What is the central theme of "In Flanders Fields"?


Quick Answer

John McCrae's World War I poem, "In Flanders Fields", takes as its central motif the image of red poppies to explore themes of death, rebirth, religion and nature, contrasting a Romantic pastoral idyll with the grisly realities of war. McCrae uses meter and other literary devices to highlight these themes in the poem.

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Full Answer

Underscoring the finality of death, for instance, is a metrical variation between the first and second stanzas, which introduces a caesura, which is a strong pause mid-line, after "We are the Dead."

The use of rhyme and non-rhyme in the poem also serves to develop its themes. Rhyming words like "sky," "fly" and "lie," all of which also rhyme with "eye," draw the reader's imaginary gaze either up or down, while the sudden cessation of rhyming, which ends the second and third stanzas, forces the reader to return their attention to the present, stark reality of "Flanders Fields."

Unlike many war poems, McCrae does not simply use the image of poppies as shorthand for blood, sacrifice and resurrection, but contrasts their living dynamism, blowing in the wind and springing up all over, with the dead, orderly crosses, arranged "row on row." The two images are also combined, with the poppies swamping the skeletal grave markers with the color of blood.

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