Comptes Rendus (July, 1916)

  • Author: Andrew Mangravite
  • Published: September 7, 2016

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….

While most of the country was quite pleased that President Woodrow Wilson “kept us out of war,” there were a few Americans couldn’t wait to get into it. One of these was Alan Seeger who was so eager to join the fight that he enlisted in the French Foreign Legion. No ambulance driver he; Seeger wanted to be in the thick of things. In his diary Seeger wrote: Had I the choice I would be nowhere else in the world than where I am. Even had I the chance to be liberated, I would not take it. Do not be sorrowful then. It is the shirkers and slackers alone in this war who are to be lamented. The tears for those who take part in it and who do not return should be sweetened by the sense that their death was the death which beyond all others they would have chosen for themselves, that went to it smiling and without regret, feeling that whatever value their continued presence in the world might be to humanity, it could not be greater than the example and inspiration that they were to it in so departing.”

So Seeger’s famous poem “I Have a Rendezvous with Death” was more than just empty romantic posturing, and Seeger was more than just a tinsel hero. In that same diary he chafes at being compared by critics to the recently deceased British hero-poet Rupert Brooke grousing “I never could get my book of poems published before the war.” But Seeger’s battlefield death raised him to such a position that, a few decades ago, you couldn’t browse the poetry section of a used book store without finding that same book of poems gathering dust on the shelf. That tells you that there was a time when Alan Seeger had been an immensely popular writer. Today it is no longer the case that volumes of Seeger are to had for the asking. In fact original editions seem to have become quite scarce. That tells you that people are again reading Alan Seeger and those once despised volumes have found new homes for themselves. With the publication of a recent non-fiction book dealing with Seeger and other young Americans who served in the French Foreign Legion the time seems ripe for this account, once rendered, to be opened and examined once more.

Comptes Rendus (March, 1916)

  • Author: Andrew Mangravite
  • Published: April 4, 2016

On March 4, 1916 the world of German art was dealt a devastating blow when Franz Marc, a leader of Der Blaue Reiter school of Expressionism was struck in the head by a shell fragment at Verdun and died instantly.
Ironically the German High Command had belatedly realized the importance of the nation’s artists to its war effort—Marc had already devised ingenious camouflage schemes for use in the field—and had decided to withdraw them from service on the front lines, but the orders for Marc to withdraw came too late.

Franz Marc was best known for his vividly-colored paintings of animals in which elements of representational and abstract art were skillfully blended. One of the last of these, “The Fate of the Animals,” completed in 1913 was accompanied by these lines, “And all being is flaming agony.” Such sentiments were unlikely to endear the artist to a certain corporal and the collection of thugs and second-raters who comprised his Third Reich and so Marc and his work was consigned to oblivion as “degenerate art.” It’s unfortunate that the shrapnel sometimes tears into the wrong head.

Comptes Rendus (October, 1915)

  • Author: Andrew Mangravite
  • Published: October 21, 2015

You are blind like us. Your hurt no man designed,
And no man claimed the conquest of your land.
But gropers both through fields of thought confined
We stumble and we do not understand.
You only saw your future bigly planned,
And we, the tapering paths of our own mind,
And in each other’s dearest ways we stand,
And hiss, and hate. And the blind fight the blind.

from “To Germany.”

On October 13th 1915, while the Battle of Loos [Belgium] was raging, a German sniper shot a captain in the Suffolk Regiment in the head and in so doing, ended the life of one of Britain’s most promising young poets.

Like many of his opposite numbers, Sorley had studied abroad, in Germany, and so was no knee-jerk jingoist. But he felt a duty to serve his country. He left behind a single posthumous volume, Marlborough and Other Poems and on the basis of that one slim volume alone, he seems to have been more influenced by Continental literary trends than the other British war poets still toiling in the long shadows cast by the Romantics. Certain of Sorley’s poems seem almost Expressionist in tone, a memento perhaps of his time spent as a student in Germany.

Whether Sorley’s expressionism came from literary journals or from the heart, the quality of the poems in his lone volume suggest that England’s loss was great. This was no Rupert Brooke re-cycling past glories. If Sorley’s death was not the great loss in British literature, it should be considered second only to that of Edward Thomas. Twenty years are not a lot of time t make one’s mark, but if such poet/critics as Robert Graves and John Masefield are to be believed, Charles Sorley succeeded brilliantly.

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Last Modified: October 21, 2015