Can anyone summarize the content of the poem "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae?
This poem, "In Flanders Fields," was written by John McCrae, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Canadian Army during World War I. He served as a surgeon, and the poem is clearly a reaction to the horrors and death as well as the moments of poignant beauty he experienced during his time of service. The site I've included gives more background, if you're interested.
The poem is fairly straightforward. Stanza one depicts moments of beauty in the midst of death.
In Flanders Fields the poppies
Blow between the crosses row on row
That mark their place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
Poppies are a brilliant red, which is certainly appropriate for the tenor of the poem; otherwise, in this stanza, everything seems so peaceful and calm and normal despite the ravages of war which rage on the ground. The next line dispels this normalcy with three simple words:
We are the Dead.
Stanza two goes on to say that just a few "short days ago" these men did everything "normal" people did:
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.
The final stanza is a call to arms made from the grave. Those who have died are passing their weapons and "passing the torch" of their intent to win this war to those who can still fight. The last lines could possibly be seen as a threat, beginning with the words "If you don't." Instead, it's more of an encouragement.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.
This is a typical war poem in the sense that it treats the war as an unpleasant reality. It is particularly striking, again, because of that peaceful field of poppies blowing in the wind as soldiers fight and men die.
On a personal note, I had students memorize this poem one year more than twenty-five years ago, and that haunting image of poppies blowing in a field has stayed with me ever since.