Friday, September 3, 2010

In Flanders Fields

For me, Spring in Utah fully comes into play with poppies. Tulips and daffodils may bloom first, but there is often still snow on the ground and the world is cold and dead. It is not until after the bulb flowers are gone that I feel Spring in the air as my family home is ablaze with orange and red poppies. Our yard is filled with them—haphazard, chaotic, and absolutely beautiful. It is the high point of the season in my opinion. Like most of the flowers in our garden, my great-grandmother brought them here from some far away place on one of her many adventures, and every Spring I sit among the fiery colors and think of her, my past, and my family—for me, poppies are all about memories.

The first day here in London I was surprised to find red poppies everywhere—cathedrals, Abbeys, churches, tourist attractions, restaurants, grocery stores, statues, the Underground, shopping malls, country fields far from civilization—you cannot go a day in London without seeing a red poppy of some kind, natural or manmade. So of course I had to ask: why? Why poppies, and why so many? I had heard a musical rendition of John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” a few years back so I knew the story, but could a single moment in history really be so influential on us even today? Just as the memories of my childhood find life in the poppies surrounding my home, the memory of the Great War presses on, materialized in something as simple as a red poppy. Transcending its natural purpose, the red poppy stands as an eternal monument to the dead, preserving their memory in its iconic presence. Here on our journey back from Paris there were red poppies on the side of every road.

In Flanders Fields

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.

John McCrae

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