Literature

Charanguito, a Poem by Luís Nieto Miranda

The great poet of Cuzco, Luís Nieto Miranda, was a wide ranging poet, politically active and socially engaged. Author of Hymn to Cuzco, anthem to the city of Cuzco, he also published a book of romances built on the life of the ordinary people of Cuzco. Named Cholos because they followed the colonial idea of a people neither indigenous nor Spanish, they occupied towns nearby as well as many of the streets and neighborhoods of Cuzco.

Nieto took the nickname El Cholo for himself, showing his commitment to his roots and his people. In the poem we present here, Romance of the Charango, Nieto uses this ten stringed instrument as if it were the paradigm of the Cholo male: trickster, fighter, hard liver, and lover.

More than musical instrument, the charango becomes a symbol of virility. It must be “tuned” by a mermaid, a women from the world of water and fertility. The charango shows how male and female depend on each other.

Charanguito

To Killku Warak’a y su charango

My charango, dear charango,
skirt chaser, always in love,
put on your cap of bird song
and let the party begin.

Throw out a fistful of laughter
my sly, sweet voiced charango,
and make your feisty heart
ring out with fresh song.

Poncho of striking colors,
like the lights of dawn;
how you like women,
charango of the fierce look.

If you were missing a string
to really tune the song,
from the cute, flirty Antuca
you’d steal an intense look.

Fine temper, very fine,
no woman can resist you,
you claim her with your looks
like any good smuggler.

Couple Courting in a Cuzco Night (Photo: Alonzo Riley)
Couple Courting in a Cuzco Night (Photo: Alonzo Riley)

II.

Charango pisco and women,
drinker and dancer,
how you like that woman
with the dark-cherry eyes.

To claim her in your arms
you know what to do;
a pinch, two fists, and
a drink will do you well.

Sometimes sober in sorrow
you gamble till dawn,
pierced by a memory
that hangs in your eyes.

Charango, you hold the sorrow
of the highland pipes
the whip of the Indian flute
and the sigh of the guitar.

Charango, Cholo moan
a rain storm of complaint
I carry you close to my heart
like a sorrowful bird.

Your life is like my life,
mixture of laughter and tears;
highland wayno that always
grows within our soul.

You were born happy
like a market Sunday
with all that beautiful
laughter and Cholo wit.

The Tricky Body of the Charango( Photo: Alonzo Riley)
The Tricky Body of the Charango (Photo: Alonzo Riley)

III

Charango, rogue,
player, and fighter,
you always have a lark
under your songbird wings.

Your story grew in bar fights,
and was burned in parties;
women love you because you
are a drinker and story teller.

Oh, captain of rakes,
oh strength of dawn,
crazy bird that carries
sleeping stars in your soul.

My charango, dear charango,
trickster and partier:
shoot for the sky and
explode your bandit heart.

Luis Nieto Miranda

translated by David Knowlton
Playing the Sorrowful Highland Pipes (Photo: Alonzo Riley)
Playing the Sorrowful Highland Pipes (Photo: Alonzo Riley)
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