Day #60 Memorial Day-“In Flanders Field”

buddy poppy

Buddy poppies sold by VFW members on Memorial Day Weekend find their origins in this poem by WWI Veteran John McCrae

Yesterday, Scott, the social studies teacher, brought an eighth grader into my office to recite a poem. He arrived unannounced, and the young girl looked uncomfortable standing in front of  teachers and 12th grade students. But, she had Scott by her side, and he encouraged her with  nudge. She took a breath and holding a copy of the poem before her, she began to recite:

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.

This poem she read was written by Canadian poet and physician JohnMcCrae who, sitting in the back of an ambulance after the Battle of Ypes in Belgium, scripted the poem on May 3, 1915, as a eulogy for his close friend Alexis Helmer, who was killed during the battle the day before.

The student’s  reading was a little rushed, and no one said anything after she muffled the last line. But there was an awkward pause until I asked her to read the last line again, and Scott pointed to the last sentence in the poem.

“Start here,” he told her, and she reread: If ye break faith with us who die /We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/In Flanders fields.

Only then did we all clap. Her relief was evident, and I noted just as they left, “That last line is the most important in the poem.”

Equally important is what Scott did when he supported his student as she recited a poem aloud to a group of people.This Memorial Day weekend, is the appropriate time to hear McRae’s poem. I am glad Scott had his student read the poem aloud for us.

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