Almost every Canadian is familiar with the opening lines of John McCrae’s poem: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row…”
As school children we were taught this poem every November in preparation for Remembrance Day.
The poppy is as important and symbolic now as it was then but why a poppy? Why not some other quick-growing wild flower?
As we see poppy pins appear on coat lapels and collars, I began to think about how an ordinary little flower could come to mean so much.
Throughout history, floral gifts have been used as cultural messages. In his book, The Reason for Flowers, author Stephen Buchanan describes how “in Greco-Roman art, poppies were associated with the spring return of Persephone to her mother, the grain goddess, Demeter.”
The poppy has also long been used in medicine as opium derived from the poppy seed capsule left after flowering. However, after the first World War, most English speaking countries had adopted the poppy to commemorate veterans.
In fall 2014, 888,246 ceramic poppies (one for each British or colonial life lost in World War I) were placed in the moat of the tower of London. The installation’s title “Blood swept lands and seas of red” came from the will of an unknown soldier who died in Flanders.
There are few symbols that give such significance to the efforts of our veterans.
Every year as I clear my garden away and tuck in the flower beds, the poppy is never far from my thoughts. If you have ever wondered about the role of poppies during Veteran’s Week, take a look at Where Poppies Grow, by Linda Granfield, Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War or In Flanders Fields: 100 years.
You can find these and many more books and DVDs at the library.
Sue Kline is the Community Librarian at the Summerland Branch of the Okanagan Regional Library.