Who is the speaker of “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae?

The speaker of “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae is a group of World War I soldiers killed and buried in Belgium. The speaker is not one person, but innumerable casualties of ground combat. Poppy flowers decorate the field where many men were laid to rest after losing their once-vibrant lives. The speaker asks readers to continue their fight so that they (the soldiers) can rest in peace.

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After witnessing carnage (including a close friend’s death) on the battlefield of Ypres Salient during World War I, Canadian poet-physician John McCrae composed “In Flanders Fields.” In this poem, the speaker laments the loss of life in ground combat and describes the titular meadow where slain soldiers are buried.

The first stanza hints at whom the speaker may be with:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place.

Troops killed in battle have been buried on the battlefield. Marked by crosses, their graves are surrounded by poppies. Poppy flowers were plentiful in the battlefields; today they are worn in remembrance of WWI. Poppies also represent death, peace, and sleep.

The second stanza makes the speaker’s identity more obvious:

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.

The speaker is a collective entity composed of recently deceased foot soldiers. After experiencing life—witnessing the sunrise and sunset, giving and receiving love—they now lie in rest below the Belgian field. This group wishes for future readers to not only remember them, but also carry on:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.

The speaker implores future generations to take up and continue their cause; if not, the soldiers will have perished in vain and remain unable to rest peacefully despite being surrounded by the symbol of sleep:

If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on

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