Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Above is a photo of a remarkable art project taking shape around the Tower of London.

For months now, volunteers have been setting out ceramic poppies at the rate of 180 a day.  By November 11, Armistice Day, there will be almost 900,000 poppies, one for each British and Commonwealth soldier who died in World War I.

Poppies have been a symbol of the Great War for many years, partly because of a famous poem about the British war dead in Flanders.  The poem is set at the site first of an early trench battle and, then, a soldiers' cemetery.

An English ceramic artist, Paul Cummins, and a set designer, Tom Piper, came up with the idea and have cooperated on its execution.  At the end of the project, the poppies will be sold and proceeds devoted to veterans' charities.

Several elements strike me here -- beautiful flowers representing death, the mass of flowers acknowledging the staggering numbers of war dead and the placement at the Tower of London, for hundreds of years a prison notorious for the torture and execution of people deemed enemies of British kings and queens.  During World War I, 11 spies were executed by firing squad at the tower.

It looks in photographs like a thoughtful, respectful remembrance, and it makes me wish I had a trip planned to London this year.

The Poem

In Flanders Fields

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 sunsets flow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
in Flanders fields

The poem, memorized by Commonwealth children for generations, was written in 1915, early in the war, by a Canadian army doctor, John McCrae, after he watched a friend die on the field.  "In Flanders Fields" is marked by the theme of sad but honorable loss.

As the war ground on and the carnage continued, later British poets composed more graphic verses about the frustration, suffering and even horror that they had witnessed.  (More about them later.)

John McRae died toward the end of the war, still in service, of pneumonia, in 1918.

1 comment:

  1. Great piece. I think you should plan a trip and see the poppies. How terrific that would be!