Portrait: The fabulous destiny of a hairy poem goes through Switzerland – World – Delivery CBD Website Toronto Canada

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July 4, 1916. Belloy-en-Santerre, in the Somme. The fighting has been raging since dusk. A young fool of the Foreign Legion lies in the grass, hit in the belly by German machine gun fire. In a last effort, he drew his bayonet beside him to signal to his comrades that he was wounded. But no one will come looking for him, nor him, nor the 900 other Legionnaires who have fallen in this day, the bloodiest of the Great War. His name is Alan Seeger. American poet, died for France.

This is the unusual story of a young man from a good family, an entrepreneurial father, a golden childhood shared between New York and Mexico. Alan attends the best schools, studies at Harvard with T.S. Eliot, John Reed, Walter Lippman. He spends his summers at MacDowell Colony, a colony of budding artists in the cool forests of New Hampshire. He is part of this carefree, insolent American youth, at the turn of a century when everything is allowed to those who are well born.

In 1912, like any self-respecting artist, he discovered Paris, the literary salons of the time, where he met Picasso and Apollinaire. But the wind of modernity that blows on the French capital displeases the young romantic man. Short of money, he went to London in 1914, worked for the French literary magazine "The double bouquet", published in Lausanne. Meanwhile, Europe wakes up to the sound of cannons and Alan Seeger returns to France to fight. He joined the Foreign Legion alongside a hundred compatriots, while his country is reluctant to meddle with the conflict that is tearing the Old Continent. It is in the trenches, in this troupe of bad boys sent to the front line, that Alan Seeger writes his most beautiful poems. Including the famous and premonitory "I have an appointment with death," the favorite verses of John F. Kennedy, which is said to have them on him, the fatal November 22, 1963 in Dallas.


Portrait in 1915, private collection Richard McErlean.

Macron tribute

Under the whizzing bullets, Alan Seeger tells the French countryside, the dawn and the song of cuckoos, the spectacle of the stars, the ballet of the seasons. This is the genesis of "Champagne 1914-15". Stationed near Reims, the soldier poet pays homage to the work of men, asks "those who will laugh tomorrow in the happy festivals (…) to drink the sparkling wine to those who have fallen". Worms written in pencil on a piece of paper folded in four, which he sends to a long-time friend in New York and asks him to publish it. It will be done, thus remaining the only poem of war published during his lifetime.

Alan Seeger dead, America discovers a hero. Raised to the rank of best-sellers, he becomes the flag-bearer of the country that finally enters the war. His poems are recited in schools, inspiring an entire generation. In 2018, in his speech to the US Congress, French President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to him, recalling that a statue with his effigy is drawn up in Paris, place of the United States.


Around 1915 at the front, private collection Richard McErlean.

The famous manuscript "Champagne", it disappears for nearly a century. Before reappearing in 2015 … in Switzerland! More precisely in St-Légier, in the highs of Vevey, in the hands of the writer Richard McErlean. "I acquired the poem on ebay. You can find everything, "he smiles. This enthusiast has the largest collection of poems, letters and photos of Seeger, more than 500 pieces. And he willingly tells his story of the fighter to acquire some of them. "I was in contact with a nephew who had inherited the home of Alan Seeger's sister in Connecticut. I insisted for years to take a look in his attic, but he did not want to move. "Bored, the nephew finally give in and discovers a chest filled with original manuscripts that had been sleeping there for forty years …" But it was not won, remembers Richard McErlean. He told me he was going to call his family and suggest who wants to use the trunk. The rest would have been for me. I shook for months. Finally, he called me and just said, you can have everything. I took the first flight to the United States! "

Back to Reims

As for "Champagne", the fate of the poem could have stopped there, if the passionate writer had not met the producer of the golden wine. Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, at the head of the famous French family business, is also fascinated by Alan Seeger. "My father was lulled by the story of the war, explains his daughter Vitalie Taittinger, the face of the brand. His grandfather and Alan Seeger were soldiers during the same period in the same region, they could have known each other. In 39-45, his uncle Michel Taittinger sacrificed himself for his country. It is the crossing of all these destinies which is fascinating. "And to recall that the city of Reims was reconstructed partly thanks to the American funds and that the biggest cemeteries of their soldiers are not in Normandy, but in Champagne.

Richard McErlean has therefore agreed to get rid of this single piece of his collection, for a price that will remain confidential. And accessory. "What counts for me is to be able to share Alan Seeger with the greatest number." The manuscript was presented on July 4 to the public. It will be exhibited in the Taittinger estate, visited every year by Champagne lovers. While somewhere not far from there rests the body of its author, who, echoing his famous verses and like these thousands of fallen soldiers, will forever be part of this land of France.

(TDG)

Created: 04.07.2019, 14:24

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