Posts Tagged ‘in flanders fields’

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” — Robert Frost 

Chillon Caste at sunset.

Two Poems from Childhood

When I was quite young, about 10 as I best recall, I began reading a poem that I came across in one of the books in my late grandfather’s collection, and which I remember clearly to this day. My grandfather had died when I was about three years old. I don’t remember him, but I evidently inherited his love of reading, and also, according to my mother, his wanderlust.

After his death, his books were stored in an upright chest with a door — and forgotten. When I found them, it was like having dug up the buried treasure Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about in Treasure Island, the first of my grandfather’s books I read.

His book stash, mostly cheap book club copies of the classics that were already beginning to disintegrate when I discovered them, included the entire works of such authors as Stevenson, Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, James Fennimore Cooper, and Jack London.

Poppies — By Pat Bean

I read them all. The poem that fascinated me, however, was in a literature book that I later learned had belonged to my mother. It seems she had failed a high school English class and had to purchase the text book and take the course over.

The poem was titled The Prisoner of Chillon, written by Lord Byron in 1816. It was a ghastly long narrative, but I eventually memorized it, as determined to accomplish the achievement as today’s youth are to achieve the highest level in some video game or another.

I was fascinated by the way the words went together, just as I had been by a shorter poem that started off my memorization goals. I found it in the same literature book, and although I didn’t understand its true meaning, I loved the way the words rolled off my tongue. While I’ve long forgotten the exact words of The Prisoner of Chillon, I can still recall from memory John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields.

“In Flanders Field 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 beneath the guns below…”

I wouldn’t know I would want to become a writer for another 15 years. And even then, I thought such a lofty goal was not for the likes of a high school dropout like me. Now, as I approach my eighth decade on this planet, I wonder how much McCrae’s simply words sent me off in a direction that has given me joy, sustained me through bad times, and has satisfied my love of learning, both for the things I learned in order to write about them, and two in my unending pursuit to learn how to be a better writer. The two are unending tasks that will fill my days with purpose until the hour my hands can no longer hold a pen and my fingers have not the strength to press a computer’s keyboard.

While I’ve long forgotten the exact wordage of Lord Byron’s Prisoner of Chillon, its message has long intrigued and influenced me. The poem is about a prisoner who became so used to his chains that he misses them when he is finally freed. A simple plot, if one can call it that, but the wording seems like magic to my ears and mind.

I’ve thought about the poem’s premise often, ever since my 10-year-old eyes first went through the narrative line by line. While I’ve had no physical chains to restrain me in my own life, I’ve recognized that there are many ways to imprison oneself: Refusal to change, always playing life safe, not continuing to adapt with the circumstances, and not accepting responsibility for one’s own life.

I’ve dallied with all these, but then I remember, and grieve for The Prisoner of Chillon. These words of Byron, which come toward the last of his poem, are ones still stuck in my head:

And all my bonds aside were cast,

These heavy walls to me had grown

A hermitage – and all my own!

And half I felt as they were come

To tear me from a second home

With spiders I had friendship made

And watch’d them in their sullen trade.

Had seen the mice by moonlight play,

And why should I feel less than they?

We were all inmates of one place.

And I, the monarch of each race,

Had power to kill – yet strange to tell!

In quiet we had learn’d to dwell’

My very chains and I grew friends

So much a long communion tends

To make us what we are – even I

Regain’d my freedom with a sigh.

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One of the books I loved growing up was a literature textbook that belonged to my mother. She told me her parents had bought it for her after she had flunked her English course so she could study it before she had to take the class over again.

I must have been only about seven years old, but already reading extremely well, when I discovered it. I fell in love with the book, and especially the poetry it contained. I memorized many of the pieces, including the lengthy “Prisoner of Chillon” by Lord Byron. The poem’s chilling closing lingers with me still: “My very chains and I grew friends/So much a long communion tends.”

But my favorite of all the poems, which I also memorized although at the time I understood it less than Byron’s narrative, was “In Flanders Fields.” I simply liked the rhythm and music of the words.

Today I understand it well. Sadly it’s as timely now as it was at the end of World War I, when John McCrae wrote it.

Field of poppies -- Wikipedia photo

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 years ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders Fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders Fields.

NaNoWriMo Update – 21,497 words

Lot of backtracking during my writing today. What time did that restaurant open? What was the name of the Bed and Breakfast on the beach? What was Jeff’s last name? Etc., etc, etc. Thankfully I was able to find what I wanted through a word search.

I added the information I needed to my character/time frame/place-name notes. It would have been nice if I had jotted that information down when I originally wrote it but how was I to know I would need that information again.

I’m learning, however, and that was what this challenge for me is all about.

And among the things I’ve learned is that I work best if I start my writing at 5 a.m., especially since most of the rest of the world – including my daughter and her husband who got back from their cruise yesterday – are still asleep. The secret to doing this is to get to bed early.

And despite my flipping back and forth through what I had already written, today’s writing went speedily, more so than any day. I had my 2,000 words finished by 9 a.m., despite trying to remember and get up every half hour and stretch my neck and back. .

The “Force” was with me today. Hope it’s with all you other NaNos out there, too.

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