In Flanders Fields

Sunday, 11 November 2012


On previous Remembrance Days I have posted poems by Wilfred Owen. His subject is the futility and degradation of war. This poem by Canadian John McCrae is perhaps the most well-known of all First World War poems and is the reason poppies have become a symbol of remembrance. It talks poignantly of the fallen, before in the last stanza calling for the torch of battle to be passed on. It's not a sentiment I am particularly comfortable with, I can't help thinking of the famous 'Your country needs you' recruiting poster.

As young George is in French Flanders visiting various battlefields and memorials with his air cadet squadron I thought this poem was the right choice. Today he will be attending an Armistice Day service where, no doubt, this poem will be read.

In Flanders Fields

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.

John McCrae



11 comments:

  1. I share your unease about the recruiting posters. "What did you do in the War, Daddy?" never felt right to me.

    But it is appropriate to remember those who have died.

    I hope George's experience is a positive one

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  2. I remember when my own son visited the various 1st and 2nd WW battlefields, cemeteries and memorials (and then Auschwitz) ... he was deeply moved as I'm sure George will be.

    We are off to a Farmers Market but will pause wherever we are at the appropriate time to remember those who died.

    Beautiful images Sue.

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  3. Anonymous12:21 pm GMT

    Dr. John McCrae was killed in Flanders about 2 weeks after he wrote that poem.

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  4. This post has compelled me to search out some of my books of poetry to remember how great poems like this are.
    Thank you for the inspiration!

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  5. I'm sure George will have been deeply moved. Visits like this bring home the enormity of what happened and the real consequences of war.

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  6. Such a beautiful and well-known poem and so right to remember those who lost their lives... The last verse bothers me too - for it seems that the new soldiers are encouraged not only to fight for their country, but to 'get revenge' as it were, for those who had fallen in battle before them.
    Beautiful picture of poppies.

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  7. Anonymous6:27 pm GMT

    No Sandra, the war was not over when this poem was written. McCrae was warning against disgust with the war causing people to surrender. Luckily, that did not happen. Sadly, others' desire for revenge led to the false peace and war reparations which allowed Hitler to lay the seeds of the second war.

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  8. While I do not agree with revenge, or incouraging others to fight unnecessarily, sometimes we do have to encourage others to "take up our quarrel with the foe." When my children visited Dachau on a school trip, they realized some things are worth fighting for.

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  9. Thank you for this post, Sue. I have recently been rather irritated by various comments (not here!) about refusing to wear poppies because that glorifies war. For heaven's sake, have we not put this old chestnut to bed? Poppy wearing denotes our remembrance of those who died in the wars and since in various conflict. As far as I understand it, there is no differentiation between which side the fallen were on. 'Lest we forget' is the pertinent phrase, I think.

    As to the feeling of unease reading some of the lines of this poem, I agree, but that's just us reading it from our 21st century perspective. When you have been in the front line, or perhaps have Holocaust or similar connections, fighting for your own and loved ones' freedom is pretty salutary, I think.

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  10. Here I am commenting after emailing you just two minutes ago!

    I just wrote an essay last week on heroism and used a couple of Owen's poems in my argument. Then tonight I stopped off at the op shop (charity shop) on my way home from work to collect something and there on the bookshelf was the collected poems of Wilfred Owen. Needless to say it went in my basket (along with a couple of other books) and is now on my own bookshelf.

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