Music Monday – Flanders Fields

It was the early days of World War I in the Second Battle near the town of Ypres. A 22-year old Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed, from the explosion of a German artillery shell. He died 102 years ago tomorrow, May 2, 1915.

Ypres a small, ancient Belgian town saw some of the most intense and sustained battles during the war. Helmer was serving in the same Canadian artillery unit as his friend, doctor and artillery commander Major John McCrae.

John McCrea

The son of Scottish immigrants, for McCrea, medicine, the Army and poetry were family traditions.

As the brigade doctor, McCrae was asked to conduct the burial service for Alexis. Later that evening, in his grief, for his lost friend, he began the draft for the poem In Flanders Field.

Written from the perspective of the dead it speaks of their sacrifice and serves as their wish for the living, that they press on. It became one of the most notable poems of its era and has attained iconic status in Canada.

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.


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Desiderata is among my all-time favorite poems.  In Latin the word means desired things.

I’ve never been much “into” poetry, at least not since One is the loneliest number back in 1970 in a high school English class.  The only reason I remember it at all is because of the cute girl reading it aloud in class.  It’s all a little too ethereal for me.  (Poetry, not the girl!)  I’m more a steak and potatoes kind of a guy.

There’s some interesting history surrounding the origins of the poem and it’s copyright.  American Lawyer Max Ehrman wrote it way back in 1927.  It was largely unknown during his lifetime.  Then Les Crane’s spoken-word, Billboard hit version of it came out in 1971 and brought world-wide acclaim.  It won a Grammy for the former television talk-show host and was among one of the most inspirational poems of our modern-day.  I’ve liked it ever since. Continue reading