years, writing poetry and enjoying the life of a young bohemian.[1]

During that time, he attended soirées at the Mlles. Petitpas' boardinghouse (319 West 29th Street), where the presiding genius was the artist and sage John Butler Yeats, father of the poet.[2]


Having moved to the Latin Quarter of Paris to continue his seemingly itinerant intellectual lifestyle, on August 24, 1914, Seeger joined the French Foreign Legion so that he could fight for the Allies in World War I (the United States did not enter the war until 1917).

He was killed in action at Belloy-en-Santerre on July 4, 1916, famously cheering on his fellow soldiers in a successful charge after being hit several times himself by machine gun fire. A recurrent theme in both his poetic works and his personal writings prior to falling in battle was his desire for his life to end gloriously at an early age.


Seeger's poetry was not published until 1919, after his death. Poems, a collection of his works, was relatively unsuccessful, due (according to Eric Homberger) to its lofty idealism and language, qualities not in fashion in the early decades of the 20th century.[1]

Poems was reviewed in The Egoist, where T.S. Eliot wrote that:

Seeger was serious about his work and spent pains over it. The work is well done, and so much out of date as to be almost a positive quality. It is high-flown, heavily decorated and solemn, but its solemnity is thorough going, not a mere literary formality. Alan Seeger, as one who knew him can attest, lived his whole life on this plane, with impeccable poetic dignity; everything about him was in keeping.[1]


"I Have a Rendezvous with Death" was one of President John F. Kennedy's favorite poems. His wife Jacqueline memorized it and would often recite it upon his request.[3]

In popular cultureEdit

In the 1993 film In the Line of Fire, the assassin Mitch Leary (played by John Malkovich) cites "I Have a Rendezvous with Death" as President Kennedy's favorite, and says that it is "not a good poem."

A shortened form of "I Have a Rendezvous with Death" was featured in the Joseph Kosinski-directed trailer for the video game Gears of War 2 that debuted during E3 (Electronic Entertainment Expo) 2008.[4]

Actor Darren McGavin joined the First Poetry Quartet, to recite a very effective version of "I Have a Rendezvous with Death" in Poetry from World War I: The men Who marched away]] presented on PBS.



Memorial to American Volunteers, Place des Etats-Unis, Paris.

On 4 July 1923, the President of the French Council of State, Raymond Poincaré, dedicated a monument in the Place des Etats-Unis to the Americans who had volunteered to fight in World War I in the service of France. The monument, in the form of a bronze statue on a plinth, executed by Jean Boucher, had been financed through a public subscription.[5]

Boucher had used a photograph of Seeger as his inspiration, and Seeger's name can be found, among those of 23 others who had fallen in the ranks of the French Foreign Legion, on the back of the plinth. Also, on either side of the base of the statue, are two excerpts from Seeger's "Ode in Memory of the American Volunteers Fallen for France", a poem written shortly before his death on 4 July 1916. Seeger intended that his words should be read in Paris on 30 May of that year, at an observance of the American holiday, Decoration Day (later known as Memorial Day):

They did not pursue worldly rewards; they wanted nothing more than to live without regret, brothers pledged to the honor implicit in living one's own life and dying one's own death. Hail, brothers! Goodbye to you, the exalted dead! To you, we owe two debts of gratitude forever: the glory of having died for France, and the homage due to you in our memories.


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Collected editionsEdit

  • The Complete Works (edited by Amanda Harlech & Karl Lagerfield). Paris: Edition 7L, 2001.

Letters and journalEdit

  • Letters and Diary of Alan Seeger. New York: Scribner, 1917; London: Constable, 1917; Toronto: S.B. Gundy, 1917.
    • (edited by Amanda Harlech). Paris: Edition 7L, 2001.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[6]

See alsoEdit


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Alan Seeger," Lost Poets,, Web, June 17, 2011.
  2. James C. Young, "Yeats of Petitpas'," New York Times, 19 February 1922
  4. Gears of War 2 "Rendezvous" Trailer
  5. On 21 January 1917, 13 days before the severance of diplomatic relations between the United States and Germany, an evening devoted to honoring the Americans serving as volunteers in French military units was held at the Comedie-Francaise in Paris. Hosted by the Under-Secretary of State in the military government, René Besnard, this ceremony marked the launch of a public subscription drive with the object of erecting a monument to the American volunteers.
  6. Search results = au:Alan Seeger, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Nov. 24, 2014.

External linksEdit

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