I’m “reblogging” this thoughtful and moving Memorial Day post from my friend and colleague Chris McDonough. I’ll add that the poppy referred to in the poems of WWI is the European poppy, Papaver rhoeas, a annual plant that specializes on colonizing disturbed soils. It therefore bloomed all over the bombed-out landscape of Northern Europe during the war. The plant is still a successful “weed” in European grain fields; these days, the “war” is against herbicide-resistant varieties of poppy: progress of a kind, surely.
On Memorial Day, it is often the case that poppies are worn in remembrance of the dead. The tradition originates with John McCrae’s famous WWI poem, In Flanders Field, but the association of poppies and fallen soldiers traces all the way back to Homer (Iliad Book 8, lines 243-251, in Fagles translation):
The archer loosed a fresh shaft from the bowstring
straight for Hector, his spirit longing to hit him–
but he missed and cut Gorgythion down instead,
a well-bred son of Priam, a handsome prince,
and the arrow pierced his chest, Gorgythion,
whom Priam’s bride from Aesyme bore one day,
lovely Castriana lithe as a deathless goddess …
As a garden poppy, burst into red bloom, bends,
drooping its head to one side, weighed down
by its full seeds and a sudden spring shower,
so Gorgythion’s head fell limp over one shoulder,
weighed down by his helmet.
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