This is one of the more Villonesque poems I’ve seen recently:

Goddamn the Empty Sky
by Violeta Parra

Goddamn the empty sky
and the stars at night
goddamn the ripply bright
stream as it goes by
goddamn the way stones lie
on dirt or on the street
goddamn the oven’s heat
goddamn the laws
of time the way they cheat
my pain’s as bad as that.

Goddamn the mountain chain
the Andes and the Coast
goddamn Mister the most
and least amount of rain
also crazy and sane
and candor and deceit
goddamn what smells so sweet
because my luck is out
goddamn the lack of doubt
what’s messy and what’s neat
my pain’s as bad as that.

Goddamn the Spring
with its plants in blossom
and the color of Autumn
goddamn the whole damn thing
birds on the wing
goddamn them more and more
’cause I’m really done for
goddamn Winter to bits
along with Summer’s tricks
goddamn the saint and whore
my pain’s as bad as that.

Goddamn getting on your feet
for the stars and stripes
goddamn symbols of all types
Venus and Main Street
and the canary’s tweet
the planets and their motions
the earth with its erosions
because my soul is sore
goddamn the ports and shores
of the enormous oceans
my pain’s as bad as that.

Goddamn the moon and weather
desert and river bed
goddamnit for the dead
and the living together
the bird with all its feathers
is such a goddamn mess
schools, places to confess
I tell you what I’m sick of
goddamn that one word love
with all its nastiness
my pain’s as bad as that.

So goddamn the number eight
eleven nine and four
choir boys and monsignors
preachers and men of state
goddamn them it’s too late
free man and prisoner
soft voice and quarreler
I damn them every week
in Spanish and in Greek
thanks to a two-timer
my pain’s as bad as that.

It’s a loose but lively translation (from here; oddly, there’s a similar but significantly different version here) of a song by the Chilean composer and lyricist Violeta Parra (1917-1967), sister of physicist/poet Nicanor Parra; I wish I knew the name of the translator, but it’s not mentioned at any of the sites that quote the poem (translators get no respect). If anybody knows, tell me and I’ll add it here.

Here are the first couple of stanzas of the original:

Maldigo del alto cielo, la estrella con su reflejo,
maldigo los azulejos de éste y los del arroyuelo,
maldigo del bajo suelo la piedra con sus contornos
maldigo el fuego del horno porque mi alma está de luto.
Maldigo los estatutos del tiempo, con su bochorno,
¡Cuánto será mi dolor!

Maldigo la cordillera de los Andes y de la costa,
maldigo toda la angosta y larga faja de tierra,
también la paz y la guerra, lo franco y lo veleidoso
y tambien lo perfumoso por que mi anhelo está muerto.
Maldigo todo lo falso y lo cierto con lo dudoso,
¡Cuánto será mi dolor!


  1. You never know what’s in somebody else’s head, poets least of all being knowable fixed qauntities, but,
    “…del alto cielo, la estrella con su reflejo…”
    does not mean, to me,
    “…the empty sky and the stars at night…”.
    What it means is, there was a rhyme scheme the translator gave allegiance to first, above the heart of the original poem.
    That a great deal of the bitterness and bleeding soul comes through anyway is a testament to Violeta Parra’s strength.
    The english version is quirky, almost cute, and that’s caused directly by the translator’s Procrustean surgery.
    “Fuck the sky” would, for all its taboo import, be a more accurate phrase.
    “I say fuck the deep sky and its starlight”

    “…porque mi alma está de luto…”
    Yeah well.
    “…because my soul is in mourning…” does kind of mean “…my pain’s as bad as that…”
    Kind of.
    Merwin’s written somewhere about that first decision, to find the poem’s center and write out from there.
    The mastery of form necessary to bring the sense and meaning and intent of the original into a symmetrical meter is not something anyone should attempt lightly. And to make it rhyme as well…
    Rhyme comes last, after rhythm, and long after meaning.
    Perro si, claro que si, yo t’oigo, yo lo siento.

