Wednesday, 11 November 2015
Today is Remembrance Day in Canada. Like the armistice which ended World War I, it is marked at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. This year's Remembrance Day, however, has a special resonance for us. It is the centenary of Canada's most famous poem, In Flanders Fields, written by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae following the second battle of Ypres in 1915.
Here's a short video about the poem's history (thanks, Guillaume of Vraie Fiction, on whose blog I first saw it) --
It is said that In Flanders Fields achieved the prominence it did because, unlike the bitter and disillusioned poetry written by other famous soldier-poets of the Great War, John McCrae's poem of grief and loss was still tinged with patriotic romanticism, speaking of "glory and honour in a war that has since become synonymous with the futility of trench warfare and the wholesale slaughter produced by 20th century weaponry." (wikipedia) Certainly, the poem was promoted and made use of for propaganda purposes by the wartime governments of both Canada and Britain.
Yet, the sincerity of the poem's central focus on those who died saves it from being true propaganda, I think. While it does not challenge the institution of war, In Flanders Fields transcends its specific circumstances and touches the universal grief of war.