Song Lyric Sunday — Flowers

Jim Adams’ Song Lyric Sunday theme words this week — blossoms, cherry, and flowers — are intended, I suppose, to honor of the arrival of spring and the fact that today is Easter Sunday. I was going to go with Neil Diamond’s “Cherry Cherry,” but I already used that song in this Song Lyric Sunday post from this past December. Then I was going to go with Scott McKenzie’s “San Francisco,” which has the lines “If you’re going to San Francisco/Be sure to wear some flowers in your hair.” But I had already used that last April for another one of my Song Lyric Sunday posts. So I looked through all of my Song Lyric Sunday posts and realized I had never used Pete Seeger’s “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.”

“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” was a modern folk-style song. The melody and the first three verses were written by Pete Seeger in 1955. Additional verses were added in May 1960 by Joe Hickerson, who turned it into a song with a circular reference, starting and ending with flowers. Seeger and the song were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002 in the Folk category. And in 2010, the New Statesman listed it as one of the “Top 20 Political Songs.”

Seeger wrote this song as a call for peace. The song’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. He said he was inspired by Mikhail Sholokhov’s novel “And Quiet Flows the Don,” which is about Czarist Russia. In a 1988 interview, 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. I fitted the two together, along with the intellectual’s perennial complaining, ‘When will we ever learn?'”

The folk group Peter, Paul & Mary began playing this at their live concerts, and when The Kingston Trio saw them perform it in concert, they recorded it the next day. Interestingly, believing it to be a traditional song, the trio claimed authorship, although upon notice from Seeger they had their name removed and credited Seeger and Hickerson.

Here is The Kingston Trio’s version

And here is Peter, Paul & Mary’s version.

Here are the lyrics to “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”

Where have all the flowers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the flowers gone, long time ago?
Where have all the flowers gone?
Gone to young girls, 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?
Gone to young men, 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 to soldiers, every one!
When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?

And where have all the soldiers gone, long time passing?
Where have all the soldiers gone, a long time ago?
Where have all the soldiers gone?
Gone to graveyards, every one!
When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn?

And where have all the graveyards gone, long time passing?
Where have all the graveyards gone, long time ago?
Where have all the graveyards gone?
Gone to flowers, every one!
When will they ever learn, oh when will they ever learn?