When I was in England for a summer I took a class on World War I and Modernism. We crossed the English Channel and visited some of the former battlefields in France. In several places the land had been completely deformed, and you can still see where shells carved out divots in the countryside (see below). I remember looking at a beautiful spread of grass with sheep grazing on it and all these scars of a war that had happened 100 years earlier.
One of the sites I most remember is the Thiepval Memorial commemorating the Battle of the Somme. One hundred years ago from July 1 to November 18, 1916 the Battle of the Somme was one of the bloodiest battles in human history. It saw over 1,000,000 casualties in this single battle; more than 60,000 soldiers died on the first day of battle alone. I remember looking up into the proportionally very high arches inside the memorial, thinking of how one scholar had described it as a giant, hollowed-out scream.
Our professor had us memorize a few poems from WWI, and when we went to war graveyards, I was glad I had today’s poem to mull in my head as I walked through the crosses. It’s “Flanders Fields” by John McCrae. The red poppies mentioned in the poem grew on these same fields and became the popular symbol of remembering the fallen. Incidentally, those poppies are more likely some of the flowers being referred to in the Sermon on the Mount, “Consider the lilies of the field.” Poppies grow more natively in the fields of the Holy Land than lilies do.