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In Flanders Fields: Deeper Than Words

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Adam Floyd

Professor Williams

EN 102


In Flanders Fields: Deeper than Words

        Often times in poetry the author aims to deliver a piece that goes deeper than the words appearing on the page. This happens to be the case in John McCrae’s most famous poem, “In Flanders Fields.” In the poem, McCrae uses a combination of repetition and imperative to send this hidden meaning across. The rondeau’s message is delivered from a speaker who appears to be a soldier. However, a twist emerges as the speaker states, “we are the dead; short days ago we lived… loved and were loved, and now we lie” (McCrae 12). The fallen soldier bluntly, yet benevolently reveals his fate. Although the speaker claims that he and his fellow comrades are dead, they continue to live on through the embodiment of poppy flowers.

        In the first stanza of McCrae’s rondeau, as seen in the anthology World War One British Poets: Brooke, Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg, and others, the speaker opens up the poem by stating, “in Flanders fields, the poppies blow” (12.) Here, McCrae paints the image of a field covered in soft red poppy flowers blowing in the wind. The depiction seems quiet and peaceful. It is this first mention of poppies that we start to develop some type of significance to the flower. The speaker continues in the third line by stating, “[the poppies] mark our place” (McCrae 12). The speaker reveals their significance by affirming the flowers’ purpose: they represent the area in which they have fallen. By stating that the poppies have “marked their place,” we realize that the soldiers didn’t simply fight and then die. Instead, the words tell us that although they might not have survived physically, they have survived in spirit. It is these poppy flowers that represent spiritual life. The poppies act as natural gravestones, but unlike an actual stone, the flowers live and continue to grow. This further shows how the soldiers will continue to live on. They grow as spirits just as the poppies grow as flowers. One may argue that as the seasons change, it is likely that these poppies will die. Though the poppies may merely disappear for a season or two, it is inevitable that they will grow back at the same location as flowers typically do. This additionally supports the idea of life after death in the personification of the poppies.

        Moreover, in the second stanza, the speaker mentions how their bodies have died. He states, “we lived… and now we lie in Flanders Fields” (McCrae 12). In a literal sense, the speaker is saying that their bodies have lied down for permanent rest in Flanders fields. However, by referring back to the gentle picture originally painted in the first stanza, we know there are no bodies; only flowers. It is these poppy flowers that are actively serving as “bodies” for these fallen soldiers. It is through these poppies that these soldiers can “lay in Flanders fields” (12). This analysis allows us to understand this deeper meaning. Typically when reading, we would process the word “lie” in our heads as death. In McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields,” the speaker doesn’t use the term as a synonym for death. The poppies allow the soldiers to literally lie down for rest, not death.

        Lastly, the speaker takes action in the final stanza of McCrae’s rondeau. An imperative, or an order, is used on the audience from this fallen soldier. He commands, “take up our quarrel with the foe! To you from falling hands we throw the torch” (McCrae 12). These two lines given from a seemingly dead soldier are commands in which he then continues with a threat, “if ye break faith with us who die we shall not sleep, though poppies grow in Flanders fields.” Amidst this seemingly harsh warning, the speaker references the poppies yet again. Though the soldiers’ bodies might be compromised, it is apparent that their spirits continue to live through the poppy flowers as they grow. The speaker admits to the audience that should they refuse to fight on, the soldiers will some how come back and haunt them. The interpretation of the threat is ultimately up to the reader; however, it is clear that these soldiers are certainty not dead. As readers, we can link the poppies with their source of life.

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