One of the only times I was ever given a song in a Spanish language class it was ‘Unicornio Azul’ by Silvio Rodríguez. I hated it. Years later I have belatedly discovered that Rodríguez has actually written some great songs. Here is one of them…

Silvio Rodríguez is a Cuban singer-songwriter, a key figure in the folk protest movement known as Nueva Trova. In his early twenties he worked for 5 months on a fishing boat called Playa Girón. This provided the inspiration for this song, included on his debut album “Días y Flores” (1975). However, it is also the name of the beach which was a landing site during the infamous ‘Bay of Pigs’, the 1961 attack on Cuba engineered by the USA. Hence the title is loaded with meaning, and Rodriguez is acclaimed for this ability to combine poetry and politics in his lyrics.

NB I took this translation by Vern Nelson as my starting point, however I have made quite a few changes (improvements I hope).



Compañeros poetas, 
tomando en cuenta
los últimos sucesos en la poesía, 
quisiera preguntar
(me urge)
¿Qué tipo de adjetivos 
se deben usar para hacer 
el poema de un barco?
sin que se haga sentimental,
fuera de la vanguardia, 
o evidente panfleto,
si debo usar palabras 
como Flota Cubana de Pesca, 
y Playa Girón

Compañeros de música, 
tomando en cuenta
esas politonales y audaces canciones, 
quisiera preguntar
(me urge)
¿Qué tipo de armonía 
se debe usar para hacer 
la canción de este barco 
con hombres de poca niñez,
hombres y solamente, 
hombres sobre cubierta
Hombres negros y rojos 
y azules, los hombres que pueblan 
el Playa Girón.

Compañeros de historia, 
tomando en cuenta
lo implacable que debe ser la verdad, 
quisiera preguntar 
(me urge tanto)
¿Qué debiera decir? 
¿Qué fronteras debo respetar?
Si alguien roba comida y después 
da la vida, ¿Qué hacer?
¿Hasta dónde debemos 
practicar las verdades?
¿Hasta dónde sabemos?
Que escriban, pues, la historia, 
su historia, los hombres 
del Playa Girón.

My fellow poets, 
Taking into account 
The latest trends in poetry,
If you would allow me to ask
(I feel that I must)
What kind of adjectives 
Should one use to write 
A poem about a ship?
Without sounding sentimental, 
Old fashioned,
Or sounding like a polemical pamphlet
If I should I use words 
Like Cuban fishing fleet 
And Girón beach

My fellow musicians, 
Taking into account
Today’s daring polytonal songs,
If you would allow me to ask
(I feel that I must)
What type harmonies 
Should one use to write 
The song about this ship
With men who hardly had a childhood 
Men who are just 
Tough sailors on deck
Men black, red 
And blue, the men who populate 
Girón beach

My companions in history
Taking into account
How unforgiving the truth must be,
If you would allow me to ask
(I really feel that I must)
What should I say?
Which rules should I respect?
If someone steals food and then 
Gives up his life, what should we do?
How far should we 
Follow these truths?
How much do we really know?
Well, let them write the story, 
Their own story, the men 
Of Girón beach

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