Friday, January 7, 2011

Yo Te Nombro: The story of a song

I was listening to "Yo Te Nombro", the version made famous by Argentine singer Nacha Guevara, on my MP3 player this morning and wondering about the origins of this inspiring song about freedom. Turns out that it is a derivative work. The lyrics were written by an Italian songwriter based in Argentina, Gian Franco Pagliaro in 1969, based on a poem "Liberté" written by Paul Éluard, one of the famous poets of the French Resistance, a member of the Communist Party and of the Surrealist school of French literature.


Paul Éluard originally titled his famous poem, written in 1942, "Une seule pensée" ("A Single Thought"). It was published in the spring of that year in an underground collection Poésie et vérité 1942. A few months later it was re-published in the review Fontaine in the southern zone. In September, it was published a third time out of London in the Gaullist publication La France libre and thousand of copies were dropped by parachute by the Royal Air Force over occupied France.

Éluard explained his famous poem thus: "I was thinking of revealing at the conclusion the name of a woman I loved, to whom this poem was dedicated. But I quickly noticed that the only word I had in my mind was the word "Liberty". So the woman I loved embodied a desire that was greater than her. I was confusing her with my most sublime aspiration, and this word "Liberty" is throughout my poem only to eternalize a very simple, very mundane, very specific wish, that of freeing ourselves from the Occupier."

Here is the original text of the poem. An English translation thereof can be found here.

Sur mes cahiers d'écolier
Sur mon pupitre et les arbres
Sur le sable de neige
J'écris ton nom

Sur toutes les pages lues
Sur toutes les pages blanches
Pierre sang papier ou cendre
J'écris ton nom

Sur les images dorées
Sur les armes des guerriers
Sur la couronne des rois
J'écris ton nom

Sur la jungle et le désert
Sur les nids sur les genêts
Sur l'écho de mon enfance
J'écris ton nom

Sur les merveilles des nuits
Sur le pain blanc des journées
Sur les saisons fiancées
J'écris ton nom

Sur tous mes chiffons d'azur
Sur l'étang soleil moisi
Sur le lac lune vivante
J'écris ton nom

Sur les champs sur l'horizon
Sur les ailes des oiseaux
Et sur le moulin des ombres
J'écris ton nom

Sur chaque bouffées d'aurore
Sur la mer sur les bateaux
Sur la montagne démente
J'écris ton nom

Sur la mousse des nuages
Sur les sueurs de l'orage
Sur la pluie épaisse et fade
J'écris ton nom

Sur les formes scintillantes
Sur les cloches des couleurs
Sur la vérité physique
J'écris ton nom

Sur les sentiers éveillés
Sur les routes déployées
Sur les places qui débordent
J'écris ton nom

Sur la lampe qui s'allume
Sur la lampe qui s'éteint
Sur mes raisons réunies
J'écris ton nom

Sur le fruit coupé en deux
Du miroir et de ma chambre
Sur mon lit coquille vide
J'écris ton nom

Sur mon chien gourmand et tendre
Sur ses oreilles dressées
Sur sa patte maladroite
J'écris ton nom

Sur le tremplin de ma porte
Sur les objets familiers
Sur le flot du feu béni
J'écris ton nom

Sur toute chair accordée
Sur le front de mes amis
Sur chaque main qui se tend
J'écris ton nom

Sur la vitre des surprises
Sur les lèvres attendries
Bien au-dessus du silence
J'écris ton nom

Sur mes refuges détruits
Sur mes phares écroulés
Sur les murs de mon ennui
J'écris ton nom

Sur l'absence sans désir
Sur la solitude nue
Sur les marches de la mort
J'écris ton nom

Sur la santé revenue
Sur le risque disparu
Sur l'espoir sans souvenir
J'écris ton nom

Et par le pouvoir d'un mot
Je recommence ma vie
Je suis né pour te connaître
Pour te nommer


Liberté as read by French actor Gérard Philipe:

The Musical Derivatives

a) The 8th movement of Poulenc's "Figure Humaine"

In one of the first derivatives, the French composer Francis Poulenc, who had been a friend of Paul Éluard's since 1935, incorporated "Liberté" along with seven of Éluard's other poems into a 1943 cantata -- "Figure Humaine". Just as he had received clandestine copies of Éluard's poems, Poulenc worked on the cantata in secret, since France was occupied by the Germans. The cantata was not premiered until after the war. For more information on this musical collaboration, see Claude Caré's Francis Poulenc et Paul Eluard : une seule musique sous les deux espèces.

Poulenc: Figure Humaine - 8. Liberté:

b) Ey özgürlük

In 1984, Turkish singer-songwriter, intellectual, and leftist politician Zülfü Livaneli composed "Ey özgürlük", a hymn to freedom along the lines of Paul Éluard's original poem. The song is recorded on his album, Istanbul Konseri.

