Music of Our Childhood


María Elena Walsh has put music into the childhood of every Argentine since the late Sixties.

I think that hers was a true revolution regarding the way of talking to children, the way of singing to them and of telling them stories. Never did she use the silly, didactic manner of a narrow-minded school teacher. Her stories, songs and plays appealed to the child’s intelligence, played with platitudes and wiped the dust off the poetical outlook of people of every age.

“Manuelita, la tortuga” is perhaps her most famous song for children.


Manuelita, la tortuga (Manuelita, the turtle)
(The lyrics of the songs and the text of the whole post have been translated from Spanish to English by María Lía Macchi. Once again, thanks for the great job!)

Manuelita vivía en Pehuajó
pero un día se marchó.
Nadie supo bien por qué
a París ella se fue
un poquito caminando
y otro poquitito a pie.

Manuelita, Manuelita,
Manuelita ¿dónde vas?
con tu traje de malaquita
y tu paso tan audaz.


Manuelita una vez se enamoró
de un tortugo que pasó.
Dijo: –¿Qué podré yo hacer?
Vieja no me va a querer.
En Europa y con paciencia
me podrán embellecer.

Manuelita, Manuelita,
Manuelita ¿dónde vas?
con tu traje de malaquita
y tu paso tan audaz.


En la tintorería de París
la pintaron con barniz.
La plancharon en francés
del derecho y del revés.
Le pusieron peluquita
y botines en los pies.

Manuelita, Manuelita,
Manuelita ¿dónde vas?
con tu traje de malaquita
y tu paso tan audaz.


Tantos años tardó en cruzar el mar
que allí se volvió a arrugar
y por eso regresó
vieja como se marchó
a buscar a su tortugo
que la espera en Pehuajó.

Manuelita, Manuelita,
Manuelita ¿dónde vas?
con tu traje de malaquita
y tu paso tan audaz.
Manuelita once lived in Pehuajó.
But one day she had to go.
No one knew the reason why
Off to Paris she did fly
Half the trip was made by walking
And the rest just treading high.

Manuelita, Manuelita,
Manuelita, where go you?
With your malachite shell a-glitter
And your pace so sure and bold.

Manuelita just fell in love one day.
With a tortoise, young and gay.
She thought: what am I to do?
He won’t love a wrinkled shrew”.
But in Europe and with patience,
They will make me young anew.

Manuelita, Manuelita,
Manuelita, where you go?
With your malachite shell a-glitter
And your pace so sure and bold.

In a dyer’s shop in “Paris”
They soon glazed her with “vernis”
And they ironed “en français”
All the wrinkles from her face
On her head they placed a chignon
On her feet wee boots were laced.

Manuelita, Manuelita,
Manuelita, where go you?
With your malachite shell a-glitter
And your pace so sure and bold.

But the trip back home took time
So her face once more was lined
That’s the reason she got home
Looking old as when she’d gone
To rejoin her faithful tortoise
Waiting there in Pehuajó

Manuelita, Manuelita,
Manuelita, where go you?
With your malachite shell a-glitter
And your pace so sure and bold.

If, among friends of different ages, we begin reminiscing, it is soon evident that we all share the same love towards her songs. Last year, an excellent play for children, María Elena, by the theatrical group La Galera Encantada (The Enchanted Top Hat) was based precisely on that proposal: to recall her songs, to discover the favorites and to try to imagine what the motives behind their creation were. Here is an article (with English translation) by Ruth Mehl, our best critic on theatre for children, concerning that show.

It’s very dificult to choose just a few songs as an example of which are the most characteristic of María Elena Walsh. It depends on our state of mind and the moment of our lives in which we recall them. At this moment, I think that a good example would be “Don, Dolón, Dolón,” which is put forward like a riddle and plays with the image of the Moon reflected on the water of a well.


Don dolón dolón*
*This title and refrain with no actual meaning, is usually employed as an onomatopoeia for the ringing of bells, very possibly an allusion to “Ding Dong Bell, Pussy’s in the Well”.

Duermo en el aljibe
con mi camisón apolillado,
don dolón dolón,
duermo en el aljibe con mi camisón.

No son las polillas,
son diez mil estrellas que se asoman,
don dolón dolón,
por entre los pliegues de mi camisón.

Cuando sale el sol
tengo que meterme en el aljibe,
don dolón dolón,
duermo en el aljibe con mi camisón.

