Queen – “’39” Lyrics Meaning

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Written By Joanna Landrum

Joanna holds a BSc in English Literature and uses her expertise in literary analysis to uncover the deeper meaning of her favorite songs.

Queen’s “’39” is a poignant tale of space travel, time dilation, and love. Written by Brian May, the song chronicles the journey of space explorers who return to Earth after what feels like a year, only to find that a century has passed. This narrative is beautifully woven with themes of love, longing, and the passing of time, painting a vivid picture of the emotional and physical distances we often encounter in our lives.

Curious about how a 1970s rock band tapped into the essence of space-time travel and heartfelt emotion? Stick with me to explore the depths of this Queen classic.


“’39” Lyrics Meaning

The song kicks off with a historic expedition in “’39” where volunteers set out on a space mission. With a sense of adventure, they journey into the unknown, and “the night followed day” symbolizes the timeless expanse they traverse.

The brave and unwavering travelers sail “across the milky seas,” a clear reference to the Milky Way galaxy. Their determination and courage are evident as they never “looked back, never feared, never cried.”

However, amidst the scientific marvel, there’s a deep human emotion at play. The line “Don’t you hear my call” is a plea from the traveler to a loved one left behind on Earth. The “letters in the sand” perhaps signify messages or memories they’ve left behind, hoping to reunite in the future.

A twist comes when the volunteers return, bringing “good news of a world so newly born.” But there’s a stark realization that the world they once knew has aged significantly. The Earth is “old and grey,” and the love they left behind has passed, signifying the theory of relativity’s impact on time during space travel.

The heartbreak is palpable in “Oh, so many years have gone though I’m older but a year.” This is the crushing weight of reality where only a year has aged for the traveler, but a century on Earth. The lines “Your mother’s eyes, from your eyes, cry to me” highlight the traveler meeting the offspring of his love, and seeing her reflection in them.

The song concludes with a sense of longing and the pain of missed opportunities, emphasizing the vast chasm between the life the traveler hoped for and the reality he faces.

The Story Behind “’39”

Brian May, lead guitarist of Queen, wasn’t just a music virtuoso; he was also a scholar of astrophysics. This dual expertise is evident in “’39,” which merges the complexities of time dilation in Einstein’s Theory of Relativity with profound human emotion.

In the mid-70s, when this song was penned, space exploration was at its peak with significant advancements and public interest. May, with his keen scientific background, tapped into this fascination and wove a tale that seamlessly merged science and sentiment.

The beauty of “’39” lies in its ability to take a complex scientific concept and render it in a relatable, emotional narrative. Through the journey of the brave volunteers, May captures the universal feelings of love, longing, and the inexorable march of time.

May’s genius is evident in how he contrasts space’s vastness with intimate human connections. Through the lens of an astronaut, he touches upon the bittersweetness of life’s fleeting moments and the profound impact of the choices we make.

In essence, “’39” is not just about space exploration; it’s a reminder of the sacrifices one makes in the name of discovery and the enduring power of love and memory that transcends time and space.