In Meirion & Susie Harries recent The Last Days of Innocence: America at War, 1917-1918,
in the chapter: "To Hell with Peace Talk: Volunteers on the Western Front",
the sole reference to Alan Seeger is the following sentence: "Seeger was a contemporary
of John Reed and Walter Lippmann (class of 1910) without having anything in common
On the face of it, this seems a reasonable assertion. The stance of both Reed and Seeger
as regards the entry of the United States in the European War was well-known and
diametrically opposed: Reed loudly opposed it; Seeger just as loudly urged it.
To all appearances, Reed and Seeger were idealogical foes.
In fact, prior to the war, the two young men were evidently good friends, with a great deal
in common. Both were dedicated poets, natural bohemians contemptuous of bourgeois values,
above all ardent idealists and fearless adventurers who would each, in his own way, be
to the twin cauldrons of war and revolution where each, in turn, a few years apart, would perish.
No record of their friendship, first at Harvard where they served together on the staff of
the Harvard Monthly and, later, in Greenwich Village, where
they drank and argued together in the coffee houses and cafes, has been published.
But there is Reed's
long satirical poem in heroic couplets "The Day in Bohemia
Life Among the Artists", written in 1912 and printed for the author
Hillacre Bookhouse in 1913, which contains numerous references to Seeger. The pertinent
passages are shown below:
A timid footstep,-- enter then the eager
Poe's raven bang above Byronic brow,
And Dante's beak,-- you have his picture now;
In fact he is, though feigning not to know it,
The popular conception of a Poet.
Dreaming, his eyes are steadily alight
With splendors of a world beyond our sight;
He nothing knows of this material sphere,--
Unwilling seems, at times, to linger here;
Beauty is all his breath, his blood, he says,--
Beauty his shrine, and Love its priestesses.
Wildly he talks, with solemn, bell-like voice,
In words that might have been old Malory's choice,--
Proclaiming, in the manner of ascetics,
"For ethics we must substitute aesthetics!"
Loud roars the conversation, as Olympus
Roars when the dieties convene to gimp us;
KEMP thunders Anarchism, and is wrecked
On a sharp flint from LIPPMANN's intellect,--
Who Socialism in his turn expounds,
Which LEE declares is founded on false grounds;
ROGERS and HIRSCH with fury fight away
Upon what constitutes a perfect play;
SEEGER and KEMP twang each his lyric lute,
And Poetry disdainfully dispute;
ANDREWS, appealed to, climbs upon the fence,
And all combine, in scorn, to flog him thence.
Poor HALLOWELL'S dilemma is immense;--
Too bold for that, too cautious to be bold,
He hesitates until the subject's cold;
While OSGOOD, WOLF, McCOY do stand aloof,--
Contemptuously watch us raise the roof.
It borders midnight! Rattle all the doors
With the vehemence of the lodgers' snores.
Now one by one the geniuses do yawn,--
Rise up,-- deliver parting shots,-- are gone.
SEEGER remains. "The LAFAYETTE?" he cries;
"Aye!" (Fevered are our brains, and wise our eyes.)
ANDY alone declines to be seduced
But virtuously prepares him for the roost;
"You squander Youth" says he "In dissipation!"
"For the Wise Man, all things in moderation;
"Efficiency-- the Business Man-- brain force"--
"Short sport!" we sneer "Conservative,-- and worse!"
Singing, that Four wend to the LAFAYETTE
Quite like a scene from Murger,-- sans grisette.
(A Triolet Composed On the Spot By Seeger):
"You are very well met
Reed and Osgood and Rogers;
At the old Lafayette
You are very well met--
Come, set 'em up! Set
'Em up, jolly codgers!
You are very well met
Reed and Osgood and Rogers!"
Round a bare table in the bright cafe
We loll, while wild Italian minstrels play
"You Candy Kid." The flashing dmei-monde
Carouses,-- laughs,-- grows fonder and more fond;
Frenchmen pursue th'eternal game of chess,--
Playwrights compose, and bards their woes confess
With a stub pencil on the table-top
(Chef d'oeuvres perish with to-morrow's mop)
In a warm glow of Cointreau Triple Sec
REED has a million visitors at his beck,
OZZY draws portraits on his unpaid check,
SEEGER draws rhymes from fountains never spent,
While ROGERS purrs, and grins and is content.
REED gapes, OZ gapes, ROG gapes, and SEEGER gapes,
Dark is the Square,-- a few dull huddled shapes
Lie on the grass; a homeless, workless crew.
Chill is the air,-- a distant clock strikes two;--
Sharp sounds the late home-comer's step, and deep
Breathes the wide-circled city in its sleep.
There is a slip of moon-- Good Nights are said,
And arm-in-arm we stumble home to bed.