“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae is a poem that has helped me to appreciate the unpleasant side of life. It is a poem that deals with the reality that soldiers sacrificed their lives for the living, telling them to finish what they started. It also contains a message from the poet John McCrae that we have a responsibility not to replicate the mistakes of the past. The poet uses exceptionally vivid imagery and skilful symbolism, rhyming, steady pace, well-placed punctuation and other poetic techniques to help me understand this side of life.
The imagery used in this poem creates an exceptionally clear picture in the mind’s eye of what actually happened ‘In Flanders fields’. “In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row,” This quotation gives the reader the picture of red poppies, symbolising blood, leaking out of the ground between the white unnamed crosses showing just how many innocent people lost their lives. There is a stark contrast between bright, living flowers and the plain, dead, tombstones.
It is very effective because if poppies are left alone, they will keep on growing until there are thousands of them, just like there are thousands of soldiers buried “In Flanders fields”. Also McCrae uses very vivid imagery in the first paragraph. There is a feeling of hope because there is a continuation of nature in spite of what man is doing on the ground underneath the singing, flying birds. Then at this very moment of hope the singing is drowned out by the noises of man at war. “The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. ”
This quotation gives the reader a strong and vibrant image of what was happening ‘In Flanders fields’. The soldiers could see the birds flying above but could not hear them singing beautifully over the sound of their machine guns and mortar shells exploding all around them. Furthermore, in the second paragraph the speaker speaks to the reader as if he was one of the dead soldiers. To the reader it is influential, showing the dead were real living people at one time in history.
They enjoyed life and saw things they liked, just as we do, but all of their hopes and dreams were shattered by war. We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,” This quotation uses imagery to show the reader what the soldiers were thinking about in the days before the war when they saw beautiful sunrises and sunsets. This suggests to the reader what the soldiers saw while fighting; they did not see saw a nice sunrise or sunset, just a blood stained sky. “We are the Dead. ” The poet adds emphasis to the fact that dead people can speak out from the grave by adding a capital d to ‘Dead’. Another reason is that they have no real name any more and “the Dead” is now their proper name.
It also makes the reader realise just how many people died ‘In Flanders fields’ by not giving an accurate number and using ‘we’. One of the best uses of symbolism is in the last verse when the dead soldiers are telling the next generation to finish what they started, to finish their fight against evil. “To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. ” This quotation shows that the dead men thought that they were losing and could not complete their objective of wining the war. It also means that they were throwing on the torch of life as they died.
The torch symbolises guidance, hope, victory and life, which must someday burn out or in the case of the soldiers, be extinguished. It is effective as again it reminds the reader of death, as the soldiers threw away their lives for the ones they loved. Probably the best use of symbolism in the poem is in the last line: “We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields. ” In this quotation the dead people tell the reader that if they do not fight evil, there will be no peace in the world and more blood will be shed as ‘the poppies grow’.
It is very effective as all the poppies in the poem symbolise blood. This tells the reader that even more will be spent, and that the dead will have died in vein, knowing that they did not bring peace to the world. These final lines might also point to the fact that some kink of poppies can be use to derive opium from, from which morphine can be made. Morphine is one of the strongest painkillers and may have been used to put severely wounded soldiers to sleep and put them out of their misery.
The word “sleep” is symbolic here as they are really not sleeping but are fading into death. The rhyming in this poem makes the poem flow, just like the blood flowing from the wounded. The rhyming is quite regular as the endings of lines one, two, and five all rhyme in each separate stanza: “blow, ago, foe” The exception is in the middle, stanza two where only lines one and two rhyme because there is only four lines instead of the usual five. Also lines three and four rhyme in each of the stanzas: “high, die”
The exception is also in verse two where only line three rhymes with the others. This is significant as it very cleverly shows that the soldiers never spent long on the battlefield before they died. The poet does this by making stanza two shorter than the others. The poem has a slow, miserable pace to it, symbolising first the slow pace at which the war was fought, the soldiers inching their way forward towards the enemy. Secondly the sadness felt by both the soldiers as their friends died around them, and the by the reader who learns of this terrible tragedy from them.
The poet has achieved this by using punctuation extremely skilfully. There are several well placed commas, colons and semi-colons all used specifically to slow down the pace of the poem. “… That mark our place; and in the sky … ” “… Take up our quarrel with the foe: … ” These quotations show just how colons and semi-colons can dramatically slow down the pace of a poem. This is effective because it gives the reader the impression of the sluggish pace at which the war was fought. In the last verse the poet speaks of an unending quarrel with the foe.
This is a really good example of irony because if one thing became clear during the War it was that there was no quarrel between ordinary soldiers, except maybe in the heat of a fight. The real quarrel existed only in the minds of some stupid politicians and high-ranking officers, who mostly never experienced the horrors of the battlefields. The message from John McCrae, is that we have a responsibility not to replicate the mistakes of the past. I think that the message comes across extremely strongly and makes the reader feel sad and sorry for the dead and their loved ones.
The First and Second World Wars taught the world an example not to fight to such a large extent that millions of people die at some point in a battle. In conclusion I found “In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae a very interesting and intriguing poem. It helped me to see the unpleasant side of life and it dealt with the reality that soldiers sacrificed their lives for the living. By using exceptionally vivid imagery and skilful symbolism, amongst other poetic techniques to help me appreciate this side of life.