In the US, today is the beginning of a 3-day holiday, the Memorial Day Weekend. The Indianapolis 500 takes place on Sunday, and while I won’t be there this year, my favorite drivers will be.
But Memorial Day is more than just the official launch of Summer here, more than just a car race–it began after the American Civil War in 1868 as “Decoration Day,” established as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the war dead with flowers. Officially, Memorial Day is the last Monday in May.
After each great and terrible war of the last two centuries, the hope was always that we had fought a “war to end all wars.” World War I, also known as The Great War, was spoken of in literature as just that: a war to end all wars.
With each conflict we still hope, but we are less able to believe it.
“In Flanders Fields” is a war poem in the form of a rondeau, written during the First World War by Canadian physician, Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae. He was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer, who died in the Second Battle of Ypres. According to legend, fellow soldiers retrieved the poem after McCrae, initially dissatisfied with his work, discarded it. “In Flanders Fields“ was first published on December 8 of that year in the London-based magazine Punch. (Quoted from Wikipedia.)
In Flanders fields the poppies grow
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.
In Flanders Fields, by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD, PD|75 years
John McCrae died of pneumonia January 28, 1918, near the end of the Great War. In Flanders’ Fields is a staple poem for Memorial Day services, a federal holiday celebrated the last Monday in May in the United States. It is a day traditionally set aside for remembering the people who died while serving in the country’s armed forces.