The Poppy – A Symbol of Hope

It is Remembrance Day here in Canada, and across the country crowds are gathering at cenotaphs to remember our fallen soldiers. On each person’s coat lapel is pinned a red poppy. A symbol of remembrance. In today’s post, I would like to drew attention to something else that the poppy represents – hope.

Many years ago while still living with our parents, my sister purchased a package of biennial poppy seeds and planted them in her own flower garden. In the following years, the wind carried those poppy seeds across the yard, and poppies began to grow everywhere. We let them grow where they liked. How could we destroy such beautiful flowers? We even allowed them to take over the entire end of our vegetable garden. Every year, we had our own field of poppies. As the years have passed, my sister’s bed has been removed as has the vegetable garden. The gardens were re-landscaped, and a gravel pathway was laid down. That doesn’t matter to the poppies; they still come up every year forcing their way through the gravel. We let them bloom and then rip them out to be thrown away, but they leave their seeds behind for the next year. It is almost impossible to eradicate them.

Death and Resurrection

For hundreds of years, the poppy has been seen as a symbol of death and resurrection. The field poppy grows where nothing else will grow. The seeds will lay dormant in the ground until spring when the soil is disturbed and then the poppy springs to life. That is why in the battle fields of Europe the poppy was often the only thing that grew. On the brown, lifeless, muddy battle ground, the seed lay dormant until the soldiers churned up the soil in battle. This was also true for the soldiers’ burial grounds in Belgium called Flanders Fields. Too often the ground was dug up for graves, and too often the troops rallied around those graves for solemn tribute to their fallen comrades. But on the field of death, sprang life – the vibrant life of a red poppy.

In May of 1915, Canadian doctor Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae presided over the funeral of his friend and comrade at Flanders Fields in the cover of darkness (for security reasons). The following day, while looking across the field to the grave of his friend, McCrae penned the words to the poem “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 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.

The poem starts out sombre but soon turns to a rousing plea to those who remain. It even states that the fallen soldiers do not really sleep. Its lyrics lead from grief into hope.

From Trash to Fame

Even the story of the poem itself is one of hope. After showing the poem to a fellow soldier, McCrae threw it in the garbage. Later, his friend retrieved it and encouraged McCrae to submit it to a magazine. It was send to The Spectator, but it was rejected. Later, it was submitted to Punch who published it on December 8, 1915. The poem went from the garbage to being one of the most famous poems of recent history.

Beauty from Ashes

While the poppy is certainly a symbol of remembrance (I wear one every year for this purpose), it is also a symbol of hope. God will allow good and beautiful things to come from sad and difficult times in our lives. Isaiah 61:3 says, “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes…” Even from disaster something beautiful can grow.

One of my favourite songs from the classic Chitty Chitty Bang Bang movie is “Up from the Ashes Grow the Roses of Success.” The first verse says:

Every bursted bubble has a glory!
Each abysmal failure makes a point!
Every glowing path that goes astray,
Shows you how to find a better way.
So every time you stumble never grumble.
Next time you’ll bumble even less!
For up from the ashes, up from the ashes, grow the roses of success!
Grow the roses!
Grow the roses!
Grow the roses of success!
Oh yes!
Grow the roses!
Those rosy roses!
From the ashes of disaster grow the roses of success!

Perhaps we could substitute the words to say “up from the battle grounds grow the poppies of hope.”

The next time you are facing a “battle” in your life, remember the poppy.