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
Composed at the battlefront on May 3, 1915
during the second battle of Ypres, Belgium
The poem, as printed in In Flanders Fields and Other Poems
"In Flanders Fields" is one of the most notable poems written during World War I, created in the form of a French rondeau. It has been called "the most popular poem" produced during that period. Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote it on 3 May 1915 (see 1915 in poetry), after he witnessed the death of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, 22 years old, the day before. The poem was first published on 8 December of that year in the London-based magazine Punch.
"On May 2, 1915, John McCrae’s close friend and former student Alexis Helmer was killed by a German shell. That evening, in the absence of a Chaplain, John McCrae recited from memory a few passages from the Church of England’s “Order of the Burial of the Dead”. For security reasons Helmer’s burial in Essex Farm Cemetery was performed in complete darkness.
The next day, May 3, 1915, Sergeant-Major Cyril Allinson was delivering mail. McCrae was sitting at the back of an ambulance parked near the dressing station beside the YserCanal, just a few hundred yards north of Ypres, Belgium.
As John McCrae was writing his In Flanders Fields poem, Allinson silently watched and later recalled, “His face was very tired but calm as he wrote. He looked around from time to time, his eyes straying to Helmer's grave."
Within moments, John McCrae had completed the “In Flanders Fields” poem and when he was done, without a word, McCrae took his mail and handed the poem to Allinson.
Allinson was deeply moved:
“The (Flanders Fields) poem was an exact description of the scene in front of us both. He used the word blow in that line because the poppies actually were being blown that morning by a gentle east wind. It never occurred to me at that time that it would ever be published. It seemed to me just an exact description of the scene."
The world is still bearing witness to many thousands of people killed this year, 2011, due to wars of a myrid different kinds, fought on as many different fronts. From Libya to Somalia, Mexico to Syria, the sorrowful fact is that wars have become or in some cases they have actually always been a way of life for many across the globe. Israel and Palestine, for example. Imagine that....a millenia of waring against the same foe. How depressingly pointless it all must feel. How passe! The examples of democracy we witness around the world, though painfully flawed and tarnished, remain our best bravest hope for a world of equality, fairness and yes - peace - for all humankind!
Oppression and tyranny is still being fought against, just as our forefathers fought against it too. 'They gave up their tomorrows so we could have our todays', one memorable quote I saw on a Facebook feed read today.
On this day, Remembrance Day, we take a moment to remember... all those who have laid their lives down for the struggle for freedom and democracy, for those who have died to overthrow tyrants, and to give thought to those who still struggle and fight today. May the dead rest in peace and may the living endure all evils to see a future without strife where true freedom and democracy exist - for all. Lest we forget.