Guide Written by Michael J. Cummings...©
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.
rhyme scheme of "In Flanders Fields" and other rondeaux is aabba, aabc,
of Composition and Publication
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,
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."
red poppies thrived in the broken ground of the battlefield, he included
them in the poem as symbols of the fallen soldiers buried there. The variety
of poppies associated with the Flanders war dead is Papaver rhoeas.
(To see pictures of these poppies, click
here.) After McCrae's poem was published, citizens in many countries
began to display poppies or wear paper poppies in observance of Armistice
Day and other holidays honoring war veterans.
his service in Belgium, McCrae treated wounded soldiers in France. He died
of pneumonia in 1918 .
wrote the poem in first-person plural, using our and we
to indicate that the speakers are the war dead.
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
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.
of figures of speech in the poem are as follows:
of a Consonant Sound
Line 1: Flanders
Line 2: crosses,
Lines 3, 4, 5: and in the
/ The larks,
fly / Scarce
Line 7: saw
Line 8: Loved
and were loved,
and now we lie
Lines 10, 11: with the foe:
/ To you from failing
Line 12: hold
Syllables, Repetition of a Vowel Sound Followed by a Different Consonant
Line 13: break,
of Unlike Things Without Using Like, As, or Than
Line 12: Torch, which is
being compared to the duty that the dead soldiers are passing on to the
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
Line 12, Torch: Duty,
of the Poem
the poem was published in 1915, lines 3, 4, 8, 9, 12, 13, and 15 were indented
as in the following rendering of the poem.
In Flanders fields the poppies
Between the crosses, row
mark our place; and in the sky
larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns
We are the Dead. Short days
We lived, felt dawn, saw
and were loved, and now we lie
Take up our quarrel with
To you from failing hands
torch; be yours to hold it high.
ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though
the Poem as It Was Published in Punch in 1915
Passing the Torch
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
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
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.
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.
2. What do the words felt
dawn (line 7) mean?
3. Write an essay explaining
why such a short poem remains popular today. For example, you might point
out that its sentiments can apply to any war, not just World War I. You
might also discuss the effect of the poem's rhythmic language.
Would the poem have been as effective if it had expressed the feelings
of a battlefield survivor lamenting the death of his comrades?