“In Flanders fields the poppies blow between the crosses…”
Now we call it Veterans Day, but it used to be known as Armistice Day, marking the cessation of hostilities on the western front on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.”
Veterans Day is the perfect time to share with your students the famous poem of World War I, “In Flanders Fields.” This haunting poem vividly captures the scene at the Second Battle of Ypres. It was written by Col. John McCrae, a Canadian physician treating soliders at the battle. He was particularly affected by the death of a young friend and former student, Lt. Alexis Helmer of Ottawa. Lt. Helmer was buried in the cemetery outside McCrae’s dressing station, and the doctor performed the funeral ceremony in the absence of the chaplain.
Col. McCrae wrote “In Flanders Fields” during one of his breaks. Legend has it that he rejected the poem, but that a fellow officer sent it to be considered for publication. The poem became hugely popular. Canadian professor and humanitarian Moina Michael composed a poem inspired by “In Flanders Fields” and vowed to always wear a red poppy as a symbol of remembrance of those who served in the war. After the war, she taught a class of disabled veterans and pursued the idea of selling silk poppies to raise funds to assist disabled veterans.
You and your students will enjoy the picture book In Flanders Fields: The Story of the Poem by John McCrae. This beautifully illustrated book tells the story far better than a blog post ever could.
Note: to understand the poem, students need to know that poppies are opiates that cause people to sleep. Poppies, particularly blood-red poppies, have long been used as symbols of death and sleep. In Greek and Roman myths, poppies were used as offerings to the dead. I describe an image that’s easy for children to understand—the Wicked Witch of the West casting poppies in the fields as Dorothy et.al. approached the Wizard of Oz.
Download my worksheet (pdf) about “In Flanders Fields.”
Read on to enjoy this beautiful and haunting poem.
In Flanders Fields
by Col. John McCrae
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.