Where Have All The Flowers Gone? *Must Read*

Posted by M ws On Tuesday, July 10, 2012 7 comments
As some of you might know, I lecture part-time at a local college in Penang in the Pre-University Programme. My General Paper class for the A-level course is usually a small cohort because only diligent and strong-hearted students who are willing to think and work take my class. So far, my students have been very co-operative and have responded well to my input. Last Tuesday, I gave a lecture on various aspects of music to comply with the Paper 3 component of the Cambridge International AS 8004 General Paper syllabus. We had a grand time discussing music genres, the functions and forms of music and the background of certain songs including "Yesterday" and other protest songs. I daresay that was my best lecture for 2011-2012!

Every week,the kids have to turn in an assignment. And they have to think, analyze, discuss, criticize and even object to what I pose to them because in that way, they can develop critical thinking skills and maturity of thought. To my delight, the assignment on a song review that they turned in was particularly pleasing, especially the one written by Justin Looi Su Min. Believe me - it is tough to find good students who can bear with eccentric me as I am very particular about quality control in the classroom and I am quite blessed in that despite having seven students for this cohort, they are great kids and the group dynamics are pretty awesome. Even though it was a rocky start to separate the wheat from the chaff, the seven that chose to take my class from the twenty are very nice students and I pray every single one of them will score 'A' in the coming exam to repeat what my previous cohort achieved. Justin, an eighteen year old student who hails from Prai, is a lively boy who enjoys (at least I think he does) my jokes and quips in class. Thankfully, he is quite resilient to my *coughs* comments or incessant nagging for him and others to meet deadlines (I chase them via emails, smses, whatsapps etc.LOL). All in all, I am glad to have this group and love picking their brains! I almost gave up on them at one point because it was so difficult to get them to write. I threatened to resign and that was when the turnaround happened and it has been a beautiful and fulfilling journey since (although two still owe me essays!).

Note that in this assignment, they have to give an analytical critique of the song including salient observations about the lyrics, form, musical structure. They also have to construct a topic sentence in each paragraph that must be discussed with supporting evidence sans grammatical errors and fallacies. Each sentence must be linked to the other and each paragraph must have coherence, clarity, concreteness of ideas, completeness of arguments and correctness of facts/grammar. After an effective introduction, each paragraph must lead to the other and lead to a cogent and impressive conclusion. All topic sentences must be highlighted in bold in all assignments that they submit, including this one. Only original works and attributed quotations are allowed. Enjoy this essay by Justin (with minimal editing by yours truly) and do leave a comment to share your views.

Justin: Well done!! I am very proud of you and pleased with your effort and progress! More essays please :-). I have yet to check my inbox for today's homework :-) and will do so right after I post this! Cheers!
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Where Have All The Flowers Gone? 
by Justin Looi Su Min



At the height of the Cold War, the American government pursued a zealous programme against alleged threats to national security. Those dark days, filled with the constant threat of nuclear confrontation and fear of persecution, led many to express their frustrations in music and songs. One such activist is Peter Seeger who wrote many anti-establishment songs such as "Beans In My Ears", a subtle critique of President Lyndon Johnson's oblivion to anti-war sentiments. He is particularly famous for "Where Have All The Flowers Gone?"

"Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" is a melancholic song lamenting the loss of lives in wars. It describes girls picking flowers and marrying men who have enlisted as soldiers and eventually die and are buried in graveyards covered with flowers once more. The singing is accompanied by basic guitar chords strummed in simple patterns and the lyrics may be sung in a spoken fashion.

Each stanza begins with a nostalgic rhetorical question "Where have all the flowers gone?/ Long time passing..." followed by the revealing response "Where have all the young girls gone? Taken husbands, every one". The phrase When will they ever learn? is repeated at the end of every stanza, emphasizing the cyclical nature of death.

