Forgotten Hits of the Past: Roses of Picardy

Forgotten Hits of the Past: Roses of Picardy

Paolo Reyes, Staff Writer

There is something special about songs from the first world war. They all seem to have this allure to them that draws people in, giving them a sense of nostalgia for a time that no one alive today has experienced. Not only this, but the poetic and hartfelt nature of the songs that were inspired by the scenes of suffering of many Europeans offer a glimpse into the past like no other. It is these songs that can invoke the most complex of emotions in a person; such is the case for “Roses of Picardy”, a song by musician Haydn Wood and lyricist Frederick Weatherly.

While this song was written during the first world war, it makes no allusion nor reference to the conflict. It does not stray at all from its central theme of love and infatuation. The song’s lyrics describe a mysterious woman with notably sea-blue eyes in an almost dream-like setting, watching from a poplar tree. The woman is seen watching, longing, and waiting for something, or someone. What is she waiting for? Why does she long for it? And what is she watching? These only add to the mysterious attraction of this song’s character. In this song, love is quite literally in the air, causing the mystery woman to tremble, as if freezing. Then comes the chorus. The chorus of the song plays heavily with imagery involving roses, time, and death. The mystery girl is compared to a rose, which is symbolic of her beauty and magnificence. In the foggy landscape of Picardy where visibility is unclear, her beauty stands out as a beacon of love. Then, in the summer the flowers and roses reach the end of their life and die, but the one rose that persists is the girl, who lives on in the heart and memory of the song’s artist. This cycle of the seasons that results in the birth and death of the flowers represents the continuation of love through time. It truly is a beautiful analogy.

It is very much believed that the song was written as a poem by an injured soldier in Picardy, France as he was tended to by a French nurse. While this lore to the song does seem very fitting, especially for its themes and lyrics, this is just a fantasized misconception. The song’s lyricist, Frederick Weatherly, was born on October 4, 1848 and was about 70 years old when the song was published in 1916. Going by this, he would not have been eligible to have been drafted into the British army by the time the song was written. Frederick Weatherly was actually a very popular songwriter at the time and he is responsible for many of the songs that are still popular today from that era. While “Roses of Picardy” is not Weatherly’s most successful work, it still sees some minor popularity today. Over the past century it has been covered by many notable singers, such as  John McCormack in 1928, Mario Lanza in 1952, and Frank Sinatra in 1962. Interestingly, this persistence of the song’s popularity is similar to its central theme of the persistence of love throughout time.

“Roses of Picardy” is a very interesting and enjoyable song. As it is a fairly old song, being a little more than a century old, it gives off an impression of antiquity that not many songs are able to boast about. It is the special feeling of this song, alongside its ominously beautiful lyrics and imagery that truly make it a staple of early 20th century music.