For and Against Poppies
on Remembrance Day
The one below on the left, "In Flanders Fields," is by the Canadian John McRae. Most Canadians remember it from school, and many Brits and Americans know it, too. The custom of wearing a poppy on Remembrance Day comes from this poem.
The one below on the right, "The Parable of the Old Man and the Young," is by the Englishman Wilfred Owen. This poem is not as famous as McRae's but still widely known, especially in the UK.
I wouldn't mind if the two poems were reversed in popularity. McRae's reflects the blinkered vision essential to making war: compassion for fallen comrades on one's own side and a call to arms against the enemy. McRae warns that the dead will not rest unless readers of the poem "take up our quarrel with the foe."
Owen's poem springs from a wider vision. It shows compassion for all the soldiers who died, regardless of which side they were on, and it invokes God's judgment on the old men, the politicians responsible for making war.
Like most Canadians, I wear a poppy on November 11. For me, it is a reminder of a poem I like more than the one about Flanders fields.
In Flanders Fields
John McRae (1872-1918)
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went,