poesía de gotán:

Tres Esquinas (1941)

Three Corners 
lyrics by Enrique Cadícamo

I’m from Three Corners,
old bastion of an arrabal,
where the pretty aproned girls
blossom like wisteria,

where on calm, warm nights
the geraniums waft their ancient aroma
beneath a full moon sky
while the horse carts sleep out in the yard.

I am from this humble neighborhood,
I am the sentimental tango.
In my neighborhood we drink mate
beneath the shade of the vines.

When I was a kid, I owned these streets,*
I’d draw my blade to defend the crazy love
burning in that bad girl’s eyes
with sips** of my fiery passion…

where on calm, warm nights
the geraniums waft their ancient aroma
beneath a full moon sky
while the horse carts sleep out in the yard.

Orq. Ángel D’Agostino, singer Ángel Vargas

*The word Cadícamo uses here is “compadrear,” which means to strut around like a compadre or compadrito, one of the quasi-mythical dandy ruffians of the arrabal. Also, he doesn’t exactly say “streets,” but ratherochavas,” or “chamfers,” a particular kind of angled curb common in some parts of Spain and Latin America.
**Here Cadícamo uses the word ceba, as in, cebar un mate, to take sips from a mate.

(Spanish original after the jump)

Tres Esquinas

Yo soy del barrio de Tres Esquinas,
viejo baluarte de un arrabal
donde florecen como glicinas
las lindas pibas de delantal,

donde en la noche tibia y serena
su antiguo aroma vuelca el malvón
y bajo el cielo de luna llena
duermen las chatas del corralón.

Soy de ese barrio de humilde rango,
yo soy el tango sentimental.
Soy de ese barrio que toma mate
bajo la sombra que da el parral.

En sus ochavas compadrié de mozo,
tiré la daga por un loco amor,
quemé en los ojos de una maleva
la ardiente ceba de mi pasión.

About Derrick Del Pilar

Born and raised in Chicago, I came to the tango while studying at the Universidad de Belgrano in Buenos Aires in 2006. In 2008 I earned my B.A. with majors in Creative Writing and Spanish & Portuguese from the University of Arizona, and in 2009 I earned an M.A. in Latin American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. My specialty is the history & literature of early 20th century Argentina.


8 thoughts on “Tres Esquinas (1941)

  1. Derrick, this is probably my favorite tango song of all… thanks for the translation… I always interpreted the beginning as, “I’m from the neighborhood of the three corners…,”(“yo soy del barrio de tres esquinas…”). But it must be like “I’m from San Telmo,” or similar… thanks again. – Paul

    Posted by Paul Akmajian | 05.24.2012, 12:00 PM
    • Hey Paul! Glad you appreciate it–it’s definitely one of my favorites too.
      The reason that I omitted the word “neighborhood” in the first line of my English is translation is that, unlike the Spanish word “barrio,” it has a rather cumbersome sound, and it’s repeated enough in the song to make the English sound clunky. And the available English synonyms (quarter, zone, place, area) are not specific enough…

      Posted by poesiadegotan | 05.24.2012, 12:15 PM
      • Good point — I also revisited Rick’s page about it, which I’d forgotten about (thanks for including the link). He just keeps “barrio” in the translation, which works just fine for those of us from Tucson, I think. 🙂

        Posted by Paul Akmajian | 05.24.2012, 2:47 PM
  2. Thanks for this excellent translation. I have some comments and alternative ideas.Here is my translation:

    I’m from the “Tres Esquinas”,
    an old bastion in the poor outskirts of town,
    where the pretty uniformed factory girls
    bloom like wisterias.

    Where in the warm, calm night,
    the geraniums spill their timeless aroma  
    and the old warehouse trucks slumber
    under a full moon sky.

    I’m a man from this poor neighborhood ,
I love the sentimental tango,
I’m from that neighborhood that drinks mate,

    under the shadows cast by the grape arbor.

    On its street corners I swaggered as a youth.
I pulled my knife for a crazy love,
and I saw in the eyes of a treacherous woman
the stoking of my burning passion.

