In Flanders Fields: And Other Poems of the First World War by Brian BusbyThis anthology is a little different from others in that the men who wrote the poems would rather not have had their work published here. In order to have a poem published in this mix you had to satisfy two criteria: 1) you had to write about WWI; and 2) you had to have died during that conflict. The editor was able to find thirty such poets!
Some of the names in here will be instantly familiar. Names like John McCrae, who penned what is probably the most easily recognizable WWI poem In Flanders Fields. And Wilfred Owen, whose Dulce et Decorum Est could be a contender for best WWI poem. And Joyce Kilmer! Jesus, Joyce Kilmer!! I had no idea! I remember memorizing his poem Trees in grade school. I had no idea he had been killed in the Great War. Hell, I had no idea he was even a man, as I had never met anyone by name of Joyce who had the biological requirements for manhood.
I wont go into any quotes from poems, as the subject matter will be predictable: death, lost friends, wonder whos kissing her now, cruel enemies and blundering bosses. Most of the poetry I had encountered before in other publications. What got me was this: WWI wasted the lives of what was probably the most literate generation ever to stalk the planet. I was shocked to learn that not less than six world-class poets died in the Battle of the Somme alone! Six!! In one battle! At least as many died at Ypres, but since there were something like three battles for Ypres that statistic may be less staggering. I doubt that one soldier in ten serving today would be able to read and understand the sentiments these doomed wordsmiths consigned to paper. Thirty doomed poets in this book, and its just a sampling.
Mr Busby was kind enough to illustrate his book with WWI artwork, and generously provided both an Index of Titles and an Index of First Lines. Best of all, he provided a brief biography of each poet including place and manner of death. A nice little book, well-planned and very nicely laid out.
The Story Behind John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” poem
The John McCrae poem
It helped popularize the red poppy as a symbol of remembrance. The Second Battle of Ypres commenced on 22 April and lasted for six hellish weeks. It was during this battle that the Germans launched the first large-scale poison gas attacks of the war. On 2 May, Alexis Helmer was killed. Because the brigade chaplain was absent, McCrae—as the brigade doctor—conducted the burial service for his friend. Before the war, McCrae had written poetry in Canada , and some of his work had been published.
He was inspired to write it on May 3, , after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant 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. It is one of the most quoted poems from the war. As a result of its immediate popularity, parts of the poem were used in efforts and appeals to recruit soldiers and raise money selling war bonds. Its references to the red poppies that grew over the graves of fallen soldiers resulted in the remembrance poppy becoming one of the world's most recognized memorial symbols for soldiers who have died in conflict.
More by John McCrae
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.
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. Helmer was killed on 2 May when a shell exploded during the second German gas attack. In the absence of a chaplain, McCrae conducted the funeral service for his friend himself.