January 28, 2020

In Flanders Fields

Papaver rhoeas – Flanders or corn poppy - in Mallorca

Papaver rhoeas – Flanders or corn poppy – in Mallorca | Credit: Wikimedia Commons – Juan Costa (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Like many flowers, Papaver rhoeas is used symbolically around the world. The corn poppy is a European native and considered a nuisance agricultural weed since Old World days, but it is just that characteristic that brought it into global view. During World War I, the disturbed ground between the trenches on the Western Front blossomed with corn poppies, which can readily seed themselves in open ground. A poem written by a Canadian doctor and artillery commander immortalized the poppy with “In Flanders Fields.” It is not just for remembrance, however. In Persian culture, the poppy was a symbol of love and also as a symbol of martyrs. Here is the poem, which led to the name of Flanders poppy for this resilient yet delicate flower.

In Flanders Fields – By John McCrae, May 1915

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.