Guest Author - Evelyn Rainey
The poppy is associated with service to one’s country and is used to commemorate those who died fighting for their county. If you are a veteran of one of the World Wars, you know exactly what the poppy signifies, but if you are from a later generation, you may recognize the symbol but have you given much thought as to why that particular flower was used?
That particular flower is the papaver rhoeas – the corn poppy. It looks very much like its leaves are made from red crepe paper. It grows as a weed in Europe. Herbalists derive opium, morphine, and codeine from poppies. (Every part of the plant shows up as this narcotic in a drug test – so watch the consumption of those poppy seed muffins!)
So how did something like that get linked to a day when veterans are honored? Let’s look at its roots (the word’s roots, not the plant's.) To the pre-industrialized world, the poppy symbolized eternal sleep (most likely because it is an opiate) and resurrection after death (because of the color red). In Persian Literature, the poppy is known as the eternal love flower.
Add to this the fact that so many of the fields in Europe not only were natural habitats for poppies, but were also the battlegrounds of WWI. The poppy became inexorably linked with the slain soldiers of WWI. Tragically, when WWI was not proved to be “the war to end all wars”, the poppy remained a constant symbol for those who gave their lives so that the world would eventually know peace.
In the Commonwealth Nations, the poppy is worn on Armistice Day (November 11) to commemorate veterans and civilians of WWI and the subsequent wars. In the US, poppies are worn on Memorial Day (last Monday in May) in memory of fallen soldiers, and on Veterans Day (November 11) in honor of veterans who are still living. Canadians wear poppies on Remembrance Day (also November 11) and New Zealand and Australia wear them on ANZAC Day (April 25).
Immortalized by the stirring poem “In Flanders Fields” by Canadian Army physician Lt. Col. John McCrea, the poppy will forever remind me of those whose love for freedom and responsibility for their country led to their eternal sleep, and promises resurrection after death.
I will be wearing a poppy on Veterans Day and on Memorial Day. I know you will be, too.