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  • NYS Writers Institute

Poetry Friday: "In Flanders Fields"

"Poppies in Flanders." © Ad Meskens / Wikimedia Commons

It's a blue-sky Friday, and as we enter the long Memorial Day weekend let us take a moment to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice in time of war that allows us the freedom to live in time of peace.

In 2015, Legion Magazine collaborated with the late poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the poem “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae.

Cohen's voice is accompanied by photographs from the First World War.

In Flanders Fields John McCrae (1872-1918)

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.

About the poet

John McCrae was born on November 30, 1872. A Canadian poet, physician, author, artist, soldier, and surgeon, he served in World War I and is best known for his memorial poem “In Flanders Fields.”

McCrae began writing poetry while a student at the Guelph Collegiate Institute in Guelph, Ontario, Canada. As a young boy, he was also interested in the military. He joined the Highfield Cadet Corps at 14 and at 17, enlisted in a militia field battery commanded by his father.

When Britain declared war on Germany in 1914, McCrae volunteered for service at age 41. He was treating the wounded during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915 when his friend and former militia member, Lt. Alexis Helmer, was killed in that battle and buried in a makeshift grave with a simple wooden cross. Wild poppies were already beginning to bloom between the crosses marking the many graves.

On January 28, 1918, after an illness of five days, McCrae died of pneumonia and meningitis. He was buried the following day in the Wimereux Cemetery in northern France, close to the border with Belgium. He was 45 years old.

A collection of his poetry, In Flanders Fields and Other Poems, was published after his death.


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