Themes and Meanings (Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“I Have a Rendezvous with Death” is a young soldier’s poem about facing the very real possibility of his own death. To any soldier who fought during World War I the possibility of dying in combat was especially real. The casualty figures for combatants in that war were staggering. Alan Seeger happened to be living in London at the outbreak of the war in August, 1914. During the late summer of that year the realities of the conflict were perhaps more urgent for him than for most Americans. He enlisted in the Foreign Legion of France because of an urgent sense of duty to the cultural values and traditions he had learned to embrace. In this respect he truly represented the idealism that motivated so many to volunteer for the war effort. His enlistment in the Foreign Legion was also necessary because the United States was not yet an active participant in the conflict. His eager involvement in the war further illuminates the pledge he mentions in the last couplet of the poem and to which he wished to remain true.

Seeger’s idealism contributes to the tone of the poem, in which the poet does not shrink from his rendezvous with death but actually welcomes it. His idealism also may account for the absence of the more unpleasant aspects of the war’s horrors in the poem, the grisly details of which characterize the better known war poetry of such British poets as Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, and Sigfried Sassoon. Furthermore, Seeger’s idealism helps to...

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