Cuando yo aparezco,
todos duermen y la araña teje,
don dolón dolón,
salgo del aljibe con mi camisón.

A ver si adivinan,
a ver si adivinan quién es esta,
don dolón dolón
que está en el aljibe con su camisón.

I sleep in a deep well
With my nightgown full of little moth holes
Don, dolón, dolón,
I sleep in my nightgown so deep in the well

But they’re really not moths,
They’re ten thousand stars that are there peeking
Don, dolón, dolón
From the many creases of my blue nightgown.

When the sun is shining.
Deep inside the well I must stay hiding.
Don, dolón, dolón
I sleep in the well wearing my blue nightgown.

When I show my beauty
Everyone’s asleep, the spider’s weaving
Don dolón dolón,
When I leave the well wearing my blue nightgown.

Let’s see if you guess it,
Let’s see if you guess who’s here before you
Don, dolón, dolón
Who sleeps in the deep well in her blue nightgown.

We also have “The Sausage Dog Show” (in Spanish the dachshund is known as “the sausage dog”), which is perhaps an unsurpassable example of how M.E.W. dodged the conventionalisms of songs and stories for children, which, generally, if they can avoid being boring, will indefectibly be edifying. This absurd and hilarious story, chock full of surprising rhymes and unexpected turns of sentences, concludes with a false moral. Or, rather, with a true and acceptable moral but one which deviates from the traditionally trodden paths.


El show del perro salchicha (The Sausage Dog Show)

Perro Salchicha, gordo bachicha,
toma solcito a la orilla del mar.
Tiene sombrero de marinero
y en vez de traje se puso collar.

Una gaviota medio marmota,
bizca y con cara de preocupación
viene planeando, mira buscando
el desayuno para su pichón.

Pronto aterriza porque divisa
un bicho gordo como un salchichón.
Dice “qué rico” y abriendo el pico
pesca al perrito como un camarón.

Perro salchicha con calma chicha
en helicóptero cree volar.
La pajarraca, cómo lo hamaca
entre las nubes y arriba del mar.

Así lo lleva hasta la cueva
donde el pichón se cansó de esperar.
Pone en el plato liebre por gato,
cosa que a todos nos puede pasar.

El pichón pía con energía, dice:
–Mamá, te ha fallado el radar;
el desayuno es muy perruno,
cuando lo pico se pone a ladrar.

Doña Gaviota va y se alborota,
Perro Salchicha un mordisco le da.
En la pelea, qué cosa fea,
vuelan las plumas de aquí para allá.

Doña Gaviota: ojo en compota.
Perro Salchicha con más de un chichón.
Así termina la tremolina,
espero que servirá de lección:

El que se vaya para la playa
que desconfíe de un viaje en avión,
y sobre todo haga de modo
que no lo tomen por un camarón.

A pudgy dachshund, fat, chubby, sausage
Is taking a sunbath way down by the sea.
He’s got a cap on, just like a sailor
Except for his collar, no swimsuit has he.

A passing seagull, sort of a numskull,
Cross eyed and showing a frown on her face
Dives quickly, lurching, seems to be searching
For tasty morsels to take to her nest.

Quickly she’s landing and looks demanding,
Shaking her feathers at what she has seen:
She says “how tasty” and making hasty,
Carries the puppy away like a shrimp.

The little puppy, fearless and happy,
A helicopter hoping to fly.
With the gull soaring, great heights exploring,
Among the clouds and high up in the sky.

Home they’re arriving, to the nest diving
The baby seagull demanding his meal.
His mother in rapture feeds him her capture,
Never once doubting the shrimp was for real.

Birdie’s complaining, loudly proclaiming:
“Mother, you’ve once again made a mistake;
My breakfast’s barking, my beak he is biting,
This is no shrimp that you’ve brought to your babe”.

So going thither, all in a dither,
She looks at the dachshund and gives him a poke:
Her beak is bitten, her feathers smitten.
The fight is on and this time it’s no joke,

A sore eye for Mistress Seagull.
And the doggy black and blue.
Thus the conclusion of the confusion,
So this is my advice to you:

When you are lying on the beach, tanning,
Free trips on a ’copter you always must scorn,
And, more important, take every precaution
Not to let anyone think you’re a prawn.

