Leonard Cohen Reads The Great World War I Poem, “In Flanders Fields”

Cour­tesy of Legion Mag­a­zine, you can hear Canada’s icon­ic singer-song­writer Leonard Cohen read­ing “In Flan­ders Fields” by Lieu­tenant-Colonel John McCrae. The clip was recent­ly record­ed to com­mem­o­rate the 100th anniver­sary of the poem.

World War I inspired many poems. But this one, straight from the begin­ning, became one of the most pop­u­lar ones. Poets.org recounts the ori­gins of “In Flan­ders Fields” thus­ly:

As the first shots of World War I were fired in the sum­mer of 1914, Cana­da, as a mem­ber of the British Empire, became involved in the fight as well. [John] McCrae was appoint­ed brigade-sur­geon to the First Brigade of the Cana­di­an Field Artillery.

In April 1915, McCrae was sta­tioned in the trench­es near Ypres, Bel­gium, in an area known as Flan­ders, dur­ing the bloody Sec­ond Bat­tle of Ypres. In the midst of the trag­ic war­fare, McCrae’s friend, twen­ty-two-year-old Lieu­tenant Alex­is Helmer, was killed by artillery fire and buried in a makeshift grave. The fol­low­ing day, McCrae, after see­ing the field of makeshift graves bloom­ing with wild pop­pies, wrote his famous poem “In Flan­ders Field,” which would be the sec­ond to last poem he would ever write. It was pub­lished in England’s Punch mag­a­zine in Decem­ber 1915 and was lat­er includ­ed in the posthu­mous col­lec­tion In Flan­ders Fields and Oth­er Poems (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1919).

As a sad post­script, McCrae start­ed suf­fer­ing from asth­ma attacks and bron­chi­tis in the sum­mer of 1917, then died of pneu­mo­nia and menin­gi­tis in Jan­u­ary of 1918. It’s fit­ting that Leonard Cohen (an accom­plished poet before he became a musi­cian) would recite “In Flan­ders Fields,” the text of which you can read below. The sec­ond read­ing was record­ed live in Los Ange­les ear­li­er this year.

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 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.

Find Cohen’s read­ing in our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

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Relat­ed Con­tent

Young Leonard Cohen Reads His Poet­ry in 1966 (Before His Days as a Musi­cian Began)

Ladies and Gen­tle­men… Mr. Leonard Cohen: The Poet-Musi­cian Fea­tured in a 1965 Doc­u­men­tary

The Poet­ry of Leonard Cohen Illus­trat­ed by Two Short Films

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