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Monday, April 19, 2010

Witness, final part

Included among the poet-witnesses are the many war poets. Some were accidental poets, soldiers who felt compelled for the first time to express their feelings in verse.

One of the most famous war poems was written by a Canadian surgeon in France during the First World War. The story is that he wrote it in twenty minutes, sitting in the back of an ambulance, the day after the funeral of a former student of his who was slain in battle.

John McCrae did not intend to have this published. He just wanted to “embody on paper … the seventeen days of Hades!” he had spent tending to the wounded at Ypres.


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.

~ Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae (1872-1918), Canadian surgeon and poet

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