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Taking Up the Quarrel with the Foe

November 10th, 2007

This is from last November 10th, and looking back on it, it bears repeating:

Why Wear the Poppy?

The inspiration for this column came from Father William J. De Souza’a Column in today’s National Post, Take Up Our Quarrel.

Every year the question of why we wear the poppy comes up, and every year I have felt unsatisfied with the answer. This year, with the Afghanistan mission and the ‘surrender poppy’ in the news, the question is more important, the answers less satisfying.

We wear the poppy because of the reference to it in Lieut. Col. John McCrae’s (1872-1918) iconic poem In Flanders Field. His image of the poppies growing on fresh graves, against a back drop of white crosses, creates a powerful visual:

In Flanders Field the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row.

It is through this visual that the poppy has become universally recognized as the symbol of dead soldiers. However, the poem doesn’t stop at providing a nice visual connection between the WWI battlefields and modern day Canada. It also provides with the reason why we should wear a poppy.

The speaker of the poem is not the poet, John McCrae; it is the freshly dead young soldiers who lie in the Flanders graves:

Between the crosses row on row,
that mark our place…

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

It is not ambiguous, you are being spoken to by the dead, their story being given. But the dead also issue a demand to us:

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.

And that demand from the dead, that is the reason we wear a poppy. The poppy is a convenant between you and them, by wearing it you are committing to take up their quarrel. It is not enough to remember them, we must also remember why they died, why they made the sacrifice they did. And they are not subtle in reminding us so:

If you break faith with those of us who die
We shall not sleep, though the poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Be sure to wear a poppy tomorrow, and remember that by doing so you are keeping the faith with those who die; and that means taking the torch from their failing hands.

And please, please go to your local cenotaph tomorrow, and show the boys who are still here that we have not broken the faith.

Remembrance

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