November 11, 2008

War (what is it good for?)

Always, on Remembrance Day, I end up thinking about poetry. I grew up in Ottawa, singing in choirs, and for a few years singing "In Flanders Fields" at the cenotaph during the official ceremony (and trying not to freeze! I think I managed to fit three layers under my white turtleneck). Then I went to a high school (Lisgar Collegiate Institute) where a lot was made of the fact that John McCrae was inspired to write his famous poem about the death of his friend and Lisgar alumnus, Alexis Helmer. So for a long time I thought the poem loomed large in my mind mostly because of where I was from.

It took me a little longer to realize just how huge this poem is, though it was somewhere in between graduating from high school and visiting the truly amazing and interactive In Flanders Fields museum (imagine, a war museum that doesn't glorify war) in Ypres, Belgium. (The museum also had a powerful interpretation of 'Dulce et Decorum Est' by Sir Wilfred Owen. Though it certainly seems to be true that people don't buy and read poetry very much anymore, the ability of a poem (or a song) to touch millions of people is pretty unbeatable.

I also remember the Remembrance Day in elementary school when I figured out that the poem was written during the World War I, which was so sad and incomprehensible to me at the time. (Something along the lines of "Why would anyone want to have another war after reading that poem?" Sigh.)

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