Rituals of solace and gratitude on Memorial Day. About Poppies and Lieut. Col. John M. McCrae poem In Flanders Fields

photos: Poppies bloomed before lilacs in Gloucester, Ma. 2022 (Salt Island Road, Eastern Ave., elsewhere)

I wrote about the poet and his poem, In Flanders Field, in prior posts. Republishing excerpts with links:

“Veteran of the Boer War and WWI, a teacher, and doctor, Canadian John McCrae wrote In Flanders Fields in the spring of 1915 while still at the bloody battlefront in Ypres, Belgium, in an area known as Flanders. The Germans had already used deadly gas. Dr. McCrae had been tending to hundreds of wounded daily. He described the nightmare slaughter: “behind it all was the constant background of the sights of the dead, the wounded, the maimed.”  By this time he had already devoted his life to art and healing. He couldn’t save his friends. How could anyone?  

Twenty years prior, he sketched poppies during his medical residency in Maryland. He published poems and stories by the time he was 16.  I’m not surprised he noticed the brilliant fragile petals and horror. He wrote for those who couldn’t speak and those who had to see.

Meningitis and pneumonia killed him January 1918 after several months battling asthma and bronchitis. His poem and the emblematic poppy continue to inspire and comfort…”

Catherine Ryan, see 2016 GMG

In Flanders Fields was penned by Lieut. Col. John M. McCrae, Canadian physician and soldier, during the First World War, following the first German chemical attack, early spring 1916, Second Battle of Ypres. Bonescattered, torn and trampled fields germinated scarlet poppies and so many, many simple white crosses.

The fallen went from war to peace.

In Flanders Fields was first published in London Punch December 1915. By March 1916, American newspapers carried the poem ( including Norwich Bulletin, and KY Citizen, June, 1916)

McCrae died in France in 1918, and there rests in peace and vitality.

The common poppies sway by design, are tall and reaching; their architecture flings the seeds further and their flowers appear to open and close, intermittent as firecracker displays. (Individual flowers bloom for (mostly) a day, but the one plant will produce hundreds of flowers over the season.) The large translucent blooms indeed blow, glow and grow. Those adjectives in the first line opener of McCrae’s poem have swapped around in different versions. “Blow” it is.”

Catherine Ryan see June 2021 GMG

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