In Flanders Fields by John McCrae
World War I produced an especially large number of poets, perhaps due to the sheer numbers of men who fought in it, so I will share several World War I poems this week focusing on the poets who experienced the war firsthand and died between 1914 and 1918. When we remember the dead we usually think of flags and green cemeteries with neat rows of white tombstones and God forbid, big flowery wreaths. Featuring these poets is my little way of letting some of the dead speak for themselves.
“In Flanders Fields” is a poem in which you really can hear the voices of those who died. Its author, John McCrae, a Canadian physician, was born November 30, 1872 and died of pneumonia on January 28, 1918 while serving as commander of No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill) at Boulogne. He composed this poem after the death of a good friend in the Second Battle of Ypres. The story is that the day after the funeral and burial of Lieutenant Alex Helmer, McCrae was sitting in the back of a field ambulance looking out at a battlefield, and that is where he wrote this poem. He then discarded the paper but it was retrieved by a friend who submitted it to the magazine Punch where it was published anonymously in late 1915. After he died it was included in a collection of his poetry. Poppies grew in vast numbers over the spoiled earth and cemeteries of Flanders.
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’.