Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Daisy Oracle

There is a flower within my heart,
planted one day by a glancing dart, planted by Daisy Bell.
Whether she loves me or loves me not, sometimes it's hard to tell,
and yet I'm longing to share the lot of beautiful Daisy Bell.

--opening lyrics to "Daisy Bell" by Harry Dacre, 1892
cited in American Popular Songs by David Ewen, 1966.

Harry Dacre wrote the song "Daisy Bell" as a British music hall song.
Music halls were much like American vaudevilles,
except they offered food and spirits to the patrons.

Dacre's song was immensely popular in the UK and in the US.
When I was a kid, this song was part of my family's musical repertoire,
although we called it "Daisy" and only sang its refrain:
Daisy, Daisy give me your answer do,
I'm half crazy, all for the love of you ...

It was a fun song to sing, but we didn't realize at the time
that our Daisy song also referenced
another youthful activity of longstanding:
plucking the petals from a daisy
and saying "loves me, loves me not."

It's amazing to me how this simple game
has endured through time.

Some accounts say this is a game of French origin, with the words:
il m'aime un peu, beaucoup, tendrement, constamment,
á la foliem, point du tout
In English: he loves me a little, a lot, tenderly, constantly,
madly, not at all.
(source: "effeuiller la marguerite" thread, 2007)
But there are as many variations for this in French
as there are for the "Daisy Bell" song verses.

Besides "Daisy Bell," the "decision of the flower" occurs in several works,
including Part 1 of Goethe's 1806 Faust
and Alexandre Dumas' 1842 play Halifax.
But the earliest reference to the "daisy oracle" is said to appear
in a 1471 songbook by the Bavarian scribe Clara Hätzlerin.
According to the book of the same name by Wolfgang Mieder,
in German the game is called "liebt mich, liebt mich nicht ..." 
(source:, as noted above)
so perhaps its appearance in the songbook
means it is German in origin.

Wherever the daisy oracle came from,
it's fascinating to know
that it has endured for more than 500 years.
Apparently, no one can resist an early summer day,
 a field full of daisies, and the wonder of it all.

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