In Flanders Fields

I began school in 1970 and one of my most vivid memories is of the reciting of “In Flanders Fields” on every November 11th. John McCrae’s poem, along with the poppy, are the most powerful symbols of the First World War in Canada.

The poem has been published thousands of times since it was written in early May 1915 but McCrae’s initial attempt to have it published failed.  The Spectator in London rejected his prose but fortunately for us Punch published it anonymously in its December 8th, 1915 issue. I’ve included a scan of page 468 showing the poem’s first appearance in print.

page 468

page 468

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.

3 replies

  1. Most likely way ‘In Flanders Fields’ became published in a timely period would be
    the presence McCrae’s Boer War vet friend (Sir) Edward W B Morrison, “Dinky” born London Ontario – an Ottawa newspaperman in civilian life.
    A good read, online accessible, is their earlier adventures as recorded in ‘With the
    Guns in South Africa’.

  2. In looking up Sir Dinky, you should come across a sketch he made of the scene
    McCrae was contemplating, and there is also one attributed to the poet himself,
    who sketched sometimes himself. Such a contrast with today’s images of what a
    temporary battlefield graveyard would look like – all jollied up with poppies galore,,
    As if he’d writing an ode to that flower not the thoughts of the newly-fallen.
    Need to read his 1917 one, ‘The Anxious Dead’, to understand the need to give
    value to their sacrifice by pressing on to victory over the foe.

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