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“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Jun 19th, 2022

The works of poetry are often devised to convey specific feelings and emotions experienced by the author. Various poets gain inspiration from particular subjects that prompt them to express their emotional sensations, attempting to evoke similar feelings in the reader. By implementing visual descriptions and literary devices, authors succeed in conveying such sentiments, even if the audience never perceived them in their reality, thus empathizing with the creator’s feelings. “In Flanders Fields,” written by John McCrae (6), is an exceptional example of a poetry piece designed to arouse certain emotional responses. In this poem, McCrae addresses the subjects of war and death, expressing feelings of peace, remorse, and perseverance by altering the tone throughout the work.

The strength of emotions manifested can vastly increase when such expressions are presented in contrast. In the first stanza, the author establishes a peaceful and beautiful scenery by describing the Flanders fields and the poppies that grow on them. The reader is compelled to contemplate the beauty and sadness of Belgium landscapes, with charming red flowers amidst the grave crosses. Even though this scene’s appeal is affected by the subject of death, the overall impression of stillness and peace is incredibly strong, suggesting the calm environment surrounding this location. By using elements of visual imagery, such as “the poppies blow / Between the crosses, row on row,” McCrae allows the reader to imagine the surroundings and perceive the scenery (1-2). The iambic tetrameter utilized in this poem perfectly aligns with the peaceful tone, making the rhyming a part of the expressed quietude. Finally, the last line, “Scarce heard amid the guns below” (McCrae 5), attempts to slightly disturb the serenity in order to manifest the ideas of the following stanzas.

The instilled tranquility rapidly changes within the second paragraph of the work. Instead of following the ideas of quietude, McCrae abruptly transforms the tone of the poem by stating that “We are the dead. Short days ago / We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow” (6-7). The author thoroughly describes the narrators, implementing hyperbole and imagery to convey the feelings of grief and remorse for the fallen soldiers. Defeated in battle, these people are now lying under the crosses, unable to see the sun or their loved ones. The two final lines, “Loved and were loved, and now we lie, / In Flanders fields” (McCrae, 8-9), brilliantly disrupt the peaceful imagery by breaking the iambic tetrameter and inducing a certain perception of disarray. Another powerful instrument evident in this stanza is repetition, namely the reoccurrence of the phrase “in Flanders fields,” which returns the audience to the soldiers’ graves. During the second paragraph, the subject of death and war is further emphasized, with the words conveying the emotions of grief and tension.

The last stanza appears to be the most emotional and impactful, as it directly addresses the reader, compelling them to fulfill the fallen soldiers’ demands. The tone of the poem is changed from remorseful to determined, as the dead instruct the audience to continue the fight. The metaphors significantly elevate the impression of perseverance and endurance required to finish the troopers’ deeds, instilling the passion for victory and determination to achieve it. The symbolic passing of the torch, “To you from failing hands we throw / The torch; be yours to hold it high” (McCrae, 11-12), represents the shared responsibility, where the living complete the unfinished endeavors. Furthermore, McCrae ensures to induce a fraction of fear and obligation by stating that “If ye break faith with us who die / We shall not sleep, though poppies grow” (13-14). Alive soldiers bear the power to bring rest and peace to the unsettled dead by continuing the struggle and avenging the fallen through victory and group contribution. In this poem, it is not one narrator addressing the reader, but multiple speakers communicating with the numerous living, suggesting a shared authority for the war’s outcomes.

To conclude, the emotions within the poem “In Flanders Fields” were discussed in detail in this paper. It appears that the general tone of the work changes remarkably throughout the writing, from instilling feelings of peace and serenity to producing the desire to fight in the names of the fallen individuals. The literary devices tremendously adhere to the poem’s effectiveness, offering the reader sufficient descriptions of surrounding scenery and arousing feelings of peace and grief for the dead. The necessity of shared responsibility becomes even more crucial with the expression of perseverance and determination. In addition, McCrae brilliantly disrupts the flow of rhythm, compelling the audience to perceive a certain element of disarray. While reading the poem, I was tremendously invested in its message and felt both sorrowful and inspired. Even though I was able to perceive sensations of peace and remorse, I did not aspire to fight for the common cause but was rather frightened of the responsibility. Although I cannot connect to this work using my personal experience, I still greatly empathize with the poet, who passionately describes the injustice of war.

Work Cited

McCrae, John. In Flanders Fields. Doubleday Books for Young Readers, 1996.

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