Monday, May 30, 2011

Short Days Ago

We Shall Keep the Faith
by Moina Michael


Oh! you who sleep in Flanders Fields,
Sleep sweet - to rise anew!
We caught the torch you threw
And holding high, we keep the Faith
With All who died.

We cherish, too, the poppy red
That grows on fields where valor led;
It seems to signal to the skies
That blood of heroes never dies,
But lends a lustre to the red
Of the flower that blooms above the dead
In Flanders Fields.

And now the Torch and Poppy Red
We wear in honor of our dead.
Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We'll teach the lesson that ye wrought
In Flanders Fields.

Michael is the one who started the tradition of wearing poppies in honor of veterans in the U.S. This poem (published in 1918) and the poppy tradition, of course, are due to John McCrae's superior 1915 classic:

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae


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.

Notice that Michael's poem is clearly a response by the living to the Dead in McCrae's poem.

D. G. Myers had a nice tweet on Memorial Day poetry recently, which bears repeating:

Memorial Day reminds some of us that poetry, uniquely capable of concise public speech, once occupied a central position in the culture.

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