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to think that the Royal British Legion have somewhat misunderstood this poem?

(13 Posts)
lurcherlover Tue 09-Oct-12 23:15:28

I've had a flyer through from the RBL in preparation for Remembrance Day - they've included a cardboard poppy, which they want people to write a message on and return with a donation (they suggest £15). The money obviously goes to their support work for veterans, and the poppies will be "planted" near the Menin Gate memorial in Ypres. The suggestion is to creat a 'Flanders Field" of poppies to remember the fallen soldiers.

Now, I have no problem with any of this - I've filled in my poppy and I shall be sending it back with my donation. I think the visual message of remembrance the poppies will provide at the Menin Gate will be a very powerful and moving one, and the RBL is a very worthy cause. This is NOT an attempt to bash their motives at all.

It's just...with all the other bits in the pack, they've included the full poem "In Flanders Fields" by John McCrae. You know it, but just in case, here it is:

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.

AIBU in thinking they have rather misunderstood the meaning of this poem? If you read the final stanza, it's actually about the glorification of war, and the message from the dead to the living that they have to carry on the fight with the "foe" and that the dead won't forgive them if they don't. It's not really about remembrance, except to say that the way to remember the dead is to carry on the war. I can see that they've just gone for the obvious link to the poppies, and obviously this poem is one of the inspirations for the poppy as a symbol of remembrance, but it's surely really a propaganda, pro-war poem at heart?

Sorry for the ramble, it's late...

TinyDancingHoofer Tue 09-Oct-12 23:17:39

You are right!

jcscot Tue 09-Oct-12 23:26:36

You could also read the last stanza as plea to future generations to carry on protecting/defending the country - not necessarily about continuing a particular war - and that by remembering those young men and women who died in conflict we "keep faith" and ensure their sacrifice is not forgotten.

It's also important to remember that the poem was written nearly a century ago and attitudes to war/patriotism etc were very different. The RBL are merely choosing, perhaps, to focus on the remembrance meaning rather than the jingoism.

WelshMaenad Tue 09-Oct-12 23:31:09

Agree with jcscot, I read it as a plea to take up the defence of our country, rather than a glorification of war. Keep the defences strong or all we sacrificed will be for nothing, that kind of thing.

ExitPursuedByAaaaaarGhoul Tue 09-Oct-12 23:31:41

Keeping alight that for which they fought and died.

Or are you denigrating their deaths?

Perhaps you could suggest a new, more modern way of remembering the fallen of the two world wars?

<shudders a bit>

lurcherlover Tue 09-Oct-12 23:34:35

Well, possibly. I just think the line "take up our quarrel with the foe" is a bit too jingoistic, particularly the nameless "foe" which effectively dehumanises the enemy. And not all poets had that attitude to war/patriotism - McCrae was writing early in the war, when poetry tended to be more of this ilk, but Sassoon and Owen were hardly jingoistic.

I would prefer it if they'd stuck to Binyon's "For The Fallen" or something similar - which focuses strictly on remembrance, without the warmongering undertones.

MsHighwater Tue 09-Oct-12 23:36:02

I don't see the poem as glorifying war but it is certainly not a pacifist ode. But then the RBL is not a pacifist organisation - they look after the welfare of those who survived by invoking the memory of those who did not.

The living "hold it high" by remembering the cause (i.e. freedom, not specifically the war itself) and remembering the sacrifice of those who fell in the fight for it. Their point, and that of the poem is, surely, that some causes are just enough to wage war over.

spottyock Tue 09-Oct-12 23:36:10

I've read and heard that poem many a time but never thought of it like that. I think it's another way of saying don't forget us or the sacrifices we have made for your freedom. Fight for what is right (although not necessarily through war.)
All that said I can totally see your viewpoint.

ExitPursuedByAaaaaarGhoul Tue 09-Oct-12 23:36:25

Ah - the ilk.

And that Binyon.

Limps off to bed wink

WorraLiberty Tue 09-Oct-12 23:41:38

I agree with jcscot totally

CoolaSchmoola Tue 09-Oct-12 23:41:51

I don't read it that way.

The second stanza serves to highlight that those who died were real people, with real families, feelings, hopes, dreams and futures and that the war had taken it all - there is nothing at all glorious in that.

The third stanza is asking people to continue to fight to finish the war so that their deaths had not been in vain. They were not fighting for fighting's sake - they were fighting against an enemy that sought to completely dominate their people.

The dead are saying that they cannot rest until that is stopped from happening.

It doesn't glorify war - it shows how war steals lives, highlights that people were willing to die to protect their culture and way of life, and then asks that those left behind carry on fighting to ensure that their sacrifice was not in vain.

It has to be read in the context of the time it was written. A group of people was trying to exert total control over another, who were so intent on preserving their freedom that they were willing to die. The poem is those who gave their lives asking those who were left behing to carry on until the threat was quashed otherwise they would have died for nothing and could not rest.

I don't see any glorification of war at all.

(Again, it's late for me too - I could form a much more structured argument if I wasn't lol!)

CoolaSchmoola Tue 09-Oct-12 23:48:31

And I think the RBL chose this poem on purpose...

Because we currently have men and women sacrificing their lives in pursuit of similar ideals (depending on your personal standpoint) and when they die others do step into their place to carry on for them to continue.

So whilst it's an old poem it has resonance and relevance in the present.

At least that's how I see it (as an Army wife who has lost close friends in warzones).

jcscot Wed 10-Oct-12 00:06:59

CoolaSchmoola was more eloquent than I and I agree completely. I think the "nameless foe", as the OP put it, could also be read as a general "whatever enemies we face" kind of thing rather than an attempt at dehumanistation.

I think the poem is still resonant today - the imagery is lovely and completely captures the mood and atmosphere of the battlefields of WWI.

To put my remarks in context - I am an Army wife and, like so many of my "ilk", I've lost friends and seen others injured in more recent wars - so my feelings on remembrance are very personal.

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