Wednesday, 20 April 2011

John McCrae - In Flanders Fields

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.

Key words
      Flanders – An area of Belgium where some of the worst fighting took place.
      The poppy is famously a symbol of war. Poppy seeds will lie for years in the ground if undisturbed – the war in France churned the ground up enough to make these flowers grow in abundance.
      Imperatives – these are orders or commands e.g. “Eat this cake”, “Be quiet, Josh.”
      Archaic language – this is old-fashioned language which seems very out of date to us now

What is the poem about?
This poem is one of six we are studying which looks at loss. The speakers are dead soldiers, talking about their final resting place “In Flanders Fields” and expressing their bitterness at having lost their life. At the same time, they urge us to “Take up our quarrel with the foe” and continue the war effort so that they have not died in vain.

·        Divided into 3 stanzas. Stanza 1 describes Flanders Fields, stanza 2 expresses “the Dead”’s feelings and stanza 3 is an urge to fight on in their name
·        Look at line 6: “We are the Dead”. The poet uses a caesura there to make you stop, drawing attention to that very strange comment (how are dead people speaking??) and creating a real dramatic impact.

The poet juxtaposes (contrasts) the poppies and the crosses: “the poppies blow/Between the crosses” – mixing new life and death together, suggesting that things will carry on as the Dead urge us to carry the fight on. The repetition of “row on row” emphasises the great scale of death (like it emphasised the great amount of men in “Joining the Colours”)
The larks are “still bravely singing” – nature will continue despite men trying to destroy everything with “the guns below”.
The second stanza emphasises how cheap life is – one day you have everything and the next you are dead: “Short days ago”. The men have lost an awful lot and this adds weight to their orders in stanza 3.
The imperative “Take up our quarrel with the foe” tells the reader to do something. The poet also uses archaic language (“If ye break faith with us who die”) which makes it sound more serious (like the Bible) or possibly like a curse, as we are told they “will not sleep” if we betray them – maybe they will haunt us.

In summary
      A speaker from the grave urges people to carry on the fight in their names.
      Relies heavily on the natural imagery of the poppies
      Emphasises the nature of death at war – one minute you’re alive and the next you could be dead.

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