Lest We Forget

777px-Lest_we_forget

Happy Remembrance Day, all.

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.

Comments

  1. Thanks for this, Steve.

    A favorite musical setting of this text (go to: [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CVEozjQDMM0]).

  2. Thanks. I read my copy of the poem to my son over breakfast this morning. I live in the U.S. now, but still wear my poppy on this day. I don’t get many comments about it, but I wonder if people realize why I’m wearing it.

  3. Our school held a service at 11am. There is a picture on the wall of the school in 1913. There are around 100 boys, a third of which lost their lives including the headmaster’s son. In the First World War at least, the lie rang loud and true: dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.

  4. Makes me want to dust off my BritLit anthology and read some Wilfred Owen.

  5. (referring to RJH’s dulce et decorum est reference, not the McRae poem in the OP)

  6. McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” remains to this day one of the most memorable war poems ever written. It is a lasting legacy of the terrible battle in the Ypres salient in the spring of 1915. Here is the story of the making of that poem:
    Although he had been a doctor for years and had served in the South African War, it was impossible to get used to the suffering, the screams, and the blood here, and Major John McCrae had seen and heard enough in his dressing station to last him a lifetime.

    As a surgeon attached to the 1st Field Artillery Brigade, Major McCrae, who had joined the McGill faculty in 1900 after graduating from the University of Toronto, had spent seventeen days treating injured men — Canadians, British, Indians, French, and Germans — in the Ypres salient.

    It had been an ordeal that he had hardly thought possible. McCrae later wrote of it:

    “I wish I could embody on paper some of the varied sensations of that seventeen days… Seventeen days of Hades! At the end of the first day if anyone had told us we had to spend seventeen days there, we would have folded our hands and said it could not have been done.”

    One death particularly affected McCrae. A young friend and former student, Lieut. Alexis Helmer of Ottawa, had been killed by a shell burst on 2 May 1915. Lieutenant Helmer was buried later that day in the little cemetery outside McCrae’s dressing station, and McCrae had performed the funeral ceremony in the absence of the chaplain.

    The next day, sitting on the back of an ambulance parked near the dressing station beside the Canal de l’Yser, just a few hundred yards north of Ypres, McCrae vented his anguish by composing a poem. The major was no stranger to writing, having authored several medical texts besides dabbling in poetry.

    In the nearby cemetery, McCrae could see the wild poppies that sprang up in the ditches in that part of Europe, and he spent twenty minutes of precious rest time scribbling fifteen lines of verse in a notebook.

    A young soldier watched him write it. Cyril Allinson, a twenty-two year old sergeant-major, was delivering mail that day when he spotted McCrae. The major looked up as Allinson approached, then went on writing while the sergeant-major stood there quietly. “His face was very tired but calm as we wrote,” Allinson recalled. “He looked around from time to time, his eyes straying to Helmer’s grave.”

    When McCrae finished five minutes later, he took his mail from Allinson and, without saying a word, handed his pad to the young NCO. Allinson was moved by what he read:

    “The poem was exactly 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.”

    In fact, it was very nearly not published. Dissatisfied with it, McCrae tossed the poem away, but a fellow officer retrieved it and sent it to newspapers in England. The Spectator, in London, rejected it, but Punch published it on 8 December 1915.

  7. Molly Bennion says:

    Thank you, Steve. My grandfather’s brother, a Scot in his teens, died at Flanders and I did not know McCrae’s poem. Thank you, me, for the history.

  8. A beautiful and fitting poem, Steve.

    We all owe a debt that cannot properly be repaid in this life.

  9. Thanks, Steve.

  10. When I was in elementary school Mr. Shaw, a WWI vet, lived across the street. Every year he’d be invited over and we’d get recite “In Flanders Fields” for him.

  11. A few years ago, while in Israel, I stumbled across a WWI cemetary in Beersheva. Walking along the rows and rows of white crosses, listing the names of too many young men from Australia and England, was a deeply moving experience that I’ll never forget. What surprised me was that there was a fresh wreath on the main memorial of the cemetary. I was glad that there are some who still remember those young men who gave their lives in that terrible war.

  12. We should spend more time walking the rows of crosses in those military cemeteries, whether in Israel or at Omaha Beach or at Gettysburg or the Punchbowl or Arlington or Manila or any number of other places, and then we

    would not tell with such high zest
    To children ardent for some desperate glory,
    The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
    Pro patria mori.

  13. David Ewell says:

    While Dr. McRae’s poem is filled with sorrow, I do not see in it any evidence of cynicism about his country’s war aims. On the contrary, the narrator expects those left alive to go on fighting. I suspect that had I spent so much as a day in one of those violent and filthy trenches, I might well have broken down. That so many did not break even after years of fighting remains beyond my understanding. There is more than one sacrifice before which I stand all amazed.

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