This translation is provided by Alan Smith, a long time Tanguero and a dear friend of Tango Amistoso.
Lyrics of Adios Bueonos Aires
Original Spanish Lyrics
Debo alejarme de mis tierras tan queridas,
Debo alejarme, sangrando el corazón,
Como el poeta he de decir en mi partida
Adiós Buenos Aires, amigos adiós.
Noches porteñas que supieron de mi dicha,
Mudos testigos hoy, de mi dolor,
Cada rincón me trae algún recuerdo
Todo, todo me habla de su amor.
No sé que rumbos tomarán mis pasos,
Lejos de esta tierra me lleva el destino,
Yo tengo en el alma penas y fracasos
Que olvidar quisiera por algún camino.
Y si entre las brumas espesas de Londres
O en la algarabía infernal de New York,
Arranque esa pena que siempre se esconde
Adiós Buenos Aires, amigos adiós.
I have to Leave all my favourite, famlliar places;
I must get away, with my broken heart.
But, in leaving, the poet in me is shouting
“Adios Buenos Aries,farewell my dear friends”.
The dockland nights which knew my good fortune,
Now mute, they bear witness to my pain.
Every little corner presents me with a memory.
Everything recounts the story of her love.
I don’t know which directions my steps will take.
So let fate carry me far from my country.
But I’ll still hold, in my soul, all the pain and failure
Which I want to forget by some method or other route
And thus whether in the thick fogs of London
Or in the chaotic clamour of New York
May I chance to wrench out this hidden pain within me.
So “Adios Buenos Aries and farewell, all my old pals.”
Notes from the Author Alan Smith
Alan presented his translation at Tango Amistoso on 18 May 2019. Below are some notes from him in his own words that will help you understand the meaning behind the lyrics better.
Tango songs cover many subjects such as memories of family, friends, places, childhood, countries of origin, economics, love and stories of lost love. There is often (but not always) a theme of nostalgia, regret, memories, even melancholy but also many are bright and energetic. Perhaps the most frequent subject is the loss of a lover, a broken love affair but even here there is a great variety and inventiveness in the treatment of the subject. Sometimes the lyrics are simple and basic but others can be of poetic merit and often achieve poetic succinctness. One finds constant interest in the concepts, vocabulary, grammar, imagery and sentence structure. Tango is also comparable to the lyrics of the Portuguese Fado style..
I haven’t done a formal nor exhaustive study of the huge collection of tango songs but often where I hear phrases of a song which interest me I make a point of finding the lyrics and analysing the internal features as stated above. This closer inspection then gives additional interest when dancing to the music and to the lyrics. My interest has been purely personal and accidental. I do not claim to be an expert.
At Tango Amistoso in London on 30 March 2019 I explained a simple milonga “Adios Buenos Aires” which I have always liked for its jaunty and brisk pace and rhythm and a copy of the original poem and my translation are shown here. It was composed/written in 1938 with music by Rodolfo Sciammarella and lyrics by Leopoldo Torres Rios. I made my translation in about half an hour and concentrated on transmitting the spirit of the writer and did not stick completely to the Spanish original words. I did not try nor have time to replicate its rhymes or rhythm (content not form). I should explain some of my thinking.
The strategy and structure are easily recognisable. Verse 1 explains that the subject feels compelled to leave. The second verse gives the reason for departure and the last two words of this verse “su amor” (her love) is stylistically positioned, as a pivot, at the very centre of the poem. The third stanza gives more detail of his despair before the fourth verse moves up in pace and determination as he looks to his future adventure and possible release from anguish.
The song neatly combines nostalgia for the past ie his lost lover but also nostalgia for his future loss of Bs As as he travels the world. Some major points of the original and my translation are detailed here:-
Verse 1 The singer says in Spanish that he must move far away from “his much loved lands”. We discover later in verse 2 that his exile is caused by the rupture of his love affair and thus I have tried to make this opening phrase more personal with “my favourite, familiar places” because I imagine him thinking of the cafes, restaurants, and tango halls he had known with his lover. The next line says he is leaving with his “heart bleeding”. I have avoided this phrase in English as it can be a form of derision eg “the bleeding heart brigade” to describe excessive compassion for the suffering of others. This may have originated in the 16th century opposition of the Protestants to the Catholics who use the bleeding heart as a frequent theological and visual symbol. I have thus used the more acceptable Anglo “broken heart” instead of the Hispanic “bleeding heart” image. You can google this subject.
Verse 2 The word ‘porteñas’ is used. This is an adjective formed from the noun ‘puerto’ meaning port or harbour and describes everything connected to the port area of Buenos Aires. The local population also describe themselves as Porteño. However simply using the original Spanish word isn’t immediately intelligible to a wider Anglo audience. Hence here I have translated it as “dockland”. At the time many Anglo sailors would have known the local term porteño from their visits to Bs As. Why would the port area of Bs As merit its own nickname? Because a few years before this song was written, Argentina was the tenth richest country of the world and its port was one of the world’s largest with a large population and area. The volume of agricultural and mineral exports would have been a major element of world trade with many visiting ships and sailors.
Verse 3 describes his despair and a distracted account of his wanderings but in ……..
Verse 4 this grows to a focussed crescendo with two hostile and negative images and then a possible and savage solution. The two negative phrases are “Las brumas espesas de Londres” and “La algarabía infernal de New York” which are particularly resonant for me. I like to see into the mind of the poet or put myself in his time and place and can thus understand his compulsion to use the imagery of these two seaports. They are both distant and different to Bs As.. Both are ‘Anglo’, both northern hemisphere and both in colder latitudes and thus succinctly emphasise the extremity and alienation of his forthcoming exile and the severity of his pain. They would also be well known and readily acceptable to all the Porteño population as principal and familiar trading partners and thus the image would fit easily with local imagination. In the case of “Las Brumas Espesas de Londres” the image was already well-known in paintings by famous artists and I can’t allow myself to translate ‘bruma’ simply as mist which I see as the white humid vapour of a natural seascape or landscape. The translation here has to be “fog” and particularly in London of the time this was a thick and choking atmosphere, produced by more than a million domestic fireplaces, for which the word ‘smog’ was invented (smoke and fog) and which in 1952 killed 10,000 Londoners with 100K others made ill, resulting in the 1956 Clean Air Act, forbidding the domestic use of coal. “La algarabía infernal de New York” is evocative for me, not only because my daughter lives in Brooklyn but also because the word algarabía originates during the 800 year rule of the Moorish kingdoms in southern Spain (700-1500 AD). It comes from classical Arabic ‘arabiyyah, passed into Iberian Arabic al ‘arabiyya and in turn produced the Spanish word ‘la algarabía’ meaning firstly the Arabic language and then later a demotic sense of an unintelligible language (similar to the English “double Dutch” ie nonsense or babble). This took on an extended meaning of a “noisy, loud shouting”.
Above, I referred to a “possible and savage solution” to the author’s problem. This violent image is expressed in a tight and subtle subjunctive main clause “si…….arranque esa pena que siempre se esconde” where I have rendered the ‘si’ in a similar structural manner to “si Dios quisiera” ie “God willing”. My translation also fits the logic of the situation in “may I chance to wrench out this hidden pain from deep within me” ie overcome my sadness of loss.
I could be wrong but maybe I’m right, God willing!