A short elegy in iambic pentameter, “I Have a Rendezvous with Death” has three stanzas of six, eight, and ten lines that employ irregular rhyme. Elegy is a lyric poetic form that traditionally takes as its subject a meditation on death or other similarly grave theme. In its classical form, in both Latin and Greek poetry, the elegy was distinguished more for its use of the elegiac meter, the dactylic hexameter—an accented syllable followed by two unaccented syllables—than for its subject matter. The elegy has been a popular form throughout the English poetic tradition. Geoffrey Chaucer, John Donne, Thomas Gray, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson all wrote in the conventional form. Elizabethan poets often used the elegy for love poems which they called “complaints.” A typical example in American poetry can be found in Walt Whitman’s “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d.”
In “I Have a Rendezvous with Death,” the American poet Alan Seeger modernized the elegy by employing an iambic meter that gives his poem a more regular, even cadence and by emphasizing the theme of impending death. Not occasioned by the death of someone else, as elegies generally are, Seeger’s poem meditates on his own possible death during World War I, when he was serving on the Western Front. In fact, Seeger was killed in action in the war at the Battle of the Somme.
An atypical lyric on the war, “I Have a Rendezvous with Death” alludes to the...
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