CM Archive
CM Archive Book Review line

John Prescott.
Erin, ON: Boston Mills Press, 1985.
144pp., paper, $9.95.
ISBN 0-919783-07-4. CIP.

Subject Headings:
McCrae, John, 1872-1918.
Poets, Canadian (English)-Biography.
World War, 1914-1918-Biography.

Grades 10 and up / Ages 15 and up

Reviewed by Bohdan Kinezyk.

Volume 14 Number 1
1986 January

A few years from now, as Remembrance Day glooms on the near horizon, some kid will trudge down to the library and ask for "stuff on Remembrance Day." A minute later he will be blowing the dust off In Flanders Fields: The Story of John McCrae. He will like the cover: a glossy blood-red dawn, four distant soldiers trudging through the mud. When he opens the book, though, he will find grey pictures, musty prose, and the somehow pathetically hollow reminder that "militarism and war are not answers to the dilemmas of the human condition."

The fact is, McCrae glorified war. His view of history, his life-long militarism, his service and behaviour in both the Boer War and World War 1, his almost fanatical support for Canadian imperialism, all conspired to create the "recruiting poster rhetoric" of his famous poem, "In Flanders Fields." Lest we forget, Prescott trots out the rest of McCrae's war poems. In "The Anxious Dead" the speaker of the poem promises to keep fighting the good fight:

O flashing muzzles, pause, and let them see
The coming dawn that streaks the sky afar;
Then let your mighty chorus witness be
To them and Caesar, that we still make war.

In "Disarmament" McCrae responds with a resounding "No! " to the Czar of Russia's "call to all nations [in 1898 to join in an arms limitation conference." It would be foolish, says McCrae, to relinquish our power to "plead the cause by might." Many Canadians, I think, would find McCrae's imperialism distasteful today.

Students of history and students of poetry will find things of real value in this book. But they will have to be patient. The early chapters, "Early Life," "Early University Days," "Medical Studies," and "Early Poetry," are dull; besides, we already have good material on this period of McCrae's life. Prescott's even-handed discussion of "In Flanders Fields," though is of real interest. Everyone knows the poem, although not everyone knows just how or why McCrae made the poppy inseparable from memories of war. The kid in the library could get interested in this poppy stuff. Unfortunately, the book has no index and no table of contents and nothing to sustain his interest for the first eighty pages.

Bohdan Kinezyk, Central Elgin C.l., St Thomas, ON.
line indexes


1971-1979 | 1980-1985 | 1986-1990 | 1991-1995


The materials in this archive are copyright © The Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission Copyright information for reviewers

Young Canada Works