"In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae
“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. Canadian 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, 22 years old, the day before. The poem was first published on 8 December of that year in the London-based magazine Punch.
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. However, this story is rejected by the editor at the time:
“A legend has already grown up around the publication of “In Flanders Fields” in Punch. The truth is, ‘that the poem was offered in the usual way and accepted; that is all.’ The usual way of offering a piece to an editor is to put it in an envelope with a postage stamp outside to carry it there, and a stamp inside to carry it back. Nothing else helps.“
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.