    Where in the warm, calm night,
    the geraniums spill their timeless aroma  
    and the old warehouse trucks slumber
    under a full moon sky.

    Comments: etymology of “arrabal” is arab, (al-rábad = the suburb) and it refers to the outskirts of the city. Typically it was a poor borough , a violent and uneducated one.Buenos Aires was then a rapidly growing city and the neighborhoods at its edges were inhabited by the poorest classes: Italian and Spanish immigrants, bullies (compadritos) and outlaws. What were arrabales at the times of D’Agostino and Discepolo are now very fashionable and wealthy neighborhoods of Buenos Aires like Palermo and Belgrano.

    I corresponded with the director of a major language school in BA, Senor Korman, who is in his 50’s and grew up in BA. According to him a “chata” is an old flatbed pickup truck, older than Ford F -100 stlyle, used to carry materials.
    Nowadays, ‘chata’ is slang for someone with a flat nose or flat-chested girl. Both pickup trucks and horse carriages had flat beds and I suppose either could be used. Depends on the era you think Cadicamo was writing about.

    Corralón is a warehouse to store an sell contruction materials. Also,”Pibas de delatal” means working class  girls , this is girls that must wear those clothes that are part of working class uniform. most of the ones that wore those clothes worked in factories. “Delantal” comes from ‘delante’ ie. front or in front, and refers to a type of apron.

    Ochava derives from ‘ocho’ and it refers to an intersection of 4 streets causing 8 corners. This was just too awkward to try and translate, so ‘streets’ works just fine.

    “Compadrear” means to bully so I used the verb “swagger” but ‘I owned the streets’ works nicely!

    Cebar is to stoke (like an oven). These words have multiple meanings and the challenge of translation is to try and discern what the original author was getting at. In this case I felt ‘stoked’ more suited ‘ardiente’ and ‘pasion’.

    Gotan, since you’re also interested in Portugese, please check out the translations I did of the 12 or 13 BossaNova songs on my CD ‘Sem Voce’. The CD and lyrics/translations are free on my website wwwDOTmusiciansurvivalmanualDOTcom.
    Thanks again
    Richard Norris,MD

    Posted by Richard Norris | 10.20.2012, 6:13 AM
    • Nice translation Richard. The best page for decoding all the info on Tres Esquinas was written by Rick McGarrey, you can find it by clicking through the link on my post or here. While Palermo once was an arrabal (Borges famously wrote an ode to the old Palermo in the guise of a biography of the poet Evaristo Carriego), the ones referred to here are most likely those along the Riachuelo, near the southern edge of the city.
      Regarding the time period Cadícamo was writing about: many (if not most) tangos written after 1930 are intentionally anachronistic, featuring folk figures from previous generations. In particular, horse carts and towing men (cuarteadores, as in the famous Troilo/Fiore recording) frequently appear in tangos. Thus in Manzi’s “Manoblanca,” the word chata refers to the painted wood on the side of the cart, pulled by the titular horse. As you can see by clicking through the link to Tango and Chaos, people still drive horse carts in some of the poorer neighborhoods 21st century Buenos Aires! These are a far cry from the tourist buggies that trot around New York’s Central Park.
      “Compadrear” is one of those words that’s nigh impossible to translate—it refers to the entire way of life of the compadritos, the legendary half-dandy, half-gangster guys who populated the arrabales. Your word choice, “swagger” actually comes as close as one word can to capturing that—”bullying” would certainly be inadequate.
      It’s a fun coincidence that you translate some bossa nova lyrics. One of my first song translations was in fact Ary Barroso’s “Aquarela do Brasil” for a paper I wrote about constructions of national identity in Brazilian music. Small world. :).

      Posted by poesiadegotan | 10.20.2012, 9:06 AM
  3. Just for the record, malvón isn’t geranium, it’s hollyhock, as in Moneda De Cobre: “…tu madre era negra con labios malvón.” The fragrance of malvón is a lot nicer than the fragrance of geranium!

    Posted by Michael Krugman | 07.08.2013, 2:08 PM

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