the Robertorium


translation exercise: Movimiento by Jorge Drexler

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

Today I’ll share with you my translation of Movimiento (Motion) by Jorge Drexler.

Spanish English
Apenas nos pusimos en dos pies. We barely stood on two feet.
Comenzamos a migrar por la sabana siguiendo la manada de bisontes más allá del horizonte a nuevas tierras lejanas. We started migrating across the savanna following the herd of bison beyond the horizon to new and faraway lands.
Los niños a la espalda y expectantes, los ojos en alerta, todo oídos, olfateando aquel desconcertante paisaje nuevo, desconocido. The children at the back and expectant, eyes on alert, all ears, sniffing that disconcerting, new, unknown landscape.
Somos una especie en viaje. We are a species on a journey.
No tenemos pertenencias, sino equipaje. We do not have belongings, but rather luggage.
Vamos con el polen en el viento. We go with the pollen on the wind.
Estamos vivos porque estamos en movimiento. We are alive because we are in motion.
Nunca estamos quietos. Never are we still.
Somos trashumantes. We are transhumant.1
Somos padres, hijos, nietos y bisnietos de inmigrantes. We are parents, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of immigrants.
Es más mío lo que sueño que lo que toco. What I dream is mine more than what I touch.
Yo no soy de aquí, pero tú tampoco. I am not from here, but neither are you.
De ningún lado de todo y de todos lados un poco. From nowhere entirely and from everywhere a little.
Atravesamos desiertos, glaciares, continentes, el mundo entero de extremo a extremo, empecinados, supervivientes, el ojo en el viento y en las corrientes, la mano firme en el remo. We traverse deserts, glaciers, continents, the entire world from end to end, stubborn, survivors, eye in the wind and in the currents, hand firm on the oar.
Cargamos con nuestras guerras nuestras canciones de cuna, nuestro rumbo hecho de versos, de migraciones, de hambrunas. We fill our lullabies with our wars, our course made of verses, of migrations, of famines.
Y así ha sido desde siempre, desde el infinito. And it has been so forever, since infinity.
Fuimos en la gota de agua viajando en el meteorito, cruzando galaxias, vacío, milenios. We went in the drop of water travelling on the meteorite, crossing galaxies, void, millennia.
Buscábamos oxígeno — encontramos sueños. We sought oxygen — we found dreams.
Apenas nos pusimos en dos pies y nos vimos en la sombra de la hoguera. We barely stood on two feet and we saw ourselves in the shadow of the bonfire.
Escuchamos la voz del desafío. We listened to the voice of the challenge.
Siempre miramos al río pensando en la otra ribera. We always look at the river thinking about the other bank.
Somos una especie en viaje. We are a species on a journey.
No tenemos pertenencias, sino equipaje. We do not have belongings, but rather luggage.
Yo no soy de aquí, pero tú tampoco. I am not from here, but neither are you.
Yo no soy de aquí, pero tú tampoco. I am not from here, but neither are you.
De ningún lado de todo y de todos lados un poco. From nowhere entirely and from everywhere a little.
Lo mismo para las canciones, los pájaros, los alfabetos: si quieres que algo se muera, déjalo quieto. The same goes for songs, birds, alphabets: if you want something to die, leave it still.

I enjoy this song so much! It forms a romantic image of humanity’s migratory cultural history. It frames human experience in terms of a gigantic continuum from the first microorganisms to the present, and offers a maxim for life by way of contrast: “If you want something to die, leave it still.”. (I’m not sure I agree with him about alphabets, though.)

I wonder to what extent he intends to criticise the relatively recent innovations of agriculture and cities. An anarcho-primitivist pamphlet I read recently, Origins of the 1%: the Bronze Age by John Zerzan, asserted that these innovations run counter to human nature, have led to an unnatural and unpleasant state of compulsory labour, and would best be eliminated. They are thought to be the developments that ended the nomadic lifestyle for most of humanity. Are we dying from staying still?

dialect notes

Jorge Drexler is originally from Uruguay but had lived in Spain for 20 years when he released this song. As is typical throughout Latin America, he speaks and sings with seseo, which is to say that he pronounces the letters Z and C like the letter S, instead of like the unvoiced TH sound of English. This allows him to form a feminine rhyme — that is a rhyme spanning the last two syllables of each word — between bisontes (bison, plural) and horizonte (horizon). Evidently living in Spain for so long did not impart distinción (the distinction between Z/C and S) to his speech (indeed, distinción is uncommon in certain regions of Spain), but it may have had some other effect. My ear is not keen enough to pick that out yet.

Due to my inexperience with certain dialects, I find it difficult to hear the letter S at the ends of Drexler’s words sometimes. This means that I may have mixed up singular and plural nouns in some cases. For example vacío (void) might really be vacíos (voids).

I haven’t yet figured out the pattern of how Drexler pronounces the letters B and V. In every dialect I know, those letters are pronounced indistinguishably from each other and only change pronunciation depending on their position in an utterance. (Both sound like the English B at the start of an utterance and rather like an English W anywhere else.) Drexler, however, seems to pronounce V at the beginning of some utterances almost exactly like the English V, a sound that I thought was absent from the Spanish phonetic inventory. I haven’t found anything on Wikipedia about this phenomenon in Uruguayan Spanish or Rioplatense Spanish, but I’ll update this post if I learn more about it.


  1. Transhumance is a form of nomadism in which people and their livestock move between altitudes or latitudes seasonally. ↩︎

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