Sometimes a poet can write for their entire life and still be forgotten…and then there is John McCrae (1872-1918). With one magnificent poem, this Canadian military physician forever secured his place in the pantheon of classical poetry. First published in Punch magazine, “In Flanders Fields” has subsequently been anthologized countless times in textbooks throughout the English-speaking world. It is this poem that precipitated the adoption of the poppy by Britain and the British commonwealth as the official Flower of Remembrance to honor those soldiers killed in World War I. This poem and the poem below it, “The Pilgrims,” are two of a small handful of poems posthumously published as In Flanders Fields and Other Poems in 1919.
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.
An uphill path, sun-gleams between the showers,
Where every beam that broke the leaden sky
Lit other hills with fairer ways than ours;
Some clustered graves where half our memories lie;
And one grim Shadow creeping ever nigh:
And this was Life.
Wherein we did another’s burden seek,
The tired feet we helped upon the road,
The hand we gave the weary and the weak,
The miles we lightened one another’s load,
When, faint to falling, onward yet we strode:
This too was Life.
Till, at the upland, as we turned to go
Amid fair meadows, dusky in the night,
The mists fell back upon the road below;
Broke on our tired eyes the western light;
The very graves were for a moment bright:
And this was Death.
I’m reeling in a pickerel on Dyer’s pond
and have trouble unhooking the lure.
A turtle on a lily pad watches me
reach for pliers to free the fish.
In a deep voice, he growls:
“What kind of creature are you?”
I toss the fish back into the water,
and watch him swim away.
A red-tailed hawk swoops down
and decapitates the turtle’s head.
He leaves an epitaph on his shell, which says:
“Creatures great and small, the Lord God made us all.”
I walk into the nearest church doing poetry readings
where I can lie down and practice being dead.
I see the woman I’ve loved all my life, and ask:
“Will you marry me?” “I’d love to, she answers.”
I reply, “if not now, when?”
Milton P. Ehrlich Ph.D. is an 88-year-old psychologist and a veteran of the Korean War. He has published poems in The Antigonish Review, London Grip, Arc Poetry Magazine, Descant Literary Magazine, Wisconsin Review, Red Wheelbarrow, Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times.
The four men would gather like geese,
cluster in the café at eleven every morning,
for a damn good cackle. Good crack.
In the Long Haul Café, they rollicked,
the four of them becoming three in time,
mocking the world of Smart-arse phones
and Farce-book. They’d all done courses once
at the local tech, and hooted now
at the Mickey Mouse degrees, the kids
who should be doing a good day’s work
(they’d done National Service themselves,
it made men of them). They loved
their mornings in the café. Then there were two.
Eleven one morning in a pretty spring,
Laurie came in slowly. Liz the waitress
brought his tea (one sugar, dab of milk),
said, On the house today. Pouring the milk: How was the funeral? Laurie jollied, Yup. Saw the old boy off. Good funeral.
Megan, his late wife’s cousin, came across.
Chit and chat of her son and his partner,
and Laurie, for the first time ever,
was looking at a Smartphone. She scrolled
and Laurie gazed, his understanding flickering. He sent you these from Leeds? Two hours ago?
She told him of the boy’s degree
in retail management, and Laurie, aware
of the comforting thigh beside him
and her being there, smiled. Sounds interesting. Sounds very interesting.
Robert Nisbet is a Welsh poet who lives about 30 miles down the coast from Dylan Thomas’s boathouse. His poems have been published widely and in roughly equal measures in Britain and the USA, where he is a regular in SanPedro River Review, Jerry Jazz Musician and Panoply. Robert is a 2020 Pushcart Prize nominee for his poem “Cultivation.”