“Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”

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Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” is a modern folk-style song. The melody and the first three verses were written by Pete Seeger in 1955 and published in Sing Out! magazine. Additional verses were added in May 1960 by Joe Hickerson, who turned it into a circular song. Its rhetorical “where?” and meditation on death place the song in the ubi sunt tradition. In 2010, the New Statesman listed it as one of the “Top 20 Political Songs”.


“Where Have All The Flowers Gone?”

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Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the flowers gone?
Girls have picked them, every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young girls gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young girls gone?
Taken husbands, every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?Where have all the young men gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the young men gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the young men gone?
Gone for soldiers, every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards, every one
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time passing
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Long time ago
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Covered with flowers, every one
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?

Seeger found inspiration for the song in October 1955 while he was on a plane bound for a concert at Oberlin College, one of the few venues which would hire him during the McCarthy era. Leafing through his notebook he saw the passage, “Where are the flowers, the girls have plucked them. Where are the girls, they’ve all taken husbands. Where are the men, they’re all in the army.” These lines were taken from the traditional Cossack folk song “Koloda-Duda”, referenced in the Mikhail Sholokhov novel And Quiet Flows the Don (1934), which Seeger had read “at least a year or two before”.

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SONGFACTS:

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Pete Seeger wrote this song as a call for peace. He was inspired by Mikhail Sholokhov’s novel And Quiet Flows the Don, which is about Czarist Russia. In a 1988 interview with Paul Zollo, Seeger explained: “In one of the early chapters, it describes the Cossack soldiers galloping off to join the Czar’s army. And they’re singing: ‘Where are the flowers? The girls have plucked them. Where are the girls? They’ve all taken husbands. Where are the men? They’re all in the army. Gallop, gallop, gallop, wheeeee!’ I stuck the words in my pocket. A year or two or three went by and I never had time to look up the original. Meanwhile, I’m sitting in a plane, kind of dozing. And all of a sudden came a line I had thought about five years earlier: ‘long time passing.’ I thought that those three words sang well. All of a sudden I fitted the two together, along with the intellectual’s perennial complaining, ‘When will we ever learn?'” (this appears in Zollo’s book

  • Seeger’s lyrics show how war and suffering can by cyclical in nature: girls pick flowers, men pick girls, men go to war and fill graves with their dead which get covered with flowers.

  • The folk group Peter, Paul And Mary began playing this,

 

  • and when The Kinston Trio saw them perform it in concert, they recorded it the next day.

 

  • Movie star Marlene Dietrich recorded a German version. In 1965, Johnny Rivers hit #26 with his cover.

 

  • Peter, Paul And Mary re-recorded this in 1997 for a public service announcement featuring guns, grieving families, deceased kids, and white coffins. It was renamed “Where Have All The Children Gone,” and this ad of the same name was from the US Department of Justice, the National Crime Prevention Council, and the Ad Council.

 

(Sources: Songfacts & Wikipedia)

What do you remember about this song? Who sang your favorite version? Share in the comment section below…

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