When I was in grade 8, we had to learn a poem. When it was my turn to recite mine, which was The Naming of Cats by T.S.Eliot, the bell for recess rang. So I blasted through it as quickly as I could. It wasn’t a good presentation, but it also didn’t eat into our recess. Later in the year, when it came time for us to all gather in our school gymnasium for Remembrance Day observances, we all dutifully said the words to In Flanders Fields, but I don’t think that was a good presentation either. Not because we said it so fast, or because recess was impending, but because we just said the words. We’d said it or heard it our whole lives, and it was a part of our lives on November 11, but somewhere along the way, it felt like it maybe wasn’t given the attention or the delivery that it deserves. We stopped listening to the words because we were saying them by rote and we knew what was coming next. That seems awful, but there it is.
When I went to France/Belgium a few years ago, I went to both the Oxford Farm cemetery (which is where John McRae wrote In Flanders Fields) and the In Flanders Field Museum in Ypres. For my whole life I recited or heard or read the poem recited at the beginning of November, but truly, having been there makes I feel my throat tighten whenever I hear it now. Which seems like a good thing. I hope all of you have some kind of experience that brings In Flanders Fields alive for you. To aid in that, I give you this:
Two years ago: Remembrance Project – Day 15: Kristallnacht