  2. Well, that’s why I said it was “loose.” But you might consider that these are song lyrics rather than a formalist poem, Also, it seems to me that the English version does work from the poem’s center, and conveys the intent very well. On the other hand, I like the translation (call it an imitation if you like) considerably better than the original, which may be a bad sign in terms of scrupulousness. Didn’t somebody say it was a betrayal to improve on the original? Anyway, I find “my pain’s as bad as that” striking and memorable, and “mi alma está de luto” pretty standard-issue.

  3. I disagree. The translator took some liberties in order to make a poem that worked in English. Fr example, almost no one in the U.S. “wears mourning” any more. No luto around here. Unless I’m wrong, in the Spanish-speaking world mourning is a real presence and thus an effective image.
    When the decision was made to translate freely, rhyme became possible, but the translator did not sacrifice meaning to rhyme, I don’t think.
    I like Rexroth’s translations a lot, almost all of which (as I understand) are pretty free. (Interesting how some poets do of their best work in translation — Bly and Pound are two others. It’s not very high praise to say that of a poet, of course. More like they salvaged their careers by hitchhiking).
    The poem “Rome entombed in its ruins” exists in versions by Bellay, Quevedo, Spenser, Pound, and (according to Milosz) a major early Polish poet. The original was in Latin by a very obscure (to me, anyway) late Latinist. The Quevedo and Bellay versions are good enough to be included ion the short selections of these poets in the Penguin bilingual anthologies. I didn’t like Spenser or Pound, though. The gist is “Everything permanent of Rome has been destroyed, and only the flowing Tiber remains”.

  4. Richard Buchholz says

    There is another song by Violeta Parra, much better known I think than “Maldigo,” that expresses the opposite sentiment. It’s called “Gracias a la Vida,” and the first stanza reads:
    “Gracias a la vida, que me ha dado tanto.
    Me dió dos luceros, que cuando los abro,
    perfecto distingo lo negro del blanco,
    y en el alto cielo su fondo estrellado,
    y en las multitudes el hombre que yo amo.”
    “Thanks to life, that has given me so much.
    It gave me two eyes that when I open them
    I perfectly distinguish black from white
    And in the high heavens, the starry depths,
    And in the crowd, the man I love.”

  5. can any one send me the full translation of “cracias a la vida” please.
    I’ve heard it and fell in love with it

  6. I don’t think I noticed the unfamiliar word “bochorno” when I posted this, but I did just now, and I looked it up — it means ‘hot, sticky weather; suffocating heat’ and comes from Latin vulturnus ‘east wind.’

  7. Interesting–I’d only encountered the adjective “bochornoso” in a context where it meant something like “sleazy.”

  8. David Marjanović says


    Does it carry vultures?

  9. Probably not, and unfortunately Vulturnus includes only Australasian leafhoppers. Vultur on the other hand includes only the Andean condor and none of the species actually called vultur in Latin; so it goes. In fact, Vulturnus is probably an Etruscan deity retconned into a derivative of vertere ‘turn’.

  10. January First-of-May says

    Neither (probably) are any of those related to valtorna, the Russian name of the French horn, which is apparently < German Waldhorn (a transparent compound).

  11. Now I want to see a Australasian leafhopper, an Andean condor, and an Etruscan deity playing French horns.

  12. And then there is the English horn, or tenor oboe, which is neither English nor a horn (cf. the Holy Roman Empire). The etymology cor anglais < cor anglé is now rejected in favor of a misunderstanding of MHG engellisches horn, on the idea that they look like the straight trumpets often played by angels in religious paintings. So it’s the same pun as Gregory the Great’s non Angli sed angeli.

  13. David Marjanović says

    The Ave Maria used to be called englischer Gruß.

  14. PlasticPaddy says

    As opposed to deutscher Gruss☺?

  15. David Marjanović says

    Maybe both terms became unfashionable together ☺

  16. Roberto Batisti says

    “bochorno”… comes from Latin vulturnus ‘east wind.’

    oh, another nice example of Lat. [ɫt] > Sp. /t͡ʃ/ after a back vowel, beside mucho and ecuchar (and probably others that not being a Spanish speaker I’m simply unaware of…)

  17. PlasticPaddy says


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