In Flanders Fields Analysis

In the poem  "In Flanders Field" by John McCrae, what can be seen and what images or sounds can help us understand the poem?

It's a poem by John McCrae.

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the poem "In Flanders Field," by John McCrae, the overriding images are of order and bucolic beauty. The scene is a cemetery, with poppies growing between row upon row of crosses, while in the sky above, larks fly "bravely" by. The peaceful scene is deceiving, however, and the song of the larks can barely be heard over the sound of "the guns below."

The speakers of the words of the poem are the Dead, those killed in the war. Just days ago, they were living and able to enjoy the natural beauty of the earth and human relationships - they "lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow," but now, alas, they lie beneath the crosses in Flanders Field.

The sinister and tragic undertones beneath the peaceful scene of poppies and pristine white crosses bring home to the reader the meaning of the poem. The sound of the guns and the voices of the Dead are not far removed from the images of serenity, emphasizing the vulnerability of life and how quickly it can be extinguished. Also, the image of the torch provides a stark reminder of duty, a plea by the dead that those who remain on earth and still enjoy the loveliness of life take up the cause for which they died. If those who live on fail to act in their stead, the Dead will not rest, despite the peaceful appearance of their final resting place in Flanders Field.

Here is the poem in song version:

mkcapen1 | Student

The poem "Flanders Field" by John Mcrae paints us a picture of rows of crosses with poppies coming up between them.  Birds are flying overhead while guns go off honoring he dead. 

The author then creates the image that the people are all dead beneath the crosses but not long ago had been alive.  They had been real with love and eyes that had seen the dawn.

He is then explaining that those who are left behind must not have let the others have died in vain and must carry on fighting the enemy.

Certain elements give us the images such as the crosses in a row, the poppies, larks overhead, the sound of the guns overpowering the sound of the birds.


renoa | Student


One of the first poems that were affected by the theme of wars is "In Flanders Fields" by John MacRae


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.



'Flanders is a region of Europe covering neighboring parts of Belgium, France and the Netherlands. Its chief cities are Ghent and Bruges, and its inhabitants have their own language, Flemish, as well as either French or Dutch. Fierce battles were fought on this territory - much of it farmland - in the First World War, including the three battles of Ypres (Ieper in Flemish) in which many thousands died.


John McRae's commanding officer records that 'this poem was born of fire and blood during the hottest phase of the second battle of Ypres'. This battle began on April 22 1915 and lasted 17 days. Total casualties have been estimated at 100,000 on either side. Half the Canadian brigade to which John McRae was attached were killed. Shortly afterwards a profoundly weary McRae was posted away from the front line, to a hospital in Boulogne. Friends were worried by the change in him. He worked at the hospital until January 1918, and was about to take up a post with the British army. But he fell ill with double pneumonia and meningitis, and died on January 28.




At this poem the poet reveals that the poem is not a simple expression. What he has written is a dramatic speech spoken by the voices of 'the Dead'  soldiers buried in a war cemetery behind the front line. The Dead's memories are of sunrise and sunset, love and friendship, not of their violent and terrible deaths   nor of the killings they had committed before they died. Yet it is killing they have in mind.


Nowadays the last stanza is often left out, because of its violence. The Dead want their deaths to be justified by the war: "more men must kill and die" . Without this, the Dead  'shall not sleep'  and that 'shall' has the force of a judgment.