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Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

Where Have All The Flowers Gone? – Pete Seeger

Peter “Pete” Seeger was an American folk singer and political activist, who died early in 2014. He wrote this song in 1955 at the height of the Cold War. It has been an anthem for many peace and anti-war movements ever since – especially for those who opposed the Vietnam War. The song was used more recently to support the peace process in Northern Ireland. This version by Irish musicians Tommy Sands and Delores Keane, Bosnian cellist Vedran Smailovic and a chorus of Protestant and Catholic school children accompanied many of the peace negotiations and meetings. This is a simple and powerful song about the futility of war. It describes the cycle of life: Flowers grow in the fields; Young girls pick the flowers; The young girls marry; Their husbands become soldiers; The soldiers are killed in wars and are buried in graveyards; The graveyards become fields of flowers. The song suggests that war is futile and we keep making the same mistakes – in life and with our endless wars. And the song keeps asking the question: “When will they ever learn?” At the end “they” changes to “we,” because the question concerns us all.

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?
Young girls picked them everyone
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 everyone
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 everyone
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, everyone
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?
Gone to flowers, everyone
When will we ever learn?
When will we ever learn?

I first heard this song during Easter in 1968 (on the CND Aldermaston march while still a soldier) and the crowds of people on the march were singing Where Have All The Flowers Gone? Five months later, after a short period of service in Northern Ireland, I bought myself out of the army. After my discharge I went to London to live, so I could help to organise the anti-Vietnam War protests and again this song was often sung on these demonstrations. After the song became such a powerful voice for peace Pete Seeger described how he came to write Where Have All The Flowers Gone ? –  “I had been reading a long novel called  “And Quiet Flows the Don” about the Don River in Russia and the Cossacks who lived along it in the 19th century. It describes the Cossack soldiers galloping off to join the Czar’s army, singing as they go. Three lines from a song are quoted in the book: ‘Where are the flowers? The girls plucked them / Where are the girls? They’re all married / Where are the men? They’re all in the army.’ I never got around to looking up the song, but I wrote down those three lines. Later, in an airplane, I was dozing, and it occurred to me that the line ‘long time passing’ which I had also written in a notebook would sing well. Then I thought, ‘When will we ever learn.’ Suddenly, within 20 minutes, I had a song. There were just three verses. I Scotch-taped the song to a microphone and sang it at Oberlin College. This was in 1955.”

Aly Renwick served with the British Army in Thailand during the Vietnam War, he is a member of VFP UK.

  • George 23/09/2014, 15:04

    Great read and I just looked up some of Pete Seeger’s quotes.