When I was in grade eight (that’s eighth grade to my American cousins) I had one bear of an instructor for English. He was known across the school as the hardest teacher for the subject. I guess I would have been 13 at the time. He made us walk through grammar like there was no tomorrow: as though it was essential for basic living. (English grammar? What? Essential??) Quite honestly, after that class, I don’t think I learned anything knew as far as grammar was concerned until (maybe) university. But it became a foundation for my writing, and serves me well to this day.
He was great. He was one of my top ten teachers of all time (and with a decade of post-secondary education, I’ve had my share of teachers). I only wish I could find him again: but “Mr. Brown” is hardly a unique name.
One of the things he had us do was to recite poetry. I don’t remember what others did, but my poem was “In Flander’s Fields”, which I recited on Remembrance Day (or thereabouts: I think we got Remembrance Day off in Junior High). I think that was the beginning of my appreciation of war and all that it means. Anyone who knows me knows that I am very much the pacifist and usually argue strongly against war. But at the same time, I appreciate all that our armed services do, and have done. Canada has been in very few wars over the years. They are not to be entered into lightly.
In Canada, the poppy is our universal symbol of Remembrance. They are seen in droves, pinned to people’s lapels as November 11th approaches. Over the years, I’ve asked people if they’ve heard this poem, which was one of the sources for that symbolism. I’ve been surprised that many have not. I thought I would include it here.
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.
— Lt.-Col. John McCrae, 1915
This post was originally published on Gather.com, and is reproduced here (primarily to try to keep my writing in one spot).