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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 bileful nectar 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