John McCrae was a Canadian poet, artist and author. He was also a soldier in World War I, which greatly influenced his poetry. His poems are drawn from his first hand experiences on the front line and his times treating the wounded soldiers.
McCrae entered World War I as a second in command of the first brigade Canadian Field Artillery. Here he experienced the horrors of war such as the harsh conditions of the trenches, the constant gun fire and the widespread death and illness. He also treated the wounded in the Second Battle of Ypres, 1915, where he watched his fellow men suffer tremendous pain and oversaw a number of tragic fatalities. Despite this, McCrae's poems are characterised by a strong sense of optimism and hope, celebrating the soldier's bravery and dedication to forge a better future.
His most renowned poem is 'In Flanders Fields.' This was composed after his close friend Alexis Helmer was killed in battle. 'In Flanders Fields' was instantly loved and published in 'Punch' magazine, 1915. Since then, his notable and later works have been collected post-humosly into the anthology 'In Flanders Fields and Other Poems'.
McCrae's poems have greatly influenced discussion on war. For example, because of his famous poem, the poppy became the official flower of Rememberance for fallen soldiers. This symbol is still used to this day on the anniversary of World War I, as it is common practice to wear a poppy on the lapel to represent our thankfullness to the brave soldiers of the past.
Key themes in McCrae's was poetry include the injustice of war, disaster and devastation, the presence of hope, disillusionment with religion, death and rebirth, courage and bravery, and the power of nature. His poetry is also known for its distinctive style and omniscient narration. This means that his poems are not focused on his individual, personal experiences. Rather, they are made accessible to all. 'In Flanders Fields' is particularly noteworthy as it is written from the perspective of the deceased soldiers, and directly adresses the reader.
While in battle. McCrae died of pneumonia. Nonetheless, his legacy and the legacy of his fellow soldiers is immortalised in his poetry.