2020, Amanda's Sketchbook, Revenant

In Flanders Fields

Lt. Col. John McCrae may no longer be a household name, but his most famous work should be.

3 May 1915: Lt. Col. John McCrae, upon learning of the death of his friend Lt. Alexis Helmer during the Second Battle of Ypres, wrote the iconic rondeau In Flanders Fields. However, he was apparently dissatisfied with the work and tossed it out. After he discarded it, McCrae’s fellow soldiers retrieved it, and the poem was first published on 8 Dec. 1915 in a London magazine called Punch.

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.

John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields”

The poem was an instant hit. It skyrocketed to fame and was used to sell war bonds and appeal to people’s sense of empathy, duty, and brotherly love in order to recruit more soldiers for the Cause. Since its release, the iconic red poppy featured in the poem- common in agricultural fields- became a symbol of the Glorious Dead of the Great War, as they were said to grow on the graves of fallen soldiers.

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.

John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields”

McCrae later contracted and succumbed to pneumonia while serving as a field surgeon at Boulogne-sur-Mer, France. He was buried with full military honors a few miles up the coast from the city, where his grave remains to this day.

Even today, the common red poppy is one of the world’s most recognizable memorial symbols for soldiers killed in action.

Red poppies are a memorial symbol.

In the United States, the poem is often associated with the two major days when we honor our Veterans and remember our Fallen, Veterans’ Day and Memorial Day.

The next time either holiday rolls around, remember this poem, and remember those who sleep under the spell of the red poppies in “Flanders fields” the world over.

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.

John McCrae, “In Flanders Fields”
This is one of my favorite poems.

I have been brushing up on my calligraphy, lately, and decided to transcribe In Flanders Fields in keeping with my current theme of WWI and WWII history. While a good exercise in patience and technique, I believe that the true benefit of calligraphy is the meditative space to which my mind goes while I am copying someone else’s words onto a page. Just like sketching an illustration or coloring a picture, I can lose myself in the task and forget about the outside world for a time.

Not too satisfied with the poppies on the bottom, but I do like how the poem turned out.

I enjoy the foreshortened view, here.

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