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Poem for ANZAC Day

April 25, 2015

Flanders poppyby Judy Raymond

Anzac poppy, 
small and sweet,

crushed beneath the soldiers’ feet.

Fragile petals,
red as blood,

spilled upon the Flanders mud.

Ref: p268 Ed. Paula Green (2014) A Treasury of NZ poems for children. Illustrated by Jenny Cooper. Random House: Auckland

Simple, though it is, the poem’s words capture the symbolic poignancy of the ANZAC poppy – beauty and fragility are how we remember death, horror, and sorrow. And as the lines progress, the image of the poppy shifts from one of beauty to one of violence. I think this shift from beauty to violence has a different feel to it – a different conclusion, if you will – than would the opposite shift from violence to beauty. It tells of waste and pointlessness, more so than an ultimate sacrifice to the victory of good.

Whether referring to beauty or violence, the rhythm is the same, though – as many syllables above (when the beauty and fragility are described) as there are syllables below (when the mud of war is focused on).

There is a metonymy to certain of the nouns chosen that wouldn’t be evident if they weren’t used together. Mud and flowers and fields belong together, but brought together with mention of the ANZACs at Flanders, the fields and mud turn sinister. flowers belong in mud, but the fields Raymond refers to were fields of death and disease; rats and lice; war and suffering. The mud was as essential to the suffering of the men who fought and died there as mud is essential to the growth of a flower. Beauty and violence twist together in many ways in this poem, simple though it is.

That’s not to ignore the literary background of the poem, though… See mcCrae’s poem, In Flanders Field, http://www.greatwar.co.uk/poems/john-mccrae-in-flanders-fields.htm

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