"'39" as written by and Brian Harold May....
In the year of '39 assembled here the volunteers
In the days when lands were few
Here the ship sailed out into the blue and sunny morn
The sweetest sight ever seen

And the night followed day
And the story tellers say
That the score brave souls inside
For many a lonely day sailed across the milky seas
Ne'er looked back, never feared, never cried

Don't you hear my call though you're many years away
Don't you hear me calling you
Write your letters in the sand
For the day I take your hand
In the land that our grandchildren knew

In the year of '39 came a ship in from the blue
The volunteers came home that day
And they bring good news of a world so newly born
Though their hearts so heavily weigh
For the earth is old and grey, little darling, we'll away
But my love this cannot be
For so many years have gone though I'm older but a year
Your mother's eyes, from your eyes, cry to me

Don't you hear my call though you're many years away
Don't you hear me calling you
Write your letters in the sand for the day I take your hand
In the land that our grandchildren knew

Don't you hear my call though you're many years away
Don't you hear me calling you
All your letters in the sand cannot heal me like your hand
For my life
Still ahead
Pity me


Lyrics submitted by f_mercury, edited by JoeDawson, jealy

"'39" as written by Brian Harold May

Lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

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'39 song meanings
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  • +6
    Song MeaningSuch a fantastic song, one of my favorites. A Brian May composition which is a bit of a departure from the power progressive style of Queen. It's a science fiction tale which brilliantly employs a part of Einsteins theory of Relativity, time dilation. Meaning as speed increases time expands; a week becomes a month, a month becomes a year, etc. It tells a story of a group of space voyagers (the volunteers), who in the year of 39 (could be 2239, 2339, who knows) depart a dying Earth in a space ship to explore a distant world for habitability. Presumably a government project, essentially scouting the planet for colonization. If they were to travel at speeds approaching the speed of light then the effects of time dilation would dramatically reduce the rate at which they age. A year back on Earth could mean only a day to them physiologically. If you follow the words you can piece together it took the volunteers 100 years to complete the mission, returning to Earth exactly one century later (in the year of 39 came a ship in from the blue). It's the year of 39.... in the next century.

    Upon their return they discover the world they left no longer exists. They have been gone a century yet the effects of time dilation has aged them only a year. Their families are long dead, the Earth has deteriorated to a gray planet. They came back to report the world they explored is vibrant and perfect for humanity. But their good news is quickly squashed by the realization that they are now refugees in time.

    The song seems to have a dual narrative; a third person perspective telling the tale of the voyage and their return underlying a first person conversation. "Can't you hear me calling you, though you're many years away?" is an imaginary conversation between one of the volunteers and presumably his wife, speaking to her through space and time. "write your letters in the sand", to me, seems to suggest leaving him a message etched in the earth he will see when he returns, perhaps a tree or stone. "for the day I take your hand in the land that our grandchildren knew." is simply a longing to return to the time and place with his loved ones. A land he knows his grandchildren will inhabit in his absence.

    I think the line "your mother's eyes from your eyes cry to me." suggest the voyager has met one of his children. After so long it has to be assumed his child is now a centenarian. And he is still a young man.

    "For my life's still ahead, pity me." means he is now alone and will live out the rest of his life displaced in time with no one.

    Lyrically the song does not give you all the information you would need to assemble the events or meaning of those events. It only gives you enough to put together a long voyage and it's effects physically and psychologically. What I love is the way it's intentionally framed as a sea voyage to a new land, not as a journey into space. Unless you knew "though I'm older but a year" meant a very specific phenomena of intergalactic travel, you would be confused by that. But that is precisely what it is, and Mays knew enough about astrophysics to use it as the basis for a sad tale of loss.
    DouglasNCon January 30, 2010   Link
  • +4
    General CommentI agree with brian May - its about space travel.

    he should know - he wrote it.
    Garfield1974on June 08, 2010   Link
  • +2
    General Commentthis is a beautiful awesome song
    queenrush_bestmusicon July 24, 2008   Link
  • +1
    General CommentBefore I looked on here I thought is was about 1939 with people being called up as volunteers to fight in WW2, pining for their loved ones and struggling to stay in touch while away fighting. Looks like I wrong though.
    manic4manicson January 08, 2012   Link
  • +1
    General CommentWithout doubt the lyrics deal with Special relativity and time dilation. Curious? Not given the source. May has a Phd in Astrophyics and is currently the Chancelor of a 15,000 student University in London. Clever fellow indeed.

    F. Prefect
    Ford Prefecton March 29, 2013   Link
  • +1
    General CommentDefinately about time travel
    cammi20on May 23, 2013   Link
  • 0
    General CommentThis is a GREAT song! At first you think it's a song about the Pilgrims sailing out for the New World, which the first verse captures the spirit of very nicely. In the second verse you realize this must have been a Strarship of sorts. "For so many years have gone, but I'm older but a year." The Volunteers have returned to Earth after a significant time has passed (whether this is because of cryogenics or Einstein's relativity is beside the point). Now the singer realizes all he has loved has passed away, and he is still there.

    I love the line "In the land that our grandchildren knew."

    dhavalon June 17, 2002   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti love this song too! i especially love the "Ne'er looked back, never feared, never cried." and "All my life Still ahead Pity Me." just the way brian may sings it is fantastic.
    blueon March 26, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General Commenti have to say well dun fgor gettin the star ship bit! i was well confuzzled at that point! Yeah wikid song! Wikid Brian- wot a guy!!!
    gmandi1708on April 29, 2003   Link
  • 0
    General CommentI think the starship comment is a bit wacky. the song must be in part about going away, perhaps off to war (1939), or anywhere ... doubtful he was referring to a spaceship. May is an astronomer but, I still don't agree with it.
    vandenbergon June 13, 2003   Link

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