Sleeping Among the Poppies

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Posted by @bennysplace on
Rising from the ground in spring with its droopy fuzzy head, the corn poppy begins to work its magic. Seeds from last year’s crop remained silent through the winter and now this simple yet mysterious flower will capture the gardener’s imagination once again.

Thumb of 2015-05-23/bennysplace/7e2f89Blood red, the corn poppy demands almost immediate attention. The flower itself, with its four to six papery petals, feigns delicacy as it sways in the gentle spring breeze. What is it about this flower that begs the attention of anyone who may be passing by? Perhaps it is the dark red? After all, this is a color used for most things in society that require immediate attention. Whatever it is, this flower, which by all accounts behaves like a weed, has achieved a status unmatched by any other flower in the garden.

May 3rd 1915

Over one hundred years ago, the war to end all wars was ripping through Europe. It was during the Second Battle of Ypres that the corn poppy captured the attention of one Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD. The constant shelling of the area devastated the land, but among the waste, death and misery, something miraculous was unfolding. Like any poet or writer, McCrae most likely drew inspiration from all that surrounded him as he created the following poem:

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.

The simple corn poppy that was once considered a prognosticator of an ample corn crop emerged and became forever immortalized in McCrae’s poem. I have read this poem dozens of times and without fail, each time, I am moved to near tears as I contemplate each line with this stanza standing out most:

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.

If ever one needed a reminder to stop and contemplate one’s blessings, this poem would be all that was needed.

Beyond the words I attempt to imagine what it must have been like, for not just McCrae, but for everyone involved in such bloody warfare. All around, the land lay in ruin, obliterated and seemingly devoid of life. Life was replaced by death and nature was replaced by brown nothingness. I am sure there is nothing I can conjure in my imagination that could come remotely close to what these men experienced. How can one even come to terms with such wanton death and destruction?

Despite all of this, the beauty of nature returned as if by some sort of enchantment in the form of crimson poppies and, as per McCrae’s words, brave larks. It is this that weighs heavily upon me when I sit in contemplation, staring at these flowers, in my own garden. In a world of death, loss and destruction, something always seems to come along to arrest our thoughts, if even for a brief moment, to remind us that there is always the hope of renewal.

Prior to writing Memorial Day articles, I did not give the red poppy now aptly referred to as the Flanders poppy much thought. It was definitely beautiful, but I did not go out of my way to grow it. In fact, I recall my neighbor in England sharing her frustration as they popped up in places where they were not necessarily wanted. All this changed as I learned more and more about this magical plant and what it actually symbolizes.

The more I attempt to understand the nature of this flower, the more I realize there are aspects that will forever evade me. The magic of sudden profusion can be easily explained as it is common knowledge that disturbed earth allows dormant poppy seeds to finally reach the light, and it is this light they need to germinate and proliferate. In spite of that, the mystery of why the poppy seems to always appear where there has been such a massive loss of human life is something I cannot explain. Beyond McCrae’s experience, Australian and New Zealand forces witnessed the same phenomenon of poppies emerging from battlefields in Turkey. It is even rumored that the white poppy emerged in the battlefields of Genghis Khan centuries prior. It is this mystery that has me perplexed. It is as if the poppy makes its home on a battlefield to remind us that there is still beauty in this world and that beyond death, there is also renewal. I cannot speak for McCrae or anyone that chose to focus on the poppy and ultimately turn it into a symbol of remembrance. It does seem to me, however, that there really is no flower on the planet that is better suited for this honor.

I shall close with a final demonstration of just how powerful and symbolic the red poppy truly is. We wear our Buddy poppies in our lapel on Memorial Day, but the poppy, being an international symbol of remembrance, is also worn every November 11th throughout the world. This year in England, a massive display of 888,246 ceramic red poppies were placed in the moat of the Tower of London. Each of the poppies set individually by volunteers represent one British or Colonial serviceman killed in the War.

Thumb of 2015-05-23/bennysplace/13b1c6 Thumb of 2015-05-23/bennysplace/a526c9

Oh, what power this unassuming flower has!

I wish to thank you all very kindly for reading this article. However you may be spending your day, I pray you will take time out to sit in silence and contemplate what this day represents. Those who sacrificed their lives so that we might live in a better world deserve at least this. Blessings to you and yours this Memorial Day.

If I have inspired you to grow this amazing flower in your own garden, Botanical Interests is adding a free packet of these seeds to every online order placed through tomorrow, May 26th.


Comments and Discussion
Thread Title Last Reply Replies
Thank you for this by woofie May 25, 2015 9:08 PM 6
Thank all you veterans for your service. by crittergarden May 25, 2015 4:28 PM 5
Well Said Mr. Hill by TBGDN May 25, 2015 4:27 PM 6

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