Chastushka

Chastushka

Chastushka or chastooshka (часту́шка), a type of traditional Russian poetry, is a single quatrain in trochaic tetrameter with an abab, abcb or (less frequently) aabb rhyme scheme. Usually humorous, satirical, or ironic in nature, chastushkas are often put to music as well, usually with balalaika or accordion accompaniment. The rigid, short structure (and, to a lesser degree, the type of humor used) parallels limericks in British culture. The name originates from the Russian word части́ть, to speak fast.

Chastuskas cover a very wide spectrum of topics, from lewd jokes to political satire, including such diverse themes as love songs and Communist propaganda. During Soviet times, the government even published large collections of "ideologically correct" chastushkas.

Sometimes several chastushkas occur in sequence to form a song. In fact, in Russian, this type of song is referred to as just the plural часту́шки, i.e. chastushkas. After each chastuska, there is a full musical refrain without lyrics to give the listeners a chance to laugh without missing the next one. Originally chastushkas were a form of folk entertainment, not intended to be performed on stage. Often they are sung in turns by a group of people. Sometimes they are used as a medium for a back-and-forth mocking contest. Improvisation is highly valued during chastuska singing.

The last foot of a chastushka line is often a single stressed syllable rather than a full trochee, but no other structural variations are generally allowed. Due in part to this rigid structure, the tune used to sing them is standardized, but varies among different regions of Russia. A popular example is the tune of Яросла́вские ребя́та (Yaroslavskie Rebyata, The Yaroslavl Guys), the signature tune of the folkloric vocal band by that name. In fact, the Yaroslavl region has been famous for its chastushkas since long ago.

Examples

The vast majority of folk chastushkas are lewd or laden with vulgarities. Here are some relatively printable examples. Included are loose English translations that preserve the chastushka rhyme and meter and the main meaning (though not the details).

Птицеферма у нас есть,
И другая строится.
А колхозник яйца видит,
Когда в бане моется.

We have got a chicken farm,
And the second's not too far,
But a kolkhoznik sees eggs (slang for testicles)
When he washes in public baths.

  • Bolshevik political and anti-religious propaganda

Знаем Ленина заветы.
Кулаки, попы - наш враг
Призовет их всех к ответу
Большевицкий красный флаг.

We remember Lenin's words of
Our prime foes, priest and kulak
They will be called to account
By the bolshevik's red flag.

Не ругай меня, мамаша,
Что в подоле принесла.
Богородица-то наша
То ж без мужа родила

Mother, spare me, don't scold me
For the baby in my skirt.
Just think, like me, Virgin Mary
Without husband's help gave birth.

  • A parody of the Soviet peace propaganda

С неба звездочка упала
Прямо милому в штаны,
Пусть бы всё там разорвала,
Лишь бы не было войны.

Shooting star straight from the heavens
Fell into my boyfriend's shorts.
His burnt manhood's no biggie;
My main wish is no more wars.

  • This double chastushka about the infamous pseudo-scientist and demagogue Trofim Lysenko was composed and publicized as propaganda at first, but with Lysenko's eventual fall from the Party grace it became bitterly satirical, all without having a word of it altered:

Веселей играй, гармошка,
Мы с подружкою вдвоем
Академику Лысенко
Величальную споем! (var: "Славу вечную споем!")

Он мичуринской дорогой
Твердой поступью идет,
Менделистам-морганистам
Нас дурачить не дает!

Play on merrier, my accordion,
For my girlfriend and myself
To Academician Lysenko
Will now sing a song of praise!

He steps firmly with assurance
Down Michurin's righteous path
Gives Mendelianist-Morganists
Not a chance at fooling us!

Время сдвинули на час
На Советском глобусе
Раньше хрен вставал в постели
А теперь в автобусе

Time got shifted by an hour
From Khabarovsk to Donbass. (in the original: "On the Soviet globe")
Morning wood was in bed,
Now I have it on the bus.

External links: http://www.mathfoolery.org/chastushki.html

For a study of bawdy chastushki, see Chapter 8 (pp. 229-251) of Emil Draitser's book, Making War, Not Love: Gender and Sexuality in Russian Humor. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. ISBN 0312221290

See also

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