In this post, we are discussing In Flanders Fields theme by Colonel John McCrae. We are summarizing the concept of the theme which includes ‘Death’ and ‘Revenge’ in the poem and we hope you’ll like the overall writeup.
In Flanders Fields Theme- ‘Death’
McCrae frequently wrote about death, even in his many poems that were not about war. His fascination with the subject and the experience he had in exploring how death could be depicted in verse led to the ease with which he handled death in this poem; he used metaphor, imagery, and personification so smoothly that it did not overshadow his other, complex ideas. It is particularly fitting in a war poem, representing soldiers who have died struggling to achieve something and who have left their mission unfulfilled.
In addition to giving us the plain, raw information about their deaths, McCrae presses readers into recognizing the fallen soldiers’ place in the grand scheme of the universe by surrounding them with images from nature: the dawn and sunset, the larks, and the poppies. He intertwines these nature images with related images from the sphere of human interaction. Dawn and sunset are linked to loving and being loved, larks singing and flying are mirrored by the sound and flight of bullets and mortars, and the poppies, growing between the crosses, symbolize blood and perseverance almost as much as the crosses themselves. It is interesting that “In Flanders Fields” uses the first pairing of poppies and crosses to subtly bring to mind the contrast between death’s stillness and life’s activity. In an earlier version, McCrae used the static, inactive word “grow” in the first line, but “blow” gives readers a visual impression of motion, as opposed to the frozen stances of the rows of crosses.
The “torch” tossed from the dead to the living is, of course, honor. It cannot represent a particular political ideology because the poem says nothing at all about right or wrong. The only way that the poem declares its loyalties is by mentioning the well-known battle site at Flanders. Even modern readers who are not familiar with World War I battles, who do not know the issues involved nor the dynamics of the struggle between the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente, can appreciate the emotions that this speaker feels so strongly that he wants them carried on after his death. The important thing to this speaker is not the issues he stands for nor the policies that his enemy supports—he even uses the relatively mild word “quarrel” to refer to the conflict— but merely that his fighting spirit should continue. Losing the honorable spirit that the dead of this poem fought with would, in a sense, be mocking them, or “breaking faith” with them. Continuing their spirit, regardless of how one feels about their cause, is presented as a way to Honor them as humans and grant their dead souls peace.
In Flanders Fields Theme- ‘Revenge’
This poem has been called an exquisitely effective piece of propaganda, and it was, in fact, used in its time to solicit contributions for the war fund in the McCrae’s home country of Canada. In this case, propaganda simply means that the poem is designed to stir up the greatest amount of empathy for the speaker and the greatest anger at his enemy.
There is no doubt that, in the end, the poem encourages readers to take action against the foe. It influences readers by presenting death as a kind of peace in the first nine lines, but then, once that premise of peace is established, it threatens to deny peace to the dead soldiers if the enemy is not fought. The only mention of conflict in the first two stanzas is the vague mention of guns, and they are not even presented to readers directly but are mentioned in the context of the larks noted as being somewhere below them.
If the poem had begun with a call to arms, it might have interested soldiers and those who are inclined to fight already, but in taking its time to establish readers’ empathy with the poem’s dead speaker, and then threatening the peace of the dead, it stirs readers to thoughts of vengeance.
This poem is a prime example of the highly stylized poetic form called the rondeau. Defining marks of the rondeau that are present here are that it is divided into three stanzas; that the stanzas have five, then four, then six lines. The opening phrase of the first line is repeated in line 9 and again in line 15 and that, except for the repeated phrase, all of the lines have the same length. The rondeau is a French form and a member of what is sometimes referred to as the “rondeau family,” which includes the triolet, the rondel, and the rondelet. Like many rondeaux, this poem is written in an iambic tetrameter rhythm.
The rhyme scheme of “In Flanders Fields” is also typical of the rondeau, with only two sounds alternating at the ends of the lines: all of the lines here rhyme with “blow” or “sky,” except for those, which repeat the poem’s initial phrase.
Most of the lines of this poem are enjambed—that is, they do not end with pauses for punctuation, but carry over into the lines that follow them. This gives it a sense of smooth continuity, making readers feel that one thought carries on from the last. The subject matter of the poem may command quiet concentration, but the structure of the poem is not broken down into units of thought, the way an intellectual inquiry can sometimes be. Instead, it runs together smoothly, using the strong, clear repetition of the rhyming sounds to pace the rhythm. We hope you’ve now got a clear understanding of In Flanders Fields Theme by Colonel John McCrae.
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