Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 285

"I Have a Rendezvous with Death" is an elegiac poem written by American author Alan Seeger, who joined the French Army and was ultimately killed in the First World War. The poem follows a standard rhyme scheme and consists of 24 lines compiled in 3 stanzas. In his poem, Seeger himself is the speaker and talks about his inevitable meeting (or rendezvous) with death.

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Death is the main and central theme of the poem. Seeger personifies death and repeats the title of the poem several times. This might lead the reader to think that Seeger did not fear death; on the contrary, he welcomed it. As a soldier in World War I, he has experienced what many other young soldiers experienced at the battle fronts; he saw the carnage and destruction, and he wrote about his ideals, conveying his patriotic spirit and bravery. Seeger is very aware that death is a probable outcome for him and many of his comrades. He shows his confident and fearless nature, writing from the perspective of someone who has witnessed death all around him and as someone who courageously expects it.

Thus, another theme might be the sacrifice a soldier must be willing to make in the name of his country. In the middle of a violent war, Seeger decided to fight and give his life for what he, his leaders, and his mates believed was right and just. This is why he joined the French forces, as the United States was still not officially involved in the conflict. Seeger seems to have accepted both his fate and his duty and purpose as a soldier, choosing to fight (and die) in one of the greatest conflicts the world has ever seen.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 411

“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 explain his place as the most famous of America’s war poets. Wealthy, young, and full of promise, he became a symbol for the United States of the selfless sacrifice that the war called forth in the name of all that was thought worthy in the Western civilization which was being destroyed by German military aggression. In contrast to the later American writings about war by such authors as Ernest Hemingway, John Dos Passos, E. E. Cummings, and Laurence Stallings, Seeger’s patriotism appears as an anomaly.

The equanimity with which Alan Seeger could write about his own mortality and the haunting gentleness of his most famous poem have made “I Have a Rendezvous with Death” one of the more telling literary expressions from what was then known as the Great War. It also assured this young and sensitive poet a small but secure place among the writers of elegies in the English language.

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