Friday, November 11, 2005

In Flanders Fields

Veterans' Day. . . . Armistice Day. . . . Remembrance Day.

By whatever name it goes from country to country, today is an appropriate time to post what was almost certainly the most popular poem to come out of the First World War. Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian doctor who served the British Empire in both the Boer War and World War I, published "In Flanders Fields" in December 1915. The poem memorializes those who died fighting in the Second Battle of Ypres of April 1915, a battle in which Germany used chlorine gas with deadly effect.

Soon after it appeared, the poem was used on military recruiting posters and in war bond campaigns. Later, after it had become apparent just how costly the Great War had been, "In Flanders Fields" would be read as an anti-war anthem.

McCrae himself died before the war was over, on January 28, 1918. As with so many other casualties of the war, it was disease, not gas or gunshot or shrapnel, that killed him. Dr. McCrae died from complications of pneumonia and meningitis.

In Flanders Fields
John McCrae

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.