My first introduction to this song was at the sweet little slapdash dinner that my Russian host-grandmother had thrown together for me when she found out it was my 20th birthday. She invited her son, his wife and daughter as well as me and some of my American friends. After dinner they insisted that we sing songs, which is customary at a Russian celebratory dinner. This was the first song they sang. I was so impressed that they knew all the verses. I didn’t really know Russian at the time but this song stuck with me because I heard it all over the place.
You can read more about the song in English at the Wikipedia page.
What was really pathetic is that they then asked us American girls to sing a song for them we couldn’t think of a single song that we all knew. I think we may have stumbled through a single verse of ‘You are my Sunshine’ or something, but we all felt ashamed that we didn’t have any traditional American songs to share with them.
Russia has a rich tradition of folk songs, народные песни, and застольные песни (songs you sing around the table). I would recommend learning some of them so you can participate in the fun. Not to mention, Russians will be VERY IMPRESSED if you can sing all the verses of a Russian folk song, and since Катюша is one of the most favorite, I suggest it be this one.
History of the Song: This is a wartime song written about what was a common wartime theme; the man going off to war, leaving his sweetheart behind.
This song is especially popular on May 9th, or Victory Day and also on день защитников отчества, which is February 23. On TV you can watch all sorts of variety shows with folk singing and dancing and always, on this day, Катюша is sung.
I’ve always said that if you’re going to learn Russian you at least need to know two things about the culture and history: Pushkin and WWII. If you go to Russia ignorant of either, or heaven forbid, both of these things you’re going to make an осёл of yourself.
In the video below you can see very moving pictures of WWII and veterans. It’s impossible for us Americans to comprehend what a war, let alone multiple successive wars can do to a nation. WWII still tugs at many Russian emotions, even those in the younger generation because they know how much their people and their country suffered. This song evokes those emotions. I’m not even a Russian and I get choked up when I watch this video.
|Расцветали яблони и груши,||Apple and pear trees were a-blooming,|
|Rastsvetali iabloni i grushi,|
|Поплыли туманы над рекой.||Mist (was) creeping on the river.|
|Poplyli tumany nad rekoj.|
|Выходила на берег Катюша,||Katyusha set out on the banks,|
|Vykhodila na bereg Katyusha,|
|На высокий берег на крутой.||On the steep and lofty bank.|
|Na vysokij bereg na krutoj.|
|Выходила, песню заводила||She was walking, singing a song|
|Vykhodila, pesniu zavodila|
|Про степного, сизого орла,||About a grey steppe eagle,|
|Pro stepnogo, sizogo orla,|
|Про того, которого любила,||About her true love,|
|Pro togo, kotorogo liubila,|
|Про того, чьи письма берегла.||Whose letters she was keeping.|
|Pro togo, chi pisma beregla.|
|Ой ты, песня, песенка девичья,||Oh you song! Little song of a maiden,|
|Oj ty, pesnia, pesenka devichia,|
|Ты лети за ясным солнцем вслед.||Head for the bright sun.|
|Ty leti za iasnym solntsem vsled.|
|И бойцу на дальнем пограничье||And reach for the soldier on the far-away border|
|I bojtsu na dalnem pograniche|
|От Катюши передай привет.||Along with greetings from Katyusha.|
|Ot Katyushi peredaj privet.|
|Пусть он вспомнит девушку простую,||Let him remember an ordinary girl,|
|Pust on vspomnit devushku prostuiu,|
|Пусть услышит, как она поет,||And hear how she sings,|
|Pust uslyshit, kak ona poet,|
|Пусть он землю бережет родную,||Let him preserve the Motherland,|
|Pust on zemliu berezhet rodnuiu,|
|А любовь Катюша сбережет.||Same as Katyusha preserves their love.|
|A liubov Katyusha sberezhet.|
That translation of the lyrics is from this website, where you can also download the mp3
Some other wartime songs with the same theme that I like are: “Темная ночь” and “Синий платочек”