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In Flanders Fields

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In Flanders Field, Hasfield Church - geograph.org.uk - 1551910

McCrae's poem on the wall of Hasfield Church, Gloucestershire, UK. Courtesy Geograph.org.

"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.[1] Canadian physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae is popularly believed to have written it on May 3, 1915), 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.

In Flanders Fields Edit

In Flanders fields and other poems, handwritten

A handwritten, autographed copy of the poem from McCrae's book. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

The first chapter of In Flanders Fields, and other poems (a posthumous 1919 collection of McCrae's poems) gives the text of the poem as follows:

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.


An autographed copy of the poem (reproduced at the start of this same book) uses grow (instead of blow) in the first line. The book includes a note seeking to explain the discrepancy by saying: "This was probably written from memory".

Historical context Edit

File:In Flanders Fields and other poems page 3.png

Though various legends have developed as to the inspiration for the poem, the most commonly held belief is that McCrae wrote "In Flanders Fields" on 3 May 1915, the day after presiding over the funeral and burial of his friend Lieutenant Alex Helmer, who had been killed during the Second Battle of Ypres. The poem was written as he sat upon the back of a medical field ambulance near an advance dressing post at Essex Farm, just north of Ypres. The poppy, which was a central feature of the poem, grew in great numbers in the spoiled earth of the battlefields and cemeteries of Flanders.

The poppies referred to in the poem grew in profusion in Flanders in the disturbed earth of the battlefields and cemeteries where war casualties were buried[2] and thus became a symbol of Remembrance Day (see Remembrance poppy). The poem is often part of Remembrance Day solemnities in Allied countries which contributed troops to World War I, particularly in countries of the British Empire that did so.

The poem "In Flanders Fields" was written after John McCrae witnessed the death, and presided over the funeral, of a friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer.[3] By most accounts it was written in his notebook[4] and later rejected by McCrae. Ripped out of his notebook, it was rescued by a fellow officer, Francis Alexander Scrimger, and later published in Punch magazine. However, this story is rejected by the editor at the time:
"A legend has already grown up around the publication of "In Flanders Fields" in Punch. The truth is, 'that the poem was offered in the usual way and accepted; that is all.' The usual way of offering a piece to an editor is to put it in an envelope with a postage stamp outside to carry it there, and a stamp inside to carry it back. Nothing else helps."[5]

Status Edit

File:RemembrancePoppies.jpg

In 1918 US professor Moina Michael, inspired by the poem, published a poem of her own in response, called We Shall Keep the Faith.[6] In tribute to the opening lines of McCrae's poem -- "In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses row on row," -- Michael vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in the war.[7] The poem has achieved near-mythical status in contemporary Canada and is one of the nation's most prominent symbols. Most Remembrance Day ceremonies will feature a reading of the poem in some form (it is also sung in some places), and many Canadian school children memorize the verse. A quotation from the poem appears on the Canadian ten-dollar bill. The poem is part of Remembrance Day ceremonies in the United Kingdom, where it holds as one of the nation's best-loved, and is occasionally featured in Memorial Day ceremonies in the United States.(Citation needed) The poem is printed in materials published by veterans' organizations in Canada[8] and the United States.[9] The use of "grow" in the first line appears in a handwritten and autographed copy for the 1919 edition of McCrae's poems; the editor, Andrew Macphail, notes in the caption, "This was probably written from memory as "grow" is used in place of "blow" in the first line." [5] However, a tracing of a holograph copy on the letterhead of Captain Gilbert Tyndale-Lea M.C. now held by the Imperial War Museum claims that the original dates from 29 April 1915 and that it was given to the captain by the poet on that date. This clearly shows 'grow' in the first line and would change the publicly-held belief as to its date of composition and original first line.[10] This was certainly changed by the time he submitted it to Punch for publication in December of that year. The truth of whether McCrae originally wrote 'grow' or 'blow' in the first line might never clearly be established.

Other versions Edit

File:In Flanders Fields (1921) page 1.png

An illustrated edition of the poem was published in 1921, with a preface by William Thomas Manning.[11] An official adaptation into French, used by the Canadian government in Remembrance Day ceremonies, was written by Jean Pariseau and is entitled Au champ d'honneur.(Citation needed)

Musical settings Edit

"In Flanders Fields" is sung, rather than recited, every year at the televised national Remembrance Day service at Ottawa, Canada. The musical setting that has been used for many years is the Soprano and Alto version of a composition by a Canadian, Alexander Tilley. Tilley's setting of the poem also exists in a full choral arrangement for S.A.T.B. chorus with pianoforte accompaniment. On their 1979 album Join Hands rock band Siouxsie & the Banshees used the first lines of the poem for the song "Poppy Day".

See alsoEdit

References Edit

Notes Edit

  1. Paul Fussell, The Great War and Modern Memory, Oxford University Press, 2000, (ISBN 0195133323), p. 248.
  2. The tendency of red poppies to grow on the fresh graves of soldiers in the fields of northern Europe has been noted at least from Napoleonic times. In 1855 Lord Macaulay, writing about the site of the Battle of Landen (in modern Belgium, not far from Ypres) in 1693, wrote "The next summer the soil, fertilised by twenty thousand corpses, broke forth into millions of poppies. The traveller who, on the road from Saint Tron to Tirlemont, saw that vast sheet of rich scarlet spreading from Landen to Neerwinden, could hardly help fancying that the figurative prediction of the Hebrew prophet was literally accomplished, that the earth was disclosing her blood, and refusing to cover the slain." See The History and Poetry of "In Flanders Fields".
  3. "Casualty Details Helmer, Alexis Hannum". Commonwealth War Graves Commission. http://www.cwgc.org/search/casualty_details.aspx?casualty=1592956. 
  4. Michael Robert Patterson. "Arlingtoncemetery.net". Arlingtoncemetery.net. http://www.arlingtoncemetery.net/flanders.htm. Retrieved 2011-02-25. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Macphail, Andrew (1919). "John McCrae: An essay in character". In Flanders Fields and Other Poems. http://books.google.com/books?id=FXkoAQAAIAAJ. 
  6. "Moina Michael". Digital Library of Georgia/University of Georgia. http://georgiainfo.galileo.usg.edu/mmichael.htm. Retrieved 2009-02-18. 
  7. "Where did the idea to sell poppies come from?". BBC News. 10 November 2006. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/6133312.stm. Retrieved 2009-02-18. 
  8. Teachers' Guide, Royal Canadian Legion, p. 20.
  9. "Buddy Poppy", Veterans of Foreign Wars.
  10. First World War Poetry Archive, http://www.oucs.ox.ac.uk/ww1lit/collections/item/1643 c.f. Imperial War Museum Record
  11. McCrae, John (1921). In Flanders Fields. William Thomas Manning, Ernest Clegg (illustrations) (limited edition ed.). William Edwin Rudge. 

External links Edit

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