The Red Poppy

In 1915, a Canadian medical officer named John McCrae published what is probably the single best-known and popular poem from the First World War, “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.

After reading this poem Moina Michael, a college teacher and YMCA War Worker, was so moved that she was inspired to write a response. Hastily written on the back of an envelope, she penned the lines to We Shall Keep the Faith:

Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet – to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.
We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.
And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

From that day on, Michael vowed to wear a red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance. Others, inspired by the personal memorial, joined in the practice. The Poppy emblem was eventually adopted in the United States as a national memorial symbol, a reminder of those who had not returned home.
The red poppy is also my symbol of Memorial Day, for my heart is a Flanders Field where the memories of our fallen Americans rest. As Michael wrote, the blood of heroes truly never dies. Their sacrifices truly do live on, enriching the fertile soil of my memory, bringing forth red poppies that grow in honor of those who’ve passed on the torch. I hold it high in tribute to them.
Sleep sweet, brave comrades, until you arise anew.

Published by

Joe Carter

Joe Carter founded Evangelical Outpost in 2005. He is the web editor for First Things and an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. A fifteen-year Marine Corps veteran, he previously served as the managing editor for the online magazine Culture11 and The East Texas Tribune. Joe has also served as the Director of Research and Rapid Response for the Mike Huckabee for President campaign and as a director of communications for both the Center for Bioethics and Human Dignity and Family Research Council. He is the co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicaton.

  • blestwithsons

    “All gave some. Some gave all.”
    Semper Fi, Joe.

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  • Russ Kuykendall

    Cloick on the URL for my post about Captain John McCrae and “In Flanders Fields.”

  • John

    Thanks for the poem, Joe. Too young or too ignorant I had never encountered it.
    On a separate note, I hope you know that we all appreciate your service to this country as well. Too often we commemorate (however appropriately) only those lives lost for the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–neglecting to honor those lives lived for these causes as well.
    God bless, my friend. And “thank you” to all those other men and women who read this blog and have sacrificed so much for me, my family, my country, and my friends.

  • Septimus

    I’m all for remembering (and praying for) those who died in defense of our country; but this poem leaves me cold. “Row on row” of young men were sent to die in a senseless and pointless war, the first World War. And the poem seems to insist — as I read it — that row after row should keep marching into the valley of death, rather than question the war itself.
    …which makes me think of another awful (in my opinion) poem, better known as a song: the Battle Hymn of the Republic, which conflates the cause of God and the cause of the Union army. I think its just a terrible idea to declare oneself the mighty arm of God’s justice, weilding his “terrible swift sword,” etc.

  • Nick

    I suspect the poetry of Wilfred Owen might be more to your taste. Owen was killed in combat on Nov 4, 1918 — a few days before the end of the war — so reading his poetry seems appropriate for Memorial Day.
    “Dulce et Decorum Est” is probably his most famous.

  • Septimus

    I do like that poem better.
    It’s not that I’m simply reflexively anti-war — that is, any moreso than the rest of sane people; but I think we can be proud of our involvement in some wars, but most of our country’s wars, I think we should not have fought at all.
    At my parish, we had Mass on Memorial Day, and the closing hymn was “America the Beautiful,” which I like; but the best verses are the third, and especially the fourth, which don’t often get sung:
    O beautiful for heroes prov’d
    In liberating strife,
    Who more than self their country loved,
    And mercy more than life.
    America! America!
    May God thy gold refine
    Till all success be nobleness,
    And ev’ry gain divine.
    O beautiful for patriot dream
    That sees beyond the years
    Thine alabaster cities gleam
    Undimmed by human tears.
    America! America!
    God shed His grace on thee,
    And crown thy good with brotherhood
    From sea to shining sea.
    Although I suspect the first two lines of verse three refer to the War Between the States, even so, this song strikes–for me–the right tone and posture.
    It’s a prayer and a hope that one day, we will gleam with the alabaster of right conduct — a vision that relies on God to shed his grace on us. That’s a true patriot’s dream; not “America, right or wrong,” but America, refined by God.

  • Gordon Mullings

    Today is June 6, 2005. The sixty first anniversary of the Anglo-American invasion of the Normandy coast that paved the way for the yet ongoing liberation of Europe from the dark night of the twin statist, determinist tyrannies then reigning in Berlin and Moscow.
    Let us remember their sacrifice too, especially on a bloody beach still known as Omaha. Hail to the vets, especially those of the 29th and the 1st.
    Grace to all

  • The Red Poppy

    The Red Poppy

    The Red Poppy