Skip to main content

Una vez

In celebration of Renée's birthday, a tanda was played in which each tango named a Renée (or in one case a René): Charlemos, Carta Renée, El pescante and the 1946 Una vez. The latter was translated and recited for a well-wishing crowd. The real-life Renée pointed out that the Renée of the songs tends to be someone passed by or forgotten. Not so at La Esquina de Falucho at Café Argentino. Emiliano Messiez, piano, and Javier Sanchez, bandoneón, performed.

Una vez (1946)
Letra de Cátulo Castillo
Música de Osvaldo Pugliese

One Time (1946)
Lyrics by Cátulo Castillo, trans. J. Osburn
Music by Osvaldo Pugliese
Una vez fue su amor que llamó,
y después, sobre el abismo rodó,
la que amé más que a mí mismo fue.
Luz de su mirada, siempre, siempre helada.
Sabor de sinsabor, mi amor,
amor que no era nada.
Pequeñez, de su burla mordaz,
una vez, sólo en la vida, una vez.

Time it was that her love called me to it,
then stood at the abyss and fell into it,
she that I loved more than I cared for myself.
Icy light of her gaze, always, always freezing.
Disappointment of love on my tongue,
a love that wasn’t anything. 
It’s a little thing, her scorn, that I’m
unable to shake, once is all it takes, one time.

Pudo llamarse Renée,
o acaso fuera Manón,
ya no me importa quién fue,
Manón o Renée, si la olvidé…
Muchas llegaron a mí,
pero pasaron igual,
un mal querer me hizo así,
gané en el perder, ya no creí.

Then there was one called Renée,
or maybe her name was Manón,
it doesn’t matter either way,
Manón or Renée, which one I can’t say…
There were many more, you see,
but they let me go, every one.
Just one bad love is what damaged me,
my lesson in losing was never believe.

Una vez,
puse el vino y la miel de mi amor,
en su amargura de hiel.
Y en dolor, fue mi ternura flor.
Luz lejana y mansa
que ya no me alcanza,
mi voz gritó al ayer,
amor, amor, sin esperanza.
Una vez,
fue su espina tenaz,
una vez, sólo en la vida, una vez.
That one time,
that time I took the honey of my love with wine,
mixing her bitter honey in.
And a tender bud opened in the pain.
Beacon distant and steady
that no longer reaches me,
I cried out to yesterday,
to love, to love, to love, hopelessly.
That one time,
when she left me with a thorn
I can’t pull out, that’s all it took, her scorn.

Listen here to the Pugliese recording sung by Albert Morán:

This is an early Pugliese not to be confused with the 1943 Una vez by Lita Bayardo and Carlos Marcucci, though that too deals with the singular effect of an event in the speaker’s life. The title alone is a challenge to translate. Whether to go with “One Time,” “Once,” or something like “Just Once” means choosing between nuances that flow together in the original. The same challenge arises in the stanzas with the added difficulty of reflecting the poetics. I varied it, with some loss to the insistence of the phrase. The last stanza, as often happens in tango, is not sung in full; the honey, wine, and flower images are missing, and the final lines are replaced by those of the first stanza.
—John Osburn


Popular posts from this blog

Se dice de mí

Although written for the Uruguayan singer Carlos Roldán in 1943, Tita Merello made Se dice de mí  her own in 1954, and it has been sung by women ever since. At Milonga Falucho at Café Argentino in Brooklyn, Renée mimed the lyrics as John recited his English translation of the version made famous by Merello. It was the first milonga in this series. Live music for the evening was provided by Emiliano Messiez (piano) and Adolfo Trepiana (bandoneón).

Se dice de mí (1943) Milona
Letra de Ivo Pelay Música de Francisco Canaro

They Say This of Me (1943) Milonga
Lyrics by Ivo Pelay, trans. J. Osburn Music by Francisco Canaro
Se dice de mí... se dice de mí... se dice de mí... Se dice que soy fiera, que camino a lo malevo, que soy chueca y que me muevo con un aire compadrón, que parezco Leguisamo, mi nariz es puntiaguda, la figura no me ayuda y mi boca es un buzón.
They say this of me… They say this of me… They say this of me… They say that I’m a beast, that I swagger like a tough, that I strut like I’m hot stuff wit…


This is a familiar tango, often played in D'Arienzo tandas at milongas. The music is spry at times and even cheerful, with flashes of darkness, yet the lyrics are entirely on the dark side. To explore this paradox, John and Renée recited the lyrics at Milonga Falucho/Chelsea as DJ Carlos Quiroga played a well-known version in the background. There was no live music for the night, instead a dance performance by Alejandra Hobert and Adrian Veredice.

Amarras 1944 Letra de Carmelo Santiango Música de Carlos Marchisio
Moorings 1944 Lyrics by Carmelo Santiango, trans. J. Osburn Music by Carlos Marchisio
Vago como sombra atormentada bajo el gris de la recova, me contemplo y no soy nada... Soy como mi lancha carbonera que ha quedado recalada, bien atada a la ribera. Yo también atado a mi pasado soy un barco que está anclado y siento en mi carne sus amarras como garfios, como garras. Lloro aquellos días que jamás han de volver; sueño aquellos besos que ya nunca he de tener, soy como mi lancha carbonera que ha…

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 a…