Literature

A Charango’s Biography, a Poem by Luis Nieto Miranda

The Fascinating Sound of Charango Keeps You Alive

After taking a break for a long while, Cuzco Eats brings you another poem from Cuzco’s great poet Luís Nieto Miranda. The poet penned a life history of the popular instrument of Cuzco’s traditional urban middle and lower classes, the charango, a small guitar like instrument with ten strings.

The charango stands for the Cholo, the man known for being a working class rogue in the space of a vivid landscape. It also lives through deep feelings, the heart that is called sonqo in Quechua, and means so much more. It is the center of being and the place of reality. At the same time, it is the language of song and dance through which the people of Cuzco connect with each other and with the cosmos.

Sunset Over Cusco Mountains
Sunset Over Cusco Mountains (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)

Biography of My Charango

Your body begins with a blow,
wounded heart of a guitar
exploded into tears.

Poor, sorrowful guitar.

Now it takes its paths
on the arm of a sob
all dressed in sorrow.

Charango, cholo charango:
born from the wound of a song
on whose edge you still wail.

A flower of blood
watches you from the dust
and a dove cries in your hands.

I don’t know why, but
the guitar’s wind always
chases you till the flute that grows
in your heart bleeds.

Dressed in your poncho of songs
wrapped in your scarf of dawns,
and melody, all the rainfall of birds
you left to roam the highest plains.

There, began the story of your deeds.

Drunk on dances,
drinking long draughts of sorrows, your cañazo,
you became the daring hunter of sighs.

From the heights of a shout
you began to wander among
the flock of beautiful women’s looks.

Galloping on the slope of a whisper,
shaking in the air your sunday cap,
you burned the mountain sky with
your sling’s rainbow of seven colors.

Oh charango, cholo charango,
player and life of the party;
on any day, at the strike of dawn,
you became the thief of the wild lands.

How the fields sewn by larks
and born in the hearts of women
shook to the knife of your laughter.

Sunrise in a Wild Landscape (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)
Sunrise in wild Lands in Cusco (Photo: Walter Coraza Morveli)

When they saw you coming from afar,
from so far away,
the sparrows that sang in the violet eyes
of your dear Antuca
were dying suddenly on a tears’ edge.

How many times on your lark’s chest
did I see you strike off the heads of her breasts‘ tame
doves under a sky of songs and dances,
so a wounded ring-necked river
dropped to the agonized heart of the guitars.

Since then, charango,
bitten by a pack of memories.
you roam through a forest of blows
while the cries of the kantuta flowers
grow like a wild fire in your hands.

Translator’s note. Nieto’s poem is rich with concepts that connect it directly with time, place, and culture, such as the words chola for a townswoman and wayno which is a song and dance style typical of the Imperial city. However, to open the poem more to an international audience, we chose to translate many of these terms in a more universal sense, as woman and song, rather than insisting on the specific. In this we trusted that the poem contained enough local specifics that the cultural references were still maintained. In this way we did not have to laden the poem with foot notes and explanations.

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