Somme

Front Line

The First World War was a war of empires which drew men and women from all over the globe into its carnage. On this, one hundredth anniversary of the Battle of the Somme, along with remembering those who lost their lives or suffered life changing injuries, physically and mentally, I am thinking of another group of people. Photographers, cinematographers, writers and artists of all nationalities left us a legacy of eye witness accounts to ensure the sacrifice of so many would never be forgotten. The soldiers who kept diaries, something that was widely discouraged, probably did not realize just how important their words would become to the generations that followed.

This morning, I’ve been listening to archived interviews with soldiers who survived The Great War and their accounts are so poignant. If only it had been the ‘War to end all wars’ but that was not to be. I recently came across the book,  Anthem for Doomed Youth by Jon Stallworthy, which contains the poems of twelve soldiers of the First World War, along with some of their letters and sketches. Their words help to convey, with remarkable accuracy, the horror of the trenches and how unprepared the world had been at the time for mass warfare. What began with illustrious ideals and enthusiastic parades in 1914, ended in the realization that modern war methods were nothing like the battles fought in previous generations, and capable of much more destruction.

Alan_Seeger

Alan Seeger 1888-1916

On this day, July 1, one hundred years ago, a young American poet, Alan Seeger, was among French troops who launched an assault on German trenches. He was living in Paris when the war began and joined the French Foreign Legion. His well known poem, I Have a Rendezvous with Death, is a very apt way for me to end this post, as this young man lost his life on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916. He was twenty-eight years old.

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.
 
It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.
 
God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear …
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.
Alan Seeger

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About Jean Reinhardt

Author of 'A Pocket Full of Shells' an Amazon International best seller, Jean writes young adult and historical fiction. She has been known to shed a tear over Little House on the Prairie.
This entry was posted in History, Poetry, Poets and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Somme

  1. joannesisco says:

    His words are very poignant even after all these years .. the despair and yet the resignation. A generation of young men decimated in pure folly. If only we had learned something in the process …

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for posting this moving poem. I have always been interested in the impact WWI had on the lives of people who went to the front and the loved ones who stayed behind. The last few months I have been reading some novels about this period, also written during or recently after the Great War. There are (or were) a few very interesting courses online about the subject. This poem is a good addition to my reading.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Somme | Jean Reinhardt | First Night History

  4. Dan Antion says:

    Thanks for this post, Jean. 100, 200, 1,000 years can pass Amc we shouldn’t forget.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. sjhigbee says:

    A lovely, poignant post… I was also listening to the excellent Radio 4 coverage of this sad anniversary. It sounds like poor Alan Seeger had a strong premonition of his own demise…

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Such a moving and courageous poem.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Sunday Post – 3rd July | Brainfluff

  8. jguenther5 says:

    Despite the presence of many photographers and journalists, the full story of incompetence, death and destruction at the front was forcibly withheld from the British public. A popular book after the war was “Now It Can Be Told,” which detailed the outrageous conduct of “The War to Make the World Safe for British Imperialism.” Ultimately, Versailles laid out the fate of a future generation: to die in another war with Germany.

    McCrae once threw away the only copy of his famous poem, In Flanders Fields:

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields.

    Take up our quarrel with the foe:
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

    I suspect that McCrae may have discarded the poem because he could no longer endorse the last stanza. The poem was retrieved from the wastebasket by another, more sanguine soldier and has made its way into the classics and immortality.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t know McCrae threw away his poem. You’re right about the full degree of the carnage not being reported and purposefully withheld from the public. The families of soldiers back home were piecing together whatever bits of news their men managed to include in their letters, in order to get a more accurate picture. No wonder conscription was introduced in 1916, people were becoming much more aware of what those men were facing. Still, my grandfather and his two brothers had a hard time of it as conscientious objectors and served time doing hard labour, but at least two of them survived the war (one died of pneumonia, we suspect it was as a result of the harsh conditions he endured). My husband’s great-uncle, joined the Dublin Fulisiers and was gassed in the trenches April 29, 1916 as the Easter Rising was taking place in his home city. He was only 21 years old. Such a terrible unnecessary loss of a whole generation of men from every corner of the globe.

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