Alan Seeger

(22 June 1888 - 4 July 1916 / New York City, New York)

Maktoob - Poem by Alan Seeger

A shell surprised our post one day
And killed a comrade at my side.
My heart was sick to see the way
He suffered as he died.

I dug about the place he fell,
And found, no bigger than my thumb,
A fragment of the splintered shell
In warm aluminum.

I melted it, and made a mould,
And poured it in the opening,
And worked it, when the cast was cold,
Into a shapely ring.

And when my ring was smooth and bright,
Holding it on a rounded stick,
For seal, I bade a Turco write
Maktoob in Arabic.

Maktoob! "'Tis written!" . . . So they think,
These children of the desert, who
From its immense expanses drink
Some of its grandeur too.

Within the book of Destiny,
Whose leaves are time, whose cover, space,
The day when you shall cease to be,
The hour, the mode, the place,

Are marked, they say; and you shall not
By taking thought or using wit
Alter that certain fate one jot,
Postpone or conjure it.

Learn to drive fear, then, from your heart.
If you must perish, know, O man,
'Tis an inevitable part
Of the predestined plan.

And, seeing that through the ebon door
Once only you may pass, and meet
Of those that have gone through before
The mighty, the elite -- ---

Guard that not bowed nor blanched with fear
You enter, but serene, erect,
As you would wish most to appear
To those you most respect.

So die as though your funeral
Ushered you through the doors that led
Into a stately banquet hall
Where heroes banqueted;

And it shall all depend therein
Whether you come as slave or lord,
If they acclaim you as their kin
Or spurn you from their board.

So, when the order comes: "Attack!"
And the assaulting wave deploys,
And the heart trembles to look back
On life and all its joys;

Or in a ditch that they seem near
To find, and round your shallow trough
Drop the big shells that you can hear
Coming a half mile off;

When, not to hear, some try to talk,
And some to clean their guns, or sing,
And some dig deeper in the chalk -- -
I look upon my ring:

And nerves relax that were most tense,
And Death comes whistling down unheard,
As I consider all the sense
Held in that mystic word.

And it brings, quieting like balm
My heart whose flutterings have ceased,
The resignation and the calm
And wisdom of the East.


Comments about Maktoob by Alan Seeger

  • David Semenske David Semenske (12/8/2015 12:12:00 AM)

    This was a great poet who followed his heart. When World War I broke out he could not wait for America to get involved. He dropped out of Harvard and went to Join the British Army but they would not take him because he was not a British citizen. They recommended he join the French Foreign Legion. The rest they say is history. (Report) Reply

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  • Susan Williams Susan Williams (12/7/2015 2:23:00 PM)

    Tragic wisdom beautifully and clearly written. (Report) Reply

  • Kim Barney (12/7/2015 2:19:00 PM)

    Thanks to Terry Craddock for his excellent comment below.
    It would be nice if there were a poet's note or some kind of explanation as to what the word 'Maktoob' means in Arabic. Those of you who speak Arabic, can you tell us? Thanks. (Report) Reply

  • Gangadharan Nair Pulingat (12/7/2015 8:53:00 AM)

    The real war hero poem and events so accurately created into. (Report) Reply

  • Mohammed Asim Nehal Mohammed Asim Nehal (12/7/2015 7:16:00 AM)

    Nice dedication to the HERO who lead his life to serve and live in heart, nicely penned...10 (Report) Reply

  • Alem Hailu G/kristos Alem Hailu G/kristos (12/7/2015 7:01:00 AM)

    A hero's deed lives in the memory of people.He never dies.This poem that foregrounds this fact is a gem.It deserves a high five (Report) Reply

  • Edward Kofi Louis Edward Kofi Louis (12/7/2015 7:00:00 AM)

    Great work! ! With the acts of mankind; but, let us all learn and bring peace to the earth. Thanks for sharing. (Report) Reply

  • Ratnakar Mandlik (12/7/2015 3:54:00 AM)

    A very beautifully penned poem by a more beautiful brave heart. Hats off and Salute to the poet. It is an example of eternal values based piece of literature. Thanks for sharing.10+++ points. (Report) Reply

  • Terry Craddock Terry Craddock (12/7/2015 3:00:00 AM)

    'Maktoob in Arabic.

    Maktoob! 'Tis written! ... So they think,
    These children of the desert, who
    From its immense expanses drink
    Some of its grandeur too.

    Within the book of Destiny,
    Whose leaves are time, whose cover, space,
    The day when you shall cease to be,
    The hour, the mode, the place,

    Are marked, they say; and you shall not
    By taking thought or using wit
    Alter that certain fate one jot,
    Postpone or conjure it.

    Learn to drive fear, then, from your heart.
    If you must perish, know, O man,
    'Tis an inevitable part
    Of the predestined plan.'

    These are wonderfully written lines, fitting for an American poet who died as a soldier, romantically serving in the French Foreign, who died apparently without fear in combat. Alan Seeger had previously written 'I Have a Rendezvous with Death' and Alan Seeger died the death who hoped and wished for.

    'He was killed in action at Belloy-en-Santerre on July 4,1916, famously cheering on his fellow soldiers in a successful charge after being hit several times by machine gun fire. One of his more famous poems, I Have a Rendezvous with Death, was published posthumously. Indeed, a recurrent theme in both his poetic works and his personal writings prior to falling in battle was his desire for his life to end gloriously at an early age.'

    'Maktoob' by Alan Seeger is a poem worthy of being reread several times, as I have done and added to MyPoemList; I'll not vote it a 6 but a 10+++ (Report) Reply

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Read poems about / on: funeral, respect, destiny, fear, sick, fate, children, heart, death, hero, child, work



Poem Submitted: Friday, January 3, 2003



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