Saturday, November 06, 2010

In Flanders Fields

Display at the Canadian War Museum

The WWI poem "In Flanders Fields" was penned by Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae the day after he witnessed the death of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer (who was only 22 years old). Legend has it that McCrae threw away the poem after it's writing and that it was retrieved by Francis Scrimger who subsequently sent it for consideration to the London based Punch Magazine who published it on December 8th 1915.

The poppies referred to in McCrae's poem grow quickly and profusely in northern Europe but especially in newly disturbed earth, like that found in the battlefield cemeteries in Flanders. Wikipedia notes that this phenomenon was reported around the graves of the war dead even during the Napoleonic times. It's this tendency of red poppies to grow on the fresh graves of soldiers that lead to the poppy becoming a symbol of Remembrance. And now, the poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow

      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

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