Sunday, November 15, 2009


After reading my entry last week, "Eleven Eleven," about the commemoration of the end of World War I on Armistice (Poppy) Day, my cousin sent me a copy of the original of In Flanders Fields, the famous poem by the Canadian physician, John McCrae, who served as an army Lieutenant Colonel. He died, not on the battlefield, but of pneumonia.

It's many years since I first read it--any years, indeed, since I last read it--and I had it classified in my head with the anti-war poems of men like Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen, so I was surprised when I came to that last stanza. "Take up our quarrel with the foe" sounds more like a call to arms than a call for peace; and "If you break faith with us who die..." has the distinct ring of a threat. Guess I should have read it more closely all those years ago--or read what was there rather than what I wanted to see. The first two stanzas are quite beautiful and seem to promise something different from the last, vengeful one. Understandably, I guess, since McCrae had just watched his good comrade die.

I trust, though, that McCrae--along with those other men who died too young in the First World War--is sleeping peacefully among the poppies, if sleep is possible after we human beings depart this planet. Not to mention those who followed all too soon, in World War II, and Korea, and Vietnam, and Iraq and, now, in Afghanistan. And all those other conflicts...

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