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Canción desesperada

What would tango be without romantic betrayal and dashed dreams? For that matter, what would it be without the lyricist-composer Enrique Santos Discépolo, who also wrote, directed and acted in early tango films. John and Renée recited his lyrics after the first live set by Federico Diaz (guitar) and Maricio Najt (piano) at Arte Cafe. Immediately following, DJ Carlos Quiroga played the Caló-Iriarte recording of the song to start the next tanda.

Canción desesperada (1945)
Música y letra
de Enrique Santos Discépolo

Song Without Hope (1945)
Music and Lyrics by Enrique Santos Discépolo,
trans. J. Osburn

¡Soy una canción desesperada...!
¡Hoja enloquecida en el turbión..!
Por tu amor, mi fe desorientada
Se hundió, destrozando mi corazón.
Dentro de mí mismo me he perdido,
Ciego de llorar una ilusión...
¡Soy una pregunta empecinada,
Que grita su dolor y tu traición..!

I am a song to sing in desperation…!
Driven crazier than a leaf in the wind storm…!
Faith, by your love cast adrift without direction,
Capsized, went under, and tore my heart asunder.
On the inside I’ve lost who it is I am,
Crying myself blind at my naivety…
I am the asked and still unanswered question,
That calls out its pain and your infidelity!
Me enseñaron a amar,
Si es volcar sin sentido
Los sueños al mar?
Si el amor,
Es un viejo enemigo
Y enciende castigos
Y enseña a llorar...
Yo pregunto: ¿porqué?
¡Sí!, ¿porqué me enseñaron a amar,
Si al amarte mataba mi amor?
Burla atroz de dar todo por nada
Y al fin de un adiós, despertar

But why
Was love the thing they taught me
If upturning dreams on the sea
Is all that it means?
If what’s called love
Is but an ancient enemy
And exacts a penalty
And teaches you how to cry…
I will just ask: but why?
Yes! Why did they teach me what it was to love,
If as I loved you I’d kill the love I had?
How insulting to give up all for nothing,
And a goodbye ending, and to wake up
Wet with tears!...

¿Dónde estaba Dios cuando te fuiste?
¿Dónde estaba el sol que no te vio?
¿Cómo una mujer no entiende nunca
Que un hombre da todo, dando su amor?
¿Quién les hace creer otros destinos?
¿Quién deshace así tanta ilusión?
¡Soy una canción desesperada
Que grita su dolor y su traición...!
Where did God go to on the day you went away?
Where could the sun have set that it didn’t see you?
Just another woman who never gets it:
That giving his love a man gives up everything?
Who makes them think it could end any other way?
Who dashes so much hope as sheer naivety?
I am a song to sing in desperation
That calls out its pain and your infidelity…!

Listen to the classic Caló-Iriarte recording here:


Traición, the last word of the first and last stanzas, occurs frequently in tango lyrics. It means “betrayal,” but has always felt stronger to me. I went with “infidelity,” a specific form of romantic betrayal (also considering the rhyme with "naivety"). Another familiar word is ilusión, for which “illusion” is a false friend. It is a positive dream of the future, not, as “illusion” implies, something unattainable from the start. Of course in tangos, ilusiones are always being dashed. Combining “hope” with being naive is a way to split the difference.
—John Osburn