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El vino triste

Alcohol is a central theme in tango, sometimes as celebration, but more often as a salve for the easing of pain or a draught for the drowning of sorrows. Nostalgias is a well-known example. But for full-out alcoholism, with no end or cure in prospect, it would be hard to match El vino triste. One must dance or listen to it with empathy and a cathartic attitude. And a hint of amusement, perhaps, at its over-the-topness. At Milonga Falucho Brooklyn/Café Argentino, John recited; Florencia Borgnia and Marcos Dario Pereira taught the pre-milonga class and performed; live music was by Alejo de los Reyes (guitar) and Maurizio Najt (piano). Renée hosted and dejayed.  


El vino triste (1939)

Letra de Manuel Romero

Música de Juan D’Arienzo


Sad Wine (1939)

Lyrics by Manuel Romero, trans. J. Osburn

Music by Juan D’Arienzo


Dicen los amigos que mi vino es triste,

que no tengo aguante ya para el licor,

que soy un maleta que ya no resiste

de la caña brava ni el macho sabor...

Y es que ya se ha muerto todo lo que existe

y entre copas quiero matar mi rencor...

Siempre estoy borracho desde que te fuiste,

siempre estoy borracho... pero es de dolor...

They say to me, even my wine has notes of sadness

They tell me I have lost the stamina for the stuff,

A sad sack who can’t resist even a tad less

A strong drink and a macho shot, it’s still not enough…

It’s like everything died for me to reach this madness

And between glasses I want to get out of this huff…

Since you left me, I’m always drunk, I’m in a bad mess,

I’m always drunk... when it comes to pain, I’m not so tough.


A todos pido perdón
Si amargado y tristón
Lagrimeando me ven...
Quiero domar mi emoción

Pero aflojo también
Como todo varón.


I really have no excuse

If bitter, sad, full of abuse

You see me cry my eyes out…

Trying not to let my feelings loose

But at the same time let ’em out

I’m a man, what’s the use…


Cuando se tiene un pesar
Dentro del corazón,
No se puede evitar
Que el vino se vuelva pesado

Y llorón
Como el triste

Aletear de mi canción.


When you have to carry a weight

Inside your aching heart,

You just can’t avoid your fate

For the wine’ll come back hard and heavy

Tears’ll start

Like the sad flapping

Of my song as I sing my part.


Dicen los amigos que no soy el mismo,
que hoy en cuanto bebo me da por no hablar,
por arrinconarme con mi pesimismo
y que hace ya tiempo no me oyen cantar...
Y no saben ellos que no es la bebida
sino que me faltan el aire y la luz,
que en el alma llevo sangrando una herida
y voy por la vida cargando mi cruz...


All of my amigos say that now I'm different,

That when I’m drinking it’s no use talking to me,

Nursing my sorrows like they’re not even present

And it’s been a long time since anyone’s heard me sing…

And they don’t understand that it isn’t the drinking

But that I lack light and air and feeling the loss

That’s like a wound in my soul that’ll never stop bleeding

And I’ll get through this life bearing my cross…


Here is the original recording by Juan D'Arienzo with the singer Alberto Echague:

He did a later version with Armando Laborde:

Nini Marshall sang the song with D'Arienzo in the 1941 You quiero ser bataclana (I Want to Be a Cabaret Singer):

And here's a version from Francisco Canaro with the singer Ernesto Famà:


These translations are made with the knowledge that they will be recited; when they are in the first person, in the manner of a dramatic monologue. Since I am the reciter, I can try out the words in the mouth that will say them in the event. In the case of a drunk, there can be both a sloppiness to the language (“that I lack light and air and feeling the loss”) paired with an effort at over-articulation to compensate for the slurring, like the extra effort made to walk a straight line for the traffic cop. At the same time, the meaning of the original must be conveyed as best as possible, with necessary liberties, as well as attention paid to rhyme schemes, assonance and alliteration, line lengths, and syllabic stress. The latter is the most challenging to suggest, much less to duplicate; but imagining the speaker drunk may to some extent make up for the manifold deficiencies that might be suspected in the current effort. At least that is my sober wish.

—John Osburn