The song also echoes the Latin "ubi sunt" poetic tradition, which literally translates to "Where are... {they}?" In Seeger's composition, "ubi sunt" meditates on death and loss, fitting the tensed backdrop of the global theatre of the period. The American government prosecuted an increasingly fruitless proxy war in Vietnam against the Soviet-backed North Vietnamese Alliance. Internally, vicious witch hunts were launched against anything deemed communist-related, subversive or even socialist. For a nation still recovering from the  Second World War, the Vietnam War claimed another generation of young men and boys. The verse "Where have all the soldiers gone?/ Gone to graveyards every one?" mirrored the spectre of death that hung over the country at that time.

Taking folk tradition to heart, the song underlines remembrance of the departed and their sacrifices. The last stanza includes "Where have all the graveyards gone?/ Gone to flowers everyone" which insinuates how subsequent generations to come may suffer from ignorance of the folly of war. The flowers could be symbolic of the apathy in society or the uncaring hand of the government, both of which fuel war. Seeger reaches out to his society for to understand the issue of war and beseeches them to remember the cost of such international feuds. 

His simple lyrics evoke vivid and emotional images of loss through uncomplicated lyrics. By ignoring nationality and political affiliation, the song focuses on war and its consequences, tugging at our conscience.

"Where Have All The Flowers Gone?" as enduring as ninety year-old Seeger himself, is now synonymous with anti-war movements and civil activism. It has been covered by artistes including Bobby Darin, Harry Belafonte and Dolly Parton. Academy Award nominated actress Marlene Dietrich sang it at a 1962 UNICEF concert in Germany. (Listen to it HERE.) She was also the first to break the anti-German taboo in Israel with the same song. 

Peter Seeger has performed the song many times even into his twilight years. Most significantly, he replaced 'they" in "When will they ever learn?" with "When will WE ever learn?" highlighting society's responsibility in passing on the hard lessons learnt in war. His song has been translated into over twenty languages, speaking to people across racial lines and borders. Where have all the flowers gone? remains etched in history as one of the most gentle, yet hard-hitting anti-war songs.

The song has earned its place among the greatest protest songs of all time. Peter Seeger is from the generation that savoured the musical works of John Lennon and Bob Dylan.The disquieting contemplation of war and death could help a modern world desensitized to violence and suffering. 

In the end, such music will outlive their creators to leave a lasting mark upon the collective consciousness of humanity. If future generations may ask a question to make sense of war, sacrifice, history, losses and death, let it be "Where have all the flowers gone?"

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I have always challenged all my students to write better than I do and I believe Justin has done it in this assignment. :-) I was really moved deeply when I marked his essay. To be honest, he had a tough time in January when he first joined my class and had to rewrite his second essay two or three times. I am sincerely glad he did not run away like the others but stayed on in my class, responded positively to my criticisms and comments and most of all, gave his best. Keep it up, young man.

Do leave a comment to encourage Justin. Thanks!!!




7 comments to Where Have All The Flowers Gone? *Must Read*

  1. says:

    Cat-from-Sydney Hey Justin! I looove your writing, man. Keep up the good work and don't let Aunty Paula nag you. Ever. har har har *evil laughs*

  1. says:

    EwenMcEwen Proud of you, Justin boy! Keep up the excellent work! There is this Cambridge top-in-the-world, top-in-your-country annual awards thingy. Work on and for it, young man. ;D

  1. says:

    cin2tan where have our hard-earned money gone
    gone to their pokets everyone !

  1. says:

    Strange Happenings Thanks teacher! I will try my level best to continue writing well!

  1. says:

    Naresh Singh Update:Justin continues to write things.

  1. says:

    M ws Hi again, Mr Naresh

    Thank you for that update. I am certainly pleased to hear that he is still writing. Hope you all can share his works. For sure, it is always a pleasure to post his works.

    Take care. Keep in touch.

    My warmest wishes to you and Justin.


  1. says:

    M ws Hi again, Mr Naresh

    Thank you for that update. I am certainly pleased to hear that he is still writing. Hope you all can share his works. For sure, it is always a pleasure to post his works.

    Take care. Keep in touch.

    My warmest wishes to you and Justin.


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