Animals play an important part in María Elena Walsh’s poetry; they appear in very many of her songs. As well as those we have already mentioned, we all remember the Cat who goes fishing for hats, dresses up in them and ends up taking himself off to jail, because, wearing a policeman’s cap, he hears that a cat is accused of thieving….The studious cow who decides to go to school in the Quebrada de Humahuaca….and Osías the little bear dressed in a overall who goes to a bazaar and there finds marvelous things to buy … Mono Liso, the monkey who was teaching an orange to do the Twist…The list would be immense.

And we must not forget here the collection of poems Zoo Loco (Crazy Zoo) whose sole protagonists are animals. They are not songs but they are worthy of mention because they speak to us about María Elena’s happy dependence on English nonsense coming from her family roots. This book is a collection of short poems intended to imitate Limericks and recover in an infantile key the humour of the English (who are “very serious people but who love to talk nonsense”, as she explains in the prologue.) These little tales, as she calls them, are absolutely absurd and delicious in the rhythm of their long and short verses, with rhymes which combine the quotidian with the unexpected. Just two examples:

Un día, por la calle Carabobo
se pasea una nena con un globo.
De pronto da un traspié
y todo el mundo ve
que no es Caperucita,
sino el lobo.

Hace tiempo que tengo una gran duda
hay una vaca que jamás saluda,
le hablo y no contesta.
Pues bien, la duda es esta:
¿será maleducada o será muda?
One day on Carabobo street
A little girl was strolling with a balloon.
She suddenly trips
And everyone sees
She’s not Red Riding Hood
But the Wolf

I’ve had a great doubt for so long
There’s a cow who won’t say “hello”
I speak, she won’t answer
The doubt that I have is:
Is she mute or just simply a snob?


In “The Kingdom of Upside Down” nonsense surfaces through this subversive outlook on reality that is so typical of María Elena Walsh’s world. An imaginary world, playful and mischievous, but one that is also very profound and real because it is constructed with verses that enclose multiple meanings and encourage various levels of interpretation.



El reino del revés (The Kingdom of Upside Down)

Me dijeron que en el Reino del Revés
nada el pájaro y vuela el pez,
que los gatos no hacen miau y dicen yes
porque estudian mucho inglés.

Vamos a ver como es
el Reino del Revés.

Me dijeron que en el Reino del Revés
nadie baila con los pies,
que un ladrón es vigilante
y otro es juez
y que dos y dos son tres.

Vamos a ver como es
el Reino del Revés.

Me dijeron que en el Reino del Revés
cabe un oso en una nuez,
que usan barbas y bigotes los bebés
y que un año dura un mes.

Vamos a ver como es
el Reino del Revés.

Me dijeron que en el Reino del Revés
hay un perro pekinés
que se cae para arriba y una vez
no pudo bajar después.

Vamos a ver como es
el Reino del Revés.

Me dijeron que en el Reino del Revés
un señor llamado Andrés
tiene 1.530 chimpancés
que si miras no los ves.

Vamos a ver como es
el Reino del Revés.

Me dijeron que en el Reino del Revés
una araña y un ciempiés
van montados al palacio del marqués
en caballos de ajedrez.

Vamos a ver como es
el Reino del Revés.
They told me that in the Kingdom of Upside down
Birds swim and fish fly,
That cats don’t meow, but they say yes
Because they study so much English.

Let’s go and see
How the Kingdom of Upside Down is.

They told me that in the Kingdom of Upside Down
Nobody dances with their feet,
That one thief is a policeman
And another one is a judge
And that two and two make three

Let’s go and see
How the Kingdom of Upside Down is.

They told me that in the Kingdom of Upside Down
A bear fits in a nutshell
That babies wear beards and moustaches
And that a year lasts a month.

Let’s go and see
How the Kingdom of Upside Down is.

They told me that in the Kingdom of Upside Down
There is a Pekinese dog
That falls upwards
And once couldn’t get down again.

Let’s go and see
How the Kingdom of Upside Down is.

They told me that in the Kingdom of Upside Down
A gentleman named Andrew
Has a thousand five hundred and fifty chimpanzees
But if you look, you can’t see them

Let’s go and see
How the Kingdom of Upside Down is.

They told me that in the Kingdom of Upside Down
A spider and a centipede
Go riding to the marquise’s palace
Mounting chess horses.

Let’s go and see
How the Kingdom of Upside Down is.

