In Flanders Fields

McCrae, John

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poetry

Annotated by:
Duffin, Jacalyn
  • Date of entry: Feb-06-2018


A short war poem of 15 lines in three verses, in the voice of dead soldiers who lie under the poppies that grow in the fields of Flanders.


Composed in May 1915, the poem was written by a Canadian physician soldier after he had conducted the burial service of a friend who fell under the gas attack at Ypres, Belgium. One of its moving, medical aspects is the reference to opium—the dead soldiers throw a torch to the living; if it is not taken up, they say, “We shall not sleep, though poppies grow /In Flanders fields.”  

Probably the most famous Canadian poem, “In Flanders Fields” is recited by school children in many  countries around the world, has been set to music and used in film. It is generally accepted to have been the origin of the Remembrance Day poppies worn throughout the Commonwealth countries. Nevertheless, the poem is largely ignored by critics; some blame its patriotic zeal and use in propaganda, although its overwhelming message is the tragedy of wasted life.  

McCrae was born in the small Ontario town of Guelph, studied medicine in Toronto (MD 1898), did a residency in Baltimore, and worked as a pathologist in Montreal. A Lt-Colonel in  WWI, he had seen action in the Boer war. He had co-authored a textbook of pathology and and two poetry collections by the time “In Flanders Field” was published in Punch on 8 December 1915. He witnessed its immediate popularity; however, adding to the poignant message, the poet died on 28 January 1918 of pneumonia with meningitis. He is buried in a war grave near Boulogne France. Was he an early victim of the great influenza pandemic?

Primary Source


Place Published

London, UK