I Have a Rendezvous with Wordle

I’m not much of a poet, and I…..am not going to make that joke.  Many a poem has been written that I do not understand, but that doesn’t prevent me from appreciating one.

Alan Seeger
Alan Seeger in French Foreign Legion uniform

One such poem that I’ve heard and like is I Have A Rendezvous with Death, by Alan Seeger.  Seeger was an American born who joined the French Foreign Legion and fought and died in WWI in 1916.  Seeger is most notable for the poems he wrote about life during war.  These poems were gritty and realistic and painted a very different picture than how the “Great War” was initially portrayed.

The reason I like I Have a Rendezvous with Death is because, as a history teacher, it give incredible insight into the frailty of soldiers during war.  The certainty and pervasiveness of death surrounds them at all times, and how each person deals with death is intriguing, because it affects allies and enemies alike.

I know near to nothing about teaching and dissecting poetry.  So, if I were to approach this as a lesson plan – within the context of a history class – here’s how I’d do it introduce Seeger’s poetry:

1.  I would first make a wordle of the poem and display that alone to students.  Seeing the weight and the dichotomy of such words as death and spring brings the subject to the forefront and can create some very layered class conversations.

Wordle: I Have a Rendezvous with Death

2.  I would then show them this video (DISCLAIMER!: I would not show the tail end of this. it’s too graphic and suggestive for schools.  I would stop playing the scene just before the end, around the :48 second mark, but let the audio continue):

Why this video?  Well, for starters, it certainly sets a tone.  In my mind, the Seeger’s (abbreviated) poem is the star of the clip and the actual video is filler.  After watching the video, can you imagine where discussion would turn?  Why do many soldiers feel the inescapable shroud of death, yet continue doing their duties?  What is the role of sacrifice for a soldier?  Why do we fight?

3.  Now that groundwork is laid, I would then give historical and background information to WWI and Seeger himself, such as this:

Seeing as how we barely get past reconstruction of the Civil War, I’ll probably never get a chance to actually teach this lesson.

How do you teach poetry?  Is there a more effective way than coupling audio and video with the poem itself?

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.

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