lyrics by José María Contursi
music by Aníbal Troilo
A dark alleyway, waiting for you…
Longing to live for your love, but I can’t…
I feel my life slip away from me…
and you won’t shed a tear.
Desperately, I search for your warmth
but you are not here.
Cruel agony…later loneliness
and then you forget. Nothing more!
I could not go on, and in my urge to arrive
I was like a wandering spirit 
lost and unable to find you
on any street in the world…
And now I am left
like a bird with no nest,
like an abandoned child,
with these pains
that clutch like claws
and cleave my heart apart. 
A dark alleyway, an endless night…
Thank you for coming with your kindness and forgiveness,
My poor life has come to an end…
and I am empty,
dead to the world
and to you, my heart.
Cruel agony…later loneliness…
those tears of yours, and nothing more…
Orquesta Aníbal Troilo, singer Alberto Marino (1945)
Orquesta Miguel Caló, singer Raúl Iriarte (1945)
Orquesta Francisco Canaro, singer Carlos Roldán (1945)
 The original has duende (lit. elf, imp, goblin), the same word used in flamenco to describe a performer’s particularly charming and idiosyncratic “soul.”
 Contursi’s poetry here demonstrates the limits of translation. The original (see below) reads “Con mis penas que se agarran como garras y desgarran a mi corazón.” In Spanish, the verbs agarrar (to grasp, to catch, to seize, to clutch) and desgarrar (to rip, to shred, to tear, to cleave) are both fairly common words in their own right, and both are clearly etymologically related to one another and to the noun garras (claws, talons). I have tried to render this sound relationship as best I could in English, and I have chosen to avoid the literal but extremely tautological: “with my sorrows, that claw like claws and claw my heart apart.”
(Spanish original after the jump)
Callejón sin luz, esperándote…
Ansias de vivir para tu amor y no poder…
siento que la vida se me va…
y no me lloras.
Busco desolado tu calor
y aquí no estás.
Agonía cruel…luego soledad
y después tu olvido. ¡Nada más!
No pude más y en mi afán por llegar
era un duende errabundo
que se perdió sin poderte encontrar
por las calles del mundo…
Y me he quedado
como un pájaro sin nido,
como un niño abandonado,
con mis penas
que se agarran como garras
y desgarran a mi corazón.
Callejón sin luz, noche sin final…
Gracias por venir con tu perdón y tu bondad…
Ya mi pobre vida terminó…
y estoy vacío,
muerto para el mundo
y para vos mi corazón.
Agonía cruel…luego soledad…
este llanto tuyo y nada más…
Very nice! The triple repeat of “garra” – actually a fully quadruple repeat of rolling R’s together with “corazon” – is strongly alliterative, a sound of tear of the heart pulled apart, a rasp breath of agony. So one may consider replacing “clutch” and “cleave” by more onomatopoeic equivalents, “grasp”, “grip”, “shred”… (English “grasp” and Spanish “garra” are actually cognates, from PIE *ghrebh- “to seize”).
Something like “the claws of pain gripping the heart and tearing it apart”
Ah, Proto-Indo-European! Haven’t thought much about that since my university linguistics classes. Interesting that “garra” and “grasp” are actually related, etymologically.
I like your idea of using more onomatopoetic sounds. Perhaps, “that grip my heart and rip it apart.” Enough harsh sounds there to get an idea of it.
Ultimately, I chose “clutch” and “cleave” because of the alliteration with “claws.” My first draft had “seize my heart like claws and tear it apart,” or something similarly inelegant.
This is one of those almost impossible-to-translate phrases, and in moments like this I’m grateful that this isn’t written poetry, but a sung lyric, so even non-Spanish speakers can hear the sounds and how they work together with the meaning by listening to the song. For me, Marino’s delivery is unequivocally the best of the three.
Nitpicky side note on phonetics: The “r” in “corazón” isn’t actually rolled–it’s a single alveolar tap/flap, because of the intervocalic position. The two sounds do contrast for Spanish speakers, which is why the double “r” is written in some cases—c.f., “pera” = “pear” but “perra” = “bitch,” “caro” = “expensive” but “carro” = “car,” and many more. The contrast is neutralized in some positions and contexts (at the beginning of words and syllables, etc.), but not here.
Some singers (in tango and other music in Spanish) do trill it and hold it out for emphasis when singing the word “corazón,” but listen carefully and you’ll hear that neither Marino, Iriarte, nor Roldán do it here.
This poetry brings new meaning to what I read about Spaniards in Mitchner’s “Caribean.” So passionate!
Yes… ‘clutch’, ‘claws’, ‘cleave’… a good translation.