Polish National Flowers - Red Poppies from Monte Cassino

Recently I posted two articles about flowers for different occasions weddings, communion and birthdays and funerals. Somebody asked the question - what is a national flower of Poland?

Every state in the USA has its flag, song, flower, bird - so people expect that Poland should also have a national flower. Does Poland has a national flower? This question is not that easy to answer. We don't have national or state symbols which are so popular in the Anglo-Saxon culture, like flowers, animals, music instruments, mottos, or "official nicknames". The average Pole - would have a hard time to answer this question. The more Polish people you ask - the less they would agree which flower is a national one.

Definitively, there is no any one flower who could be pinpointed as a ~ single ~~ one ~~ and the only ~ national Polish flower but there are few - which for some reasons are important in Polish culture and history.

One of these flowers is a corn-poppy - in Latin - Papaver rhoeas, in Polish - mak. It is red - just like one of two Polish national colors (the other one is white). Poppy became linked with Poland after a famous song entitled - Red poppies at Monte Cassino.

Poppy (in Polish, mak) is also present in Polish folk songs, poems and phrases. There is a folk poem - Siala baba mak (babushka was sowing a poppy).

Siala baba mak -Babushka was sowing poppies
Nie wiedziala jak - she did not know how
dziadek wiedzial nie powiedzial - the grandpa (old man) knew but he did not tell
A to bylo tak - and so the story goes...

this is a refrain which repeats itself over and over again!

Another example is a popular phrase - Cicho jak makiem zasial (Silence as like somebody has sown a poppy). Fortunately, Poland does not have a tradition of producing poppies for drugs but... my mother still remembers that my grandma's advice for keeping a baby silent was - "boil some poppy in a soup and let the baby to smell it". So the poppy was known as a tranquilizer, my mother though never used it on us ;-)) There are other much more efficient and safer methods to calm a baby - check our article Fennel, Chamomile: Help for Colic Babies.

- lets go back to Monte Cassino:

~~Red Poppies on Monte Cassino ~~Czerwone maki na Monte Cassino~~

Monte Cassino in Italy is famous not only as a beautiful mountain with an old monastery on the top. The monastery is famous as a cradle of Benedictine Order and one of the pillars of Christianity - built about 529 A.D. Monte Cassino hill is also a strategic place, situated about eighty miles south of Rome.

During World War II, a famous battle, actually a costly series of battles took place at Monte Cassino (also known as a Battle for Rome). It was fought by the allied forces with an intention of breaking through the German defense line and seizing Rome. In the decisive and final part of the battle Polish soldiers took action (May 11-May 19, 1944) - about forty thousands of Polish soldiers from 2nd Polish Corps, under a command of a famous general Anders. Polish attack contributed to a final victory greatly, Poles were also the first who were able to reach the top of the hill and put Polish flag there.

The fight was heavy, about a thousand of Polish soldiers died, also many thousands of soliers from the other alied forces died. Poles have been buried on a cemetery on the slope of Monte Cassino mountain. Look here - to see photographs of Monte Cassino and a Polish military cemetery.

Check more links about the Monte Cassino battle at Battle of Monte Cassino Website or at BBC history website World War Two: The Battle of Monte Cassino.

Since the mountain was full of beautiful red poppies when the battle took place, in May 1944, a song entitled - Red Poppies on Monte Cassino was written almost immediately afterwards. It was finished in a couple of hours after a victory and performed the next day after the battle to the Polish troops - and became known almost immediately!
Music was written by Alfred Schutz (1910-1999) and words by Feliks Konarski (1907-1991). The song commemorates the heroism of Polish soldiers and links them to poppies - which, according to the song, were nourished by Polish blood thus they are so red.

Below is a fragment (translated into English):

Red poppies on Monte Cassino
Instead of dew, drank Polish blood.
As the soldier crushed them in falling,
For the anger was more potent than death.
Years will pass and ages will roll,
But traces of bygone days will stay,
And the poppies on Monte Cassino
Will be redder having quaffed Polish blood.

this excerpt is from: Czerwone Maki na Monte Cassino

Under this link there is also a full version of the song in Polish and English and also midi files with the music performed with different musical instruments. There are many websites devoted to Monte Cassino. If because of the high security levels at your computer you were unable to open a midi file above - try HERE in a choir performance.

The most complete link (in Polish) to all the websites about Monte Cassino and its famous song is available here.

Red poppies are not only a symbol of Polish military. The poppy became widely accepted throughout the allied nations as the flower of remembrance to be worn on Armistice Day after World War I. Read more about it and see the pictures at Australian War Memorial website.

Check the selection of articles about flowers in Poland and about World War II in Poland. Check also article Poppies and Landscapes of War, by Georgene A. Bramlage.

written by Jagoda Urban-Klaehn, February 10, 2004 (article #163)

Check this book about brave Poles which fight as air force pilots:

A Question of Honor : The Kosciuszko Squadron: Forgotten Heroes of World War II, by Lynne Olson, Stanley Cloud

I recommend two books about Monte Cassino:

Monte Cassino: The Story of the Most Controversial Battle of World War II


Monte Cassino : The Hardest-Fought Battle of World War II by Matthew Parker (Author)

I read the review of the book above - it is well written and it has lots of information about Polish Anders army

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