Russian Language Blog

Russian Space Songs Karaoke Posted by on Feb 25, 2011 in Culture, History, language, Soviet Union


Well, it’s «февраль» [February] and the weather is absolutely dreary. All around me – «снег» [snow] and «сугробы» [snow drifts] and freezing temperatures. So all I want to write about is tropical climes, but Russia isn’t famous for those. So instead, I’m going to talk about «астрономия» [astronomy].

«Сперва» [at first] I thought about simply giving translations for the cool astronomy words, such as «сверхновая звезда» [a supernova] as well as point out that «Уран» [Uranus] sounds so much cooler in Russian (sort of like «ура» [hooray] and not at all like what it sounds like in English). But that’s «довольно скучно» [pretty boring].

The inspiration came from a passage in the Lennart Dahlgren’s book Despite Absurdity: How I Conquered Russia While It Conquered Me. In a chapter titled “Western Logic”, Dahlgren points out that

«Большинство русских прекрасно ориентируются в музыке и литературе, поэтому часто играют на культурологических контекстах.»

[Most Russians are conversant in music and literature and thus frequently play upon the cultural context.]

While Mr. Dahlgren talks about failure of the Western logic in business negotiations, his «меткое наблюдение» [astute observation] can be applied to so many other situations.

And so, let’s roll. Or as the song goes «он сказал поехали, и махнул рукой» [he said “let’s go” and waved his hand]. The “he” is, of course, Yuri Gagarin who, on April 12, 1961 said the historic «ну, поехали!» [well, let’s go!] at the start of the Vostok 1 rocket. This is a must-know phrase.

Since «астрономия» has “star” in it, how about starting with «звезда» [star]

«Ведь если звёзды зажигают – значит – это кому-нибудь нужно?» [If stars are lit nightly, then someone out there needs it] – who knew a proletarian poet who wrote such lines as “The Communist Party and Lenin are twins and brothers!” could be so romantic. Seriously though, this simple line made me fall in love with Vladimir Mayakovski and his poetry back in high school.

Mayakovski wrote well before Soviet Union became «впереди планеты всей по ракетам» [ahead of the rest of the planet in space rockets]. So when things really started happening in the 1960s – first satellite, first manned flight, first space walk, there was a large number of great songs that became a part of the aforementioned «культурологический контекст» [cultural context].

By the way, the exact line from a song by Yuri Vizbor is «зато мы делаем ракеты и перекрыли Енисей, а также в области балета мы впереди планеты всей» [but we are making rockets and dammed the Yenisei and are also ahead of the entire planet in ballet]. You’ll hear this phrase most often as «иронический комментарий» [ironic commentary] to «квасной патриотизм» [being blindly and mindlessly patriotic].

Catchy tunes promised that in no time «на пыльных тропинках далёких планет останутся наши следы» [our footprints will remain on the dusty trails of the faraway planets] while «на Марсе будут яблони цвести» [apple trees will blossom on Mars].

These two lines are emblems of «космическая романтика» [the romance of the Cosmos] of that era as well as handy phrases to describe irrational exuberance of any kind.

One such «мечта» [dream] was that we will find «братья по разуму» [intelligent life] on other planets. Even some «астрономы» [astronomers] believed in life on «планеты земного типа» [terrestrial planets] in solar systems nearest to us, including «Тау Кита» [Tau Ceti] and «Эпсилон Эридана» [Epsilon Eridani]. And that’s how come we have «на Тау-Ките условья не те» [the conditions on Tau Ceti are different] and «а кругом космическая тьма» [the darkness of space is all around us]. Both are from awesome songs by Vladimir Visotsky.

Soviet children, particularly boys, were raised to be «капитаны межпланетных кораблей» [spaceship captains]. One of the most popular lullabies of the time had such lines as «ни какой магнитной буре не сломить таких ребят» [no geomagnetic storm will crush such boys] and «баю-бай, подрастай и до самых звёзд летай» [rockabye, keep growing up and to the stars you’ll fly].

But even though «мы – дети галактики» [children of the galaxy] our real home was back on Earth: «но самое главное, – мы – дети твои, дорогая Земля» [we are children of the galaxy, but most importantly we are your children, our dearest Earth]. The mission was not just «долететь до самого солнца» [fly to the very Sun], but «домой возвращаться скорей» [to hurry back home].

No wonder one of the most popular Soviet era space-songs proclaimed «и снится нам не рокот космодрома, не эта ледяная синева. А снится нам трава, трава у дома. Зелёная-зелёная трава [And we are dreaming not of the rumble of the launchpad, nor of the icy blue (of the outer space). We are dreaming of grass, the grass by our house. The green-green grass.]

This song, by the way, is officially recognized as an anthem of Soviet cosmonauts. So if you have time to learn just one song, this is it.

And now that you’re up and up on the space songs, you can sing them karaoke-style at this year’s Yuri’s Night. Or suggest other songs to learn by April 12th.

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  1. Arkadiy B:

    Thank you Yelena for an early (I am all for getting ready for April 12th, Cosmonavtika Day, however), yet still awesome post. And also for resuscitating the long forgotten “kvasnoi patriotizm” – what a great idiom!!! Oh, and by the way, I am still getting chills listening to “Trava u doma”, remembering cold winter mornings in the USSR, when they used to play it on one of the two radio stations available at least once a week around 6:30AM; the radio was blaring in the hallway…that’s when I knew that mom was going to work about now, and I had at least 30 more minutes to sleep, before facing yet another school day! Ahh…memories of times long past 🙂

  2. Arkadiy B:

    oh, btw, if anyone knows where I can get good quality Gagarin posters, please let me know!

    • yelena:

      @Arkadiy B Yeah, I’d love to know myself – where can I get some Soviet-era space exploration posters, including the ones with Gagarin.

  3. Bob:

    Gagarin’s flight is just one of many fantastic achievements accomplished by the Russian/Soviet space program. It’s a shame that folks today know only about Sputnik, Gagarin, and Mir.

    For example: The Luna probes which first took pictures of the far side of the moon – The Salyut space stations – and my favorite, the Buran space shuttle!

    Can anyone in Russia tell us what’s going on for Gagarin’s 50th anniversary this year? I’m expecting something of Olympic proportions, but haven’t heard anything!!
    I’m interested in buying almost anything related to this historical event.

    For those looking for space stuff: My friend Alex in LA sells all kinds of Russian space-related items. I’ve been dealing with him for over 10 years. Go to:

    PS – Great blog, folks! Looooooooong time reader, first post!