the Robertorium


translation exercise: Mediterráneo by Joan Manuel Serrat

As a Spanish practice exercise, I’ve been translating songs into English.

Today I’ll share with you my translation of Mediterráneo (Mediterranean) by Joan Manuel Serrat.

Spanish English
Quizá porque mi niñez sigue jugando en tu playa, y escondido tras las cañas duerme mi primer amor, llevo tu luz y tu olor por dondequiera que vaya, y amontonado en tu arena guardo amor, juegos y penas. Perhaps because my childhood still plays on your beach, and hidden behind the reeds sleeps my first love, I carry your light and your scent wherever I go, and piled up in your sand I save love, games, and sorrows.
Yo, que en la piel tengo el sabor amargo del llanto eterno que han vertido en ti cien pueblos de Algeciras a Estambul para que pintes de azul sus largas noches de invierno. I have on my skin the bitter taste of the eternal cry, the tears shed into you by a hundred towns from Algeciras to Istanbul so that you will paint blue their long winter nights.
A fuerza de desventuras tu alma es profunda y oscura. As a result of misfortunes your soul is deep and dark.
A tus atardeceres rojos se acostumbraron mis ojos, como el recodo al camino. To your red sunsets my eyes became accustomed, as the bend to the path.
Soy cantor. I am a singer.
Soy embustero. I am a liar.
Me gusta el juego y el vino. I like gambling and wine.
Tengo alma de marinero. I have the soul of a sailor.
¿Qué le voy a hacer? What can I say?
Sí yo nací en el Mediterráneo. I was born on the Mediterranean.
Nací en el Mediterráneo. I was born on the Mediterranean.
Y te acercas y te vas después de besar mi aldea. And you draw near and go away after kissing my hamlet.
Jugando con la marea te vas pensando en volver. Playing with the tide you go away thinking of returning.
Eres como una mujer perfumadita de brea que se añora y que se quiere, que se conoce y se teme. You are like a woman perfumed with tar that is yearned for and loved, that is known and feared.
¡Ay! Oh!
Si un día para mi mal viene a buscarme la parca, empujad al mar mi barca con un levante otoñal y dejad que el temporal desguace sus alas blancas y a mí enterradme sin duelo entre la playa y el cielo, en la ladera de un monte más alto que el horizonte. If one day to my misfortune Death comes calling for me, push my boat out to sea with an easterly autumn wind and let the storm scrap its white stunsails1, and bury me without mourning between the beach and the sky, on a mountainside above the horizon.
Quiero tener buena vista. I want to have a nice view.
Mi cuerpo será camino. My body will be a path.
Le daré verde a los pinos y amarillo a la genista cerca del mar porque yo nací en el Mediterráneo. I will give green to the pines and yellow to the brooms2 by the sea because I was born on the Mediterranean.
Nací en el Mediterráneo. I was born on the Mediterranean.
Nací en el Mediterráneo. I was born on the Mediterranean.

As if the song weren’t sad enough with its idea that the Mediterranean Sea is a basin of tears collected from a hundred coastal towns, there’s something especially tragic to me about Serrat’s being a bit in denial about his mortality — he says if instead of when. Well, when he dies, perhaps he does not want us to mourn because we will only make the sea even deeper in doing so. Then his mountainside might not be above the horizon anymore.

What a romantic life by the sea he describes! More tragedy: in the Spanish city of Algeciras is the seventh largest container port in Europe. That romantic life of a sailor, full of singing, lying, gambling, and wine is a memory of a time before the containerisation of shipping from the 1960s to the 1980s3. Seaside cities around the world used to host manufacturing industries near their ports, and raucous communities of longshoremen who would carry individual items, called breakbulk cargo, to and from ships. The merchant marine (the group of sailors on trading vessels) wasn’t too concerned with efficiency, either, compared to the state of shipping now. Those romantic slices of life have been gobbled up by globalisation, by efficiency-obsessed conglomerates that forsake the traditions of sailing to boost their bottom line, by huge automated cranes that do the work of hundreds of men. Manufacturing no longer has to happen near ports, because inland transportation costs have plummeted as a result of the obsolescence of the expensive practice of loading trucks and trains by hand at the ports. Goods are very cheaply moved almost anywhere in the world. I suppose it’s for the best. Still, this song makes me long for that bygone lifestyle.

By the way, having lived in Adana, Turkey, I don’t recall the Mediterranean smelling like tar. Am I taking it too literally? 😛

dialect notes

Joan Manuel Serrat is from Catalonia and sings in peninsular Spanish with what I assume is a Catalonian accent. It sounds to me like he sometimes adds extra syllables to break up consonant clusters starting with R — invierno is almost “inviereno” and cuerpo is almost “cuerepo”.

I could not figure out the word atardeceres (“sunsets”) from this version of the song alone. He pronounces it, bizarrely, like “aporreceres” (perhaps because of the consonant cluster in the middle). I managed to find three other versions of the song, including another recording by Serrat later in life, and in those it was much easier to make out the word atardeceres.


  1. A stunsail (pronounced like “stuns’l”) is a sail that protrudes from the side of a ship. ↩︎

  2. A broom is a flowering shrub of the genus Genista. The sweeping tool of the same name is traditionally made of the shrub. ↩︎

  3. For more information on the impact of shipping containers on port towns and the merchant marine, check out the book The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger, by Marc Levinson. ↩︎

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