We could go on speaking about María Elena Walsh and her work indefinitely. Her short stories would undoubtedly take up quite a lot of space, but it is better not to bore our kind readers. Although more has been left out than included, in this review, we would not like to omit emphasizing the great influence she has had on several generations of children in Argentina . (It would be nice to find out if this can also be said regarding the children of our neighbouring countries.)

As a conclusion, I dedicate this song to all the devoted Hungarian gardeners.



Canción del jardinero (The gardener’s song)
(This song of María Elena Walsh is performed here by León Gieco)

Mírenme, soy feliz
entre las hojas que cantan
cuando atraviesa el jardín
el viento en monopatín.

Cuando voy a dormir
cierro los ojos y sueño
con el olor de un país
florecido para mí.

Yo no soy un bailarín
porque me gusta quedarme
quieto en la tierra y sentir
que mis pies tienen raíz.

Una vez estudié
en un librito de yuyos
cosas que yo sólo sé
y que nunca olvidaré.

Aprendí que una nuez
es arrugada y viejita
pero que puede ofrecer
mucha, mucha, mucha miel.

Del jardín soy duende fiel;
cuando una flor está triste
la pinto con un pincel
y le toco el cascabel.

Soy guardián y doctor
de una pandilla de flores
que juegan al dominó
y después les da la tos.

Por aquí anda Dios
con regadera de lluvia
o disfrazado de sol
asomando a su balcón.

Yo no soy un gran señor,
pero en mi cielo de tierra
cuido el tesoro mejor:
mucho, mucho, mucho amor.
Look at me, I am happy
Among the leaves that are singing
While the wind goes reeling
Through the garden with his skate.

When I go to sleep
I close my eyes and keep dreaming
About the smells of a land
That is blooming all for me.

I will not be a dancer
Because I enjoy standing still
Upon the earth and feeling
That roots spring from my feet .

During days gone by I’ve studied
In a book describing weeds
Things that only I now know of
And whose memories never cease.

I have learned that in a nutshell
Old and wrinkled though it be
Is a treasure to be offered:
Honey: lots and lots and lots of it.

I’m the garden’s faithful elf;
When a blossom feels unhappy
With my brush I paint her petals
And I cheer her up with bells

I’m the doctor and the keeper
Of a little band of flowers
Who get quite a fit of coughing
After playing dominoes.

God is hovering above us
With His sprinkler full of raindrops,
From His balcony inspecting
How His rays fall from the sun.

I am not a grand gentleman,
But on Earth I have my Heaven
Caring for my greatest treasure:
Lots and lots and lots of love.

6 comentarios:

Damián Autorino dijo...

¡Excelente post!
Hace muchos años, como periodista, tuve la oportunidad de entrevistar a María Elena Walsh, algo que fue para mi todo un acontecimiento teniendo en cuenta que, como millones de argentinos, me había criado escuchando sus canciones.
María Elena Walsh es una grande en serio de este país. No sólo como autora de canciones infantiles, sino también como cuentista, novelista y ensayista.
¡Qué bueno que a través de este blog y estas traducciones, muchos más puedan conocer su genialidad!

Damián

Julia dijo...

Gracias, Damián!
El tuyo es un buen testimonio para confirmar la envergadura de María Elena Walsh en la Argentina (y que vean que no miento ni exagero al destacar su figura).
Espero que alguna vez leamos aquella entrevista...

Alonso Ramirez Ramos dijo...

hola!! tus traducciones al ingles esta super bien.
especialmente Manuelita y Perro Salchicha.
Y bien es cierto que amamos a Maria Elena Walsh en Mexico tambien. Un gran saludo!
http://alonsothewise.blogspot.com/

Anónimo dijo...

Muchas gracias por este lindo post.
Hoy especialmente me hizo recordar canciones que estaban guardadas en mi memoria de cuanod bailaba en mi dormitorio con el tocadiscos.

Como la vamos a estrañar a Maria Elena!

Julia dijo...

Gracias a vos, me alegra poder compartir estos recuerdos y que gusten.
Sensación extraña: me entero de su muerte a raiz de tu comentario, Anónimo.

Alejandra Mompó dijo...

hola soy Alejandra Maestra Jardinera ya retirada ,voy a visitar a mi nieto que vive en sidney Australia ,y quería saber si hay algún cd de maria elena walsh en ingles me encantaría llevarlo al jardín del allí ,Gracias