Making sense of the lyrics...
This month as we look at the life of Lucio Demare, one of the great composers of tango romanza, we have another chance to look at the poetry of the great Homero Manzi (see last month’s tango singalong blog).
If you read these lyrics the plot straightforward (a sailor lands in Buenos Aires, meets a girl, and tells her that his ship sails tomorrow) so let’s focus on a few of the devices that Manzi uses to turn lyrics into poetry. I’m going to avoid technical terms here and go straight to the ideas:
Music – Manzi draws a parallel between the ‘music’ of the sea, and the literal music, tango, that our sailor hears in the Riachuelo, at the port of Buenos Aires. This happens in the first stanza and will reappear.
The port and the ship as metaphors – Buenos Aires, with its bandoneon, its music, and of course a love interest, is not only a literal port, providing refuge for ships, but is the refuge for our sailor’s soul: ‘My heart is only happy here in your port.’ Manzi has laid the foundation for a metaphor later on.
In the final stanza Manzi develops the port metaphor: ‘tango is a friendly port where dreams drop anchor.’ The sailor’s soul has found refuge Buenos Aires, in tango, in the memories of everything that was different about that destination.
There’s one more parallel that Manzi draws in the final stanza – it’s masterful and subtle. As our narrator recounts his life at sea, where he misses ‘the sound of the bandoneon,’ he says that ‘the rhythm of the waves tricks me, pretending to be its (the tango’s) music. We can imagine our sailor falling asleep at night, on the high seas, hearing a rhythmic sound. For a moment he thinks it’s music, the music of Buenos Aires, but then he realizes that the waves are ‘tricking’ him. It’s not tango he hears but the ‘music’ of the sea, the same generic sounds he described earlier, the one he heard in ‘a hundred ports,’ everywhere the ship took him. Everywhere except that special port, where a bandoneon ‘bleeds’ its music and where love awaits him.
There are a lot of average tango lyrics out there, but Homero Manzi didn’t write them. A true poet, he and a handful of others elevated the art form to its highest level. Here, with Demare’s brilliant music and its ‘romanza’ aesthetic, he created three and a half minutes of art.
Mañana zarpa un barco
Music: Lucio Demare
Lyrics: Homero Manzi