Stars and Stripes

Stars and Stripes

Saturday, April 9, 2011

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.

On May 3, 1915, Lt. Col. John McCrae penned the poem, In Flanders Field, after a close friend was killed in combat. His words beautifully encompass the irrevocable feeling of loss, sorrow, and utter despondency that is often felt by soldiers in battle. This poem was not the first that McCrae wrote and it would not be the last, however,  it is certainly the one that he is prominently known for and is packed with more emotion than any of his others. This beautiful work is laid out very simply, but we should not consider a simplistic theme uninspired. Although simple, the somewhat mournful, yet hopeful and encouraging tone draws the reader in masterfully. 
McCrae does not use a specific person or character for the persona in this poem, but, instead, he uses the entirety of those fallen in battle to do his speaking. He does not waste time with a deep plot, nor does His goal appear to be one of elegance. But, somehow, in the simplicity of this piece, he does indeed capture the oldest, finest form of elegance- truth. The truth behind the story is that McCrae, who held the position of brigade surgeon, suffered the loss of a good friend a single day before he wrote this. Near broken with grief and pain over the loss of his friend, McCrae uses very descriptive imagery in the first stanza to vividly place the reader on the battlefield. This imagery of a war-torn field covered with poppies foreshadows the rest of the poem in an effort to quickly and blatantly put the reader where the action is. The first stanza appears to be solely responsible for all topographical imagery such as landscape, animal life, and the overall battle scene. In only five lines McCrae paints a pristine picture for the reader to imagine throughout the remainder of the poem.
In the second stanza we see the emergence of the voice of the poem. It comes across as a group of deceased soldiers speaking to those left behind and urging them to continue fighting for, and believe in, their cause. In a total of four lines Lt. Col. McCrae establishes character in the poem by summarizing the lives of the dead. Here is where we begin to see the gross degree of sadness felt by John McCrae. He eloquently describes how those men, like all others involved in war, had lives they enjoyed and families that loved and cared for them and would inevitably be devastated over their premature end.We continue to detect mournful unrest in Lt. Col. McCrae’s words throughout the second stanza until the climax which comes in the third.
Next, the Colonel’s sadness turns from gloomy disgust to hopeful patriotism. McCrae recognizes that what is at stake is bigger than he, his friend, or legions of other men that would eventually fill thousands of caskets throughout World War I. He knew that in order for good to conquer evil in the world real heroism sometimes requires the sacrifice of those whom we love the most. In the third stanza, McCrae writes what every true soldier would say if they could speak from the grave. The voices of the dead give the living instructions and encouragement to continue on in their quest to forever silence their foe.  We see that the mournful attitude in the second stanza is replaced with one of duty in the third. He understood and took comfort in knowing that they did not die in vain but, in fact, they died with honor; they died while doing a hard job that was required to maintain freedom. 
While talking to a friend before the war McCrae said, “I am really rather afraid, but more afraid to stay at home with my conscience.” He knew that life as a soldier would be anything but easy and it would surely require sacrifice in many forms. He chose to go anyway. In Flanders Fields identifies in fifteen lines the essence of true patriotism. By combining different techniques Lt. Col. McCrae created one of the most eloquent and inspiring pieces of poetry of the last century. His words are strategically and purposefully placed in each line to form a simplistic poem, but the ideals behind the words are more powerful than words can describe. Sadly, these ideals required many thousands of lives to bring them to pass, but without them our world would not be the free world that it is. 

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