WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE?

(PETE SEEGER/JOE HICKERSON) (1956-'60)

Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger testifies before the HUAC, 1955
© 1955 New York Post Corporation

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... on July 26, 1956, the House of Representatives voted 373 to 9 to cite Pete Seeger and seven others (including playwright Arthur Miller) for contempt.

After the citation came an indictment, and then a trial.

Seeger carried on as best he could, singing for young people at liberal colleges like Oberlin and Reed. En route to one of these concerts, Seeger had the inspiration for "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?"

On the plane, he pulled out his pocket-size song notebook: "Leafing through it, I came across three lines I'd written down, oh, at least a year or two before: '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.' "

He'd read this in a novel by Mikhail Sholokhov, And Quiet Flows the Don, the three lines came from a Ukrainian folk song. For a year he had searched around for the original song, then given up, jotting down this fragment in hopes of using it some day. This time he glanced at the words, and "things just slipped into place."

For four or five years, Pete had also carried a musical phrase in his head, like an old man saving string: "long time passing." He had been struck by its melodic beauty: the four vowel sounds are sequential, opening up the mouth as they are sung. "All I knew was that those were three words I wanted to use in a song; I wasn't quite sure how, where, or when. Suddenly it fit with this 'Where have all the flowers gone -- long time passing.' And, five minutes later, I had 'Long time ago.' Then without realizing it, I took a tune, a lumberjack version of "Drill Ye Tarriers Drill': it was as unconscious as Woody using 'Goodnight Irene' as the tune for 'Roll On Columbia.' "

At first, the song seemed too short to be serviceable, with only three verses. Pete sang it once in a medley of short tunes (released on a fascinating though obscure disc, "Rainbow Quest") and forgot about it.

But a song is like a child; once it gets out into the world on its own, it often surprises the parent. About three years later, around 1959 or 1960, Harold asked Pete whether he wrote "Where Have All the Flowers Gone?" -- the Kingston Trio had recorded and claimed the song. When Pete called them up, they said, "We didn't know you'd recorded it; we'll take our name off."

The song traveled around the world. In Germany, Marlene Dietrich's daughter insisted she record it1; both Peggy Seeger and Dominic Behan, the Irish singer, told Pete that it was his best song.

"When I came out to Camp Woodland the next time," Seeger continued, "I gave the words to a counselor, Joe Hickerson, and he sang it with his kids. That gave it more rhythm." Hickerson sang the first verse at the end, giving it a cyclical feel, and added two verses. After Peter, Paul and Mary recorded the song. it reached the hit parade.

A dark period had again produced one of Seeger's universal songs. The musician who thrives on poverty and despair has become a cliché; yet in Seeger's case, when everything tipped against him, when his liberty, career, and safely were in jeopardy, a spark inside ignited a song.

David Dunaway, How Can I Keep From Singing: Pete Seeger, New York, NY, 1990, pp. 186-187.

1Marlene Dietrich first sang the song in Paris (in French, as "Qui peut dire vont les fleurs?"), presumably for a UNICEF concert in 1962.

Her recording for French Pathé is dated May 1962. Her September 1963 Washington D.C. performance of the song (in English) was lauded by the Los Angeles Times: "The ovation was enormous."

Manfred Helfert

English lyrics as reprinted in Tom Glazer, Songs of Peace, Freedom & Protest, Greenwich, CT, 1970, pp. 338-340.
© 1961 Fall River Music

German lyrics by Max Colpet
© Essex Musikvertrieb Köln

Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time passing.
Where have all the flowers gone?
Long time ago.
Where have all the flowers gone?
The girls have picked them ev'ry one.
Oh, when will you ever learn?
Oh, when will you 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?
They've taken husbands, every one.
Oh, when will you ever learn?
Oh, when will you 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?
They're all in uniform.
Oh, when will you ever learn?
Oh, when will you 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?
They've gone to graveyards, every one.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, 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?
They're covered with flowers, every one.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

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, every one.
Oh, when will they ever learn?
Oh, when will they ever learn?

Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind,
wo sind sie geblieben?
Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind,
was ist geschehn?
Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind,
Mädchen pflückten sie geschwind.
Wann wird man je verstehn,
wann wird man je verstehn?

Sag mir, wo die Mädchen sind,
wo sind sie geblieben?
Sag mir, wo die Mädchen sind,
was ist geschehn?
Sag mir, wo die Mädchen sind,
Männer nahmen sie geschwind.
Wann wird man je verstehn,
wann wird man je verstehn?

Sag mir, wo die Männer sind,
wo sind sie geblieben?
Sag mir, wo die Männer sind,
was ist geschehn?
Sag mir, wo die Männer sind,
zogen fort, der Krieg beginnt.
Wann wird man je verstehn,
wann wird man je verstehn?

Sag, wo die Soldaten sind,
wo sind sie geblieben?
Sag, wo die Soldaten sind,
was ist geschehn?
Sag, wo die Soldaten sind,
über Gräbern weht der Wind.
Wann wird man je verstehn,
wann wird man je verstehn?

Sag mir, wo die Gräber sind,
wo sind sie geblieben?
Sag mir, wo die Gräber sind,
was ist geschehn?
Sag mir, wo die Gräber sind,
Blumen wehn im Sommerwind.
Wann wird man je verstehn,
wann wird man je verstehn?

Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind,
wo sind sie geblieben?
Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind,
was ist geschehn?
Sag mir, wo die Blumen sind,
Mädchen pflückten sie geschwind.
Wann wird man je verstehn,
wann wird man je verstehn?

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