Canada is one of the few countries in the world to have a poem printed on their currency. The font is so small that you need a magnifying glass to read it, but the poem is there on the ten dollar bill, written in both English and French. It is the first verse of John McCrae’s ‘In Flanders Fields’ – a poem written during the First World War.
John McCrae, the author of the poem, was inspired to write the poem on May 3, in 1915, after the death of his friend and fellow soldier Alexis Helmer who died in the Second Battle of Ypres. During the burial service of his friend Helmer, the Canadian doctor McCrae noted how poppies quickly grew around the graves of those who died at Ypres. The next day, while sitting in the back of an ambulance, McCrae expressed his anguish by composing this poem. The poem is considered to be one of the most famous poems of the First World War. In fact, the poem was nearly not published. Dissatisfied with it, McCrae tossed the poem away, but a fellow officer rescued it and sent it to newspapers in England, where it was first published by Punch in December 1915, after it had been rejected by the Spectator.
The structure of this poem is known as a rondeau; a specifically French form that has 13 lines of 8 syllables length. The poem consists of three stanzas, with the rhyming scheme AABBA AABC AABBAC. McCrae wrote the poem in iambic tetrameter, in which a line has four pairs of syllables. The first syllable in a pair is unstressed and the second is stressed.
The poem gives vivid images of wild poppies that are blowing in the wind, larks, sunsets and sunrises. These images illustrate that despite everything, the nature carries on. These pastoral elements also reflect the country side of Europe and its ordinary beauties. Some of these pastoral elements however, have a deeper meaning in the poem.
Wild poppies for example, flower when other plants in their neighbourhood are dead. One of the
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