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"In Flanders Fields" is one of the most famous poems written during World War I, created in the form of a French rondeau. It has been called "the most popular poem" produced during that period. Canadianmarker physician and Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae wrote it on 3 May 1915 (see 1915 in poetry), after he witnessed the death of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, only 22 years old, the day before. The poem was first published on 8th December of that year in the Londonmarker-based magazine Punch.

Historical context

The poppies referred to in the poem grew in profusion in Flanders in the spoiled earth of the battlefields and cemeteries where war casualties were buried and thus became a symbol of Remembrance Day. The poem is part of Remembrance Day solemnities in Allied countries which contributed troops to World War I, particularly in countries of the British Empire that did so.

The poem "In Flanders Fields" was written after John McCrae witnessed the death, and presided over the funeral, of a friend, Lt. Alexis Helmer. By most accounts it was written in his notebook and later rejected by McCrae. Ripped out of his notebook, it was rescued by a fellow officer, Francis Alexander Scrimger, and later published in Punch magazine.

In Flanders Fields

Status

The torch; be yours to hold it high.


In 1915 US professor Moina Michael inspired by the poem published a poem of her own in response, called We Shall Keep the Faith. In tribute to the opening lines of McCrae's poem -- "In Flanders fields the poppies blow / Between the crosses row on row," -- Michael vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance for those who served in the war.

The poem has achieved near-mythic status in contemporary Canada and is one of the nation's most prominent symbols. Most Remembrance Day ceremonies will feature a reading of the poem in some form (it is also sung a cappella in some places), and most Canadian schoolchildren memorize the verse.The poem is part of Remembrance Day ceremonies in the United Kingdom, where it holds as one of the nation's best-loved.

A portion of the poem is now printed on Canadian $10 notes, where it spawned a rumour that the poem had been misprinted, resulting from popular confusion between the first line's "blow" and the penultimate line's "grow."The use of "grow" in the first line is, however, an authentic variation.It appears in at least one autograph (see In Flanders Fields, and Other Poems), and schools in Guelphmarker (McCrae's birthplace) once taught that "the poppies grow" could refer to spreading blood stains on the shallow graves.

Criticisms

Critic Paul Fussell, in The Great War and Modern Memory, pointed out the sharp distinctions between the pastoral, sacrificial tone of the poem's first nine lines and the "recruiting-poster rhetoric" of the poem's third stanza; Fussell said the poem, appearing in 1915, would serve to denigrate any negotiated peace which would end the war, and called these lines "a propaganda argument," saying "words like vicious and stupid would not seem to go too far." Modern public readings of the poem, however, stress the debt to the dead and the necessity to honour their memory in ceremonies often focusing on the sacrifice and sorrow of war.

Other versions

An official adaptation into French, used by the Canadian government in Remembrance Day ceremonies, was written by Jean Pariseaumarker and is entitled Au champ d'honneur.

In popular culture

An episode of The Simpsons called "When Flanders Failed" (#38–3) is an implicit reference to this poem. In the audio commentary to this episode which was recorded in 2003 Matt Groening, Al Jean, Mike Reiss, Jon Vitti and Jim Reardon talk about writer Jeff Martin who came up with this "World War I reference which no one ever gets".

The song "We Are the Lost" by the group Libera paraphrases this poem along with For the Fallen, sung as a choral hymn.

The poem is referenced by Mort Shuman in his translation of the song "Marieke" by Jacques Brel as well as by Siouxsie & the Banshees in "Poppy Day" from their second LP "Join Hands". The song was adapted as the song "Flanders Fields" by The Escalators on their 1983 album "Moving Staircases" and also Big Head Todd and the Monsters on their 1989 debut album "Another Mayberry". The Guess Who parody the song in Friends of Mine.

In the TV special What Have We Learned, Charlie Brown?, Linus recites the poem while standing in front of the remnants of a battlefield in Ypresmarker, including the British aid station where McCrae was inspired to write the poem.

The poem is referenced in the film Mr. Holland's Opus and Herman Wouk's novel City Boy.

The line "To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high" is written on the wall of the Montreal Canadiens' dressing room. It is also inscribed upon the base of the flagpole at the American Cemetery, Madingley, Cambridge UK.

"The Piper" written by the fictional Walter Blythe in L. M. Montgomery's Rilla of Ingleside is a tribute to In Flanders Fieldmarker in content and form as well as Walter's Canadian nationality.

In an Episode of "Marcus Welby, MD" a broken-down director has an unfinished script entitled "Flanders' Field". It was unfinished because during the making of this anti-war film, Pearl Harbor was attacked. Of course, a young film student helps the director (while Dr. Welby heals him physically) complete the film to accolades.

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