By John A. McCrae (1872-1918)
A Study Guide
Study Guide Written by Michael J. Cummings...© 2010
Type of Work
Flanders Fields" is a lyric poem
in the format of a French rondeau. A rondeau consists of three stanzas
with a total of fifteen lines. Lines 9 and 15 are the same--that is, they
make up a refrain. Line 9 occurs at the end of the second stanza and line
15 at the end of the third stanza. These lines are very short and rhyme
only with each other and not with any other lines. In a rondeau, all lines
except 9 and 15 generally contain eight syllables each.
.......John A. McCrae, a lieutenant-colonel and physician in the Canadian Army, wrote the poem in early May 1915 after witnessing the death of a friend. The poem appeared without a byline in the December 8, 1915, issue of Punch, or the London Charivari, a British publication.
A. McCrae, a pathologist and university professor in Canada, enlisted in
the First Brigade of the Canadian Artillery shortly after his country entered
the First World War in 1914. When allied troops battled the Germans in
and around the town of Ypres in the Flanders region of Belgium in 1915,
McCrae was serving in this area with his artillery unit. In May 1915, he
witnessed the death of a friend in the Second Battle of Ypres. In response,
he wrote "In Flanders Fields."
.......McCrae wrote the poem in first-person plural, using our and we to indicate that the speakers are the war dead.
.......McCrae presents the poem in iambic tetrameter, in which a line has four pairs of syllables. The first syllable in a pair is unstressed and the second is stressed. The first two lines of "In Flanders Fields" demonstrate the metric pattern:
........ Each of the end rhymes in McCrae's poem is masculine, a rhyme in which the final syllable of one line mimics the sound of the final syllable of another line. Examples: blow, row, below; sky, fly, lie.
.......Examples of figures of speech in the poem are as follows:
Line 1: Flanders
Line 13: break, faith
Line 12: Torch, which is being compared to the duty that the dead soldiers are passing on to the living.
Lines 1, 14, Poppies:
The war dead. From the blood they shed on the battlefield, seeds germinated,
sprouted, and grew into beautiful red flowers that inspire and hearten
the living. Line 4, Larks: One may interpret them as symbols of
people who have the courage and perseverance to carry on with life amid
Passing the Torch
.......The dead soldiers pass on to the living the duty to continue the fight, as the concluding stanza states. But one may regard the enemy as any foe, including prejudice, disease, poverty, hunger, ignorance, crime, and intolerance.
The Courage to Carry On
.......Amid the horror of war, the strong and the brave carry on with everyday living, refusing to cower before the enemy, as line 4 suggests: The larks, still bravely singing, fly. In the German attack on England in 1940 and 1941, the British persevered against a steady onslaught of air bombardments. Between September 7 and early November, 1940, German aircraft attacked London every night. Buildings crumbled. Fires consumed whole neighborhoods. But because the larks kept singing, the German attack failed.
Killing the Future
.......One day the soldiers buried in Flanders Fields were young and healthy, vibrant with hopes and dreams. A few days later, war struck them down--without warning, indiscriminately--leaving them sprawled on a meadow far from home.
Study Questions and Writing Topics
1. Write a short poem that
expresses your feelings about the death of a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan
or another person who died an early death.