Monday, May 28, 2012

In Flanders Field


I wasn't going to post this morning. But then I heard this story on NPR on the way into work. The story of one of the most famous war poems in history.

From Wikipedia: "In Flanders Fields" is a war poem in the form of a rondeau, written during the First World War by Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres. According to legend, fellow soldiers retrieved the poem after McCrae, initially unsatisfied with his work, discarded it. "In Flanders Fields" was first published on December 8 of that year in the London-based magazine Punch.

It is one of the most popular and most quoted poems from the war. As a result of its immediate popularity, parts of the poem were used in propaganda efforts and appeals to recruit soldiers and raise money selling war bonds. Its references to the red poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers resulted in the remembrance poppy becoming one of the world's most recognized memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict. The poem and poppy are prominent Remembrance Day symbols throughout the Commonwealth of Nations, particularly in Canada, where "In Flanders Fields" is one of the nation's best known literary works.

And here is the text of the poem:

In Flanders Fields
By: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)
Canadian Army

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.

So what do you say on Memorial Day? The long weekend, the BBQs, and the beach certainly make for great memories, but should we really say "Happy Memorial Day?" Probably not.

28 comments:

Creepy Query Girl said...

Beautiful poem. It's hard to celebrate Memorial day from across the pond but I'm definitely appreciating the show of support and remembrance for those who fought for us that I've seen throughout the blogosphere/social networks:) Hope you have a great day!

Stina Lindenblatt said...

My kids learn this poem every year for Remembrance day. Thrilled to see you embrace it here, Matt. :D

Sarah said...

I was just thinking the same thing about "Happy Memorial Day", as I've read many good posts about remembering. Thanks for posting this, Matt.

Jemi Fraser said...

We talk about McCrae every Remembrance Day. It's a beautiful poem and the kids always like the rhythms and imagery. It helps them to understand the horrors of war.

PJ Hoover said...

Very nice post. I've been to some Memorial Day parades/commemorations in past years which really helped me understand more what the holiday was all about.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

The word happy just doesn't fit.
No BBQ here (too darn hot and humid outside) but we are flying our flag today.

Ted Cross said...

Nice, Matt. My kids were proud when they found out that the last living WWI veteran in the US was a relative of ours, and they were sad last year when he finally passed away.

Donna K. Weaver said...

That's such a sad poem, such a sad war. But then every war is sad. Thanks, Matt.

Natalie Aguirre said...

Beautiful poem Matt. Thanks for sharing it.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

A beautiful poem. The part about throwing the torch with failing hands got to me.

Tonja said...

I love how the lines, "Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields," brings you to a complete stop.

Old Kitty said...

Stands alongside Owen and Sassoon et al as one of the great war poets.

Take care
x

LTM said...

I actually had to memorize that poem in grade school--yes, they made us memorize poetry. Also "If" by Rudyard Kipling, "Mending Wall" ...

Anywho! I don't know. Happy Memorial Day is sort of a black expression, but it is good to remember that somebody died so we could be free. Many sombodys...

Great post! :o) <3

farawayeyes said...

Very nice.

Happy might not be quite appropriate for a day in which we remember our 'fallen', nor the normal BBQ, camping trip, or kick off to the summer.

Happy might be reserved for the day when there are no more fallen to remember, the poppies come up on the fields in only white splendor and there is no more war.

mshatch said...

Excellent point. And I would agree with Far Away Eyes.

cleemckenzie said...

I wasn't going to post on Memorial Day either, then I started thinking how important it is that we not forget. Maybe our words will keep the real reason for this holiday in the minds of the next generation.

Thank you for your post.

Nancy Thompson said...

Never forget. It's not a holiday. It's a day to remember.

Andrew Leon said...

I think I remember studying him in school... but it's all a bit hazy. We studied several WWI poets, so he must have been one of them.

maine character said...

If you say "Happy Memorial Day," you're not doing it right.

Zan Marie said...

I've always loved McCrae's poem and have read it manny times in my history classes. Good to remember it today.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Matthew .. McCrae's poem is one of those standards for our Remembrance Day .. it is so evocative .. I love it - the words ring out reminding us of the fallen.

It is exceedingly sad that he died in Boulogne still serving as a medic ..

Glad you reprinted the poem - many thanks .. Hilary

Laura said...

such a beautiful poem, and incredible to think that it was initially discarded.
Lx

A Quiet Corner said...

A touching remembrance...:)JP

Cold As Heaven said...

We don't have Memorial Day over here. Still we had along weekend, to celebrate Pentecost (for those who believe in that stuff).

Anyway, I agree with you hap is no the st adjective to apply i font of the memorial day.

Hope you had a nice weekend >:)

Cold As Heaven

Nick Wilford said...

I can't believe I've not read this poem in full before. Very moving. Thanks for posting it, Matt.

Bryan Russell said...

I've loved that poem ever since I was a kid. I once had to recite it in front of my school, and I still love it.

Barbara Watson said...

When a day is set aside to remember something, it marks that day as important. You did a great job bringing Memorial Day back to what it signifies. IN FLANDERS FIELDS is powerful. Thank you for sharing it.

Stacy Henrie said...

I got excited when I saw this post about Flanders fields! I've set several of my novels during WWI, so it was fun to see this reference. Beautiful poem!