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Me quedé mirándola

Past and present merge as the narrator comes face-to-face with an old love, the reality of change, and the finality of endings. John and Renée recited this tango at the first Milonga Falucho of the new year, with Pablo Cafici (piano), Javier Sánchez (bandoneón), and DJ Carlos Quiroga, also celebrating.

Me quedé mirándola (1945)
Letra de Roberto Miró
Musica de Vicente Spina

I Stayed There Watching Her (1945)
Lyrics by Roberto Miró, trans. J. Osburn
Music by Vicente Spina

Después de un año atroz de soledad
Volvimos a encontrarnos sin querer,
De pronto los recuerdos de otros días
Que cantaba y que reía
Acudieron en tropel.
Mis labios balbucearon con temor,
Los ojos le contaron mi dolor,
Mis ansias de encontrarla fueron tantas
Que oprimida la garganta
Me quedé mirándola.

After a long atrocious year of solitude
We chanced to find ourselves face-to-face again,
But sudden memories so soon thereafter
Of other days of song and laughter
Came to mind in vicious hordes.
My lips stammered and were afraid
My eyes gave an accounting of my pain,
My desire to be with her so very great    
My throat would catch and my breath bate.
I just stood looking at her.
Inútiles senderos fueron todos
Caminos recorridos sin vivir,
Bordeados de dudas y dolores
Y sólo sinsabores aumentan mi sufrir.
Mas, ya no espero nada de la vida
Ni ahora que la encuentro puede ser,
Lo dice su mirada distraída
Que he matado para siempre
Lo que fuera su querer.
All the futile trails that I went down
Were roads I doddered onto dead to life,
Rude byways lined with pain and doubt,             
A suffering that has only added to my strife.
And now in this life I expect no more from it,
Not even now that we are face-to-face again;
Her distracted eye speaks to it,  
That I have forever killed
The love that might have been.

Aquel ensueño roto del ayer
No puede ya volver a florecer,
La tengo ante mis ojos esta tarde
Y comprendo que no hay nadie
En mi triste anochecer.
Ha vuelto sin llegar la que esperé
La encuentro nuevamente y ya se va,
Sabiendo que en su adiós está mi ruina
Se alejó y de la esquina,
Me quedé mirándola.
The daydream of yesterday is broken,
The bud of a flower that can never open;    
This evening at twilight I had her before
My eyes and I know that there's no one more
To see in the gathering night.
She came back but wasn’t who I knew before,
Who could be with me again in the way we were;
Now she goes, speaking my ruin in her nevermore;
She grew distant and at the corner,
I just stood there watching her.

Listen to the definitive Troilo-Marino recording here:


To a native English ear, Spanish is naturally rhyming. Shared endings are prolific across parts-of-speech: -o, -a, -e, -ando, -iendo, -da, -do, -er, -ar, -ir, to list a few. The extent of a rhyme scheme isn’t always clear. What is calculated? What falls into place by chance? On top of the end rhymes in this tango, there is a rhyming music within lines, emanating from the heart of the idiom. Consider atroz, encontrarnos, and recuerdos in the first three lines, to say nothing of volvimos, los, and otros. There is nothing so natural as this in English, but it can be echoed: atrocious/vicious, twilight/night, goes/grows. This is a deeply internal tango; it fuses memory with state-of-mind. Getting inside the language, if only aspirationally, is essential to bringing it out.
--John Osburn