"Death is nothing terrible, after all. It may mean something more wonderful than life..."
Alan Seeger was a young American poet, who fought and died fighting for the French Foreign Legion in World War I. He is best remembered today for his poem "I Have a Rendezvous with Death." It is his journey, and his curious intersection with the people of Paris, that helped to inspire this musical.
Alan was born in New York City on June 22, 1888. After moving around quite a bit as a boy, even as far as Mexico, Alan attended Harvard University, where he served as editor and a contributing writer for the Harvard Monthly.
"... For its height,
Manhattan heaped in towering stalagmite;
But Paris for the smoothness of the paths
That lead unto the heart's delight..."
Upon graduating in 1910, Alan moved back to New York City, where he rented a small apartment on Washington Square South. This was perhaps the unhappiest period of Alan's life. He longed to be a respected poet, but felt artistically "strangled" by New York. Knowing where he truly belonged, in 1912 Alan moved to Paris. He never returned.
In Paris, Alan bloomed. He fell in love with the city, living a wild, bohemian life in the Latin Quarter. He saw Paris as "the inland city like a star", and never lapsed in his adoration. By 1914, Alan had written enough poetry for a volume, and attempted to get published. He went to London to meet with a publisher. However, fate intervened.
"Paris -- mystic, maternal, personified, to whom they owed the happiest moments of their life -- Paris was in peril."
While in London, World War I broke out all over Europe. By the time Alan returned to Paris, Germany was already invading France. The United States was not yet involved in the conflict, but Alan knew he must do something. Four days later, on August 24, 1914, Alan Seeger joined the French Foreign Legion, to defend his adopted home.
Alan fought with the Legion in the front line trenches of the Western Front, from the Battle of Champagne to the Battle of the Aisne. Despite the horror of war, Alan continued to write, and his poetry from this period marks the best of his life. He kept extensive letters and diaries, and even became a war correspondent with the New York Sun and the New Republic. In 1916, he penned his most famous poem, "I Have a Rendezvous with Death", which was immediately hailed as one of the greatest pieces to come out of the conflict, and made Alan Seeger the world-renowned poet he had always hoped to be.
"And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous."
Alan Seeger met his rendezvous with death on July 4, 1916, at Belloy-en-Santerre, during the Battle of the Somme. He was posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Medaille Militaire by the French government. His death was mourned in newspapers across America, and his body of poetry was finally published in December of the same year, becoming an immediate bestseller. His letters and diary were published a few months later to equal acclaim.
Today, a statue of Alan Seeger stands watch over his beloved Paris from atop the Memorial to American Volunteers, in the Place des Etats-Unis. Inscribed on the monument are words from his last, and possibly greatest, poem, dedicated to his fallen friends:
"Hail, brothers, and farewell; you are twice blest, brave hearts,
Double your glory is who perished thus,
For you have died for France and vindicated us."