You can find the Turkish lyrics to this song here, where we also got the following English translation, which we cleaned up a little:


On my notebook at school, on my desk, on trees, I write your name
On the pages read, on pure white pages, I write your name
On starry images, on artilleries, rifles, on kings' crowns
On most beautiful nights, on the freshest bread of the day, I write your name
On the fields and on the horizon, on wings of birds,
On the mill under the shadow, I write
On the awakened path, on flattened road,
In thronged squares, your name, O Freedom

On my doorstep, on my pots and pans, on the fire blazing,
On the play of the spirits, on vigilant lips, I write your name
On ruined houses, on extinguished lampions, on sorrow's wall,
On non-wishful absence, on all naked loneliness, I write your name
On returned health, on every single danger which passed away
I write your name, I write it
With the enthusiasm of a word, I'm returning to life
I was born for you, to shout out

O Freedom!

c) Yo Te Nombro

Gian Franco Pagliaro wrote "Yo Te Nombro" in 1969 and it was arranged by Alberto Favero. In 1971, Pagliaro submitted "Yo Te Nombro" to the Festival de la Canción de Buenos Aires, which he had won in 1970 with "Las cosas que me alejan de ti”. The song made it to the final round with the maximum number of votes but failed at the last minute. Pagliaro did not accept the jury's decision and caused a great uproar. The audience booed and whistled at the jury which took offense. The Argentina Society of Broadcasters threatened to sue him for slander and libel though, in the end, the threat did not materialize, but Pagliaro was blacklisted and his song banned from the radio stations. The incident branded Pagliaro as a protest song writer, a label which he seems to wear with a mixture of pride and bitterness. On his current Web site, Pagliaro says "The road to freedom is full of slaves" and "The one who is addicted to freedom is just one more slave". The song became an anthem for the Latin American Left.

Alberto Favero's wife, Nacha Guevara, first recorded "Yo Te Nombro" on her 1975 album "En Vivo", made while the Argentine singer was living in exile after her family had received death threats from the Alianza Anticomunista Argentina, a right-wing paramilitary group that committed hundreds of assassinations during that decade. Guevara stated in her album notes that the song was inspired by Paul Eluard's poem. Others have erroneously attributed "Yo Te Nombro" 's lyrics directly to Eluard.

Other bands and singers who have covered this song include: Sanampay, Reincidentes, Quilapayún, Isabel Aldunate,Savia Nueva, Iris Chacón, César Isella, and Suramérica. Ironically, Gian Franco Pagliaro, an accomplished singer, did not record his own song until 2002 when he included it on "38 Canciones en Libertad" (Disco Fuentes, Colombia).

Here are the original lyrics to "Yo Te Nombro" as printed on Pagliaro's Web site. In parenthesis are the modified lyrics of the better-known and more frequently performed version of the song, the one popularized by Nacha Guevara.

Por el pájaro enjaulado.
Por el pez en la pecera.
Por mi amigo, que está preso
porque ha dicho lo que piensa.
Por las flores arrancadas.
Por la hierba pisoteada.
Por el cuerpo torturado (Por los árboles podados)
De mi amigo que no canta. (Por los cuerpos torturados)
Yo te nombro, Libertad.

For the caged bird.
For the fish in the tank.
For my friend, who is in prison
because he said what he thinks.
For plucked flowers.
For the trampled grass.
For the tortured body (For the pruned trees)
Of my friend who doesn't sing, (For the tortured bodies)
I call your name, Freedom.

Por los dientes apretados.
Por el nudo en la garganta. (Por la rabia contenida)
Por la rabia contenida. (Por el nudo en la garganta)
Por las bocas que no cantan.
Por el verso censurado. (Por el beso clandestino)
Por el beso clandestino. (Por el verso censurado)
Por el joven exiliado.
Por los nombres prohibidos
yo te nombro, Libertad.

For the clenched teeth.
For the knot in the throat.
For the contained rage.
For the mouths do not sing.
For the censored verse.
For the clandestine kiss.
For the young exile.
For the forbidden names.
I call your name, Freedom.

Te nombro, en nombre de todos,
por tu nombre verdadero.
Te nombro y cuando oscurece,
cuando nadie me ve,
escribo tu nombre
en las paredes de mi ciudad.
Tu nombre verdadero,
tu nombre y otros nombres
que no nombro por temor.

I call you, in the name of all
by your real name.
I call you and when the darkness comes,
when no one sees me,
I write your name
on the walls of my city.
Your real name,
your name and other names
I don't name out of fear.

Por la idea perseguida.
Por los golpes recibidos.
Por aquel que no resiste
Y se queda en el camino. (Por aquellos que se esconden)
Por el miedo que te tienen.
Por tus pasos que vigilan.
Por el déspota de turno (Por la forma en que te atacan)
Por los hijos que te matan
Yo te nombro, Libertad.

For the persecuted idea.
For the beatings received.
For those who don't resist
And drop along the way. (For those who hide)
For their fear of you.
For your footsteps that they watch.
For the despot of the day (For the way they attack you)
For the children who kill you
I call your name, Freedom.

Por las tierras invadidas.
Por los pueblos conquistados.
Por la gente sin salida (Por la gente sometida)
Por los sueños atrapados. (Por los hombres explotados)
Por el justo ajusticiado (Por los muertos en la hoguera)
Que no han dicho como y donde (Por el justo ajusticiado)
Por el héroe asesinado
que jamás negó tu nombre. (Por los fuegos apagados)
yo te nombro, Libertad.

For the invaded lands,
For the conquered peoples,
For those with no way out, (For the subjected people)
For the captured dreams, (For the exploited ones)
For the just one executed, (For those who died in the blaze)
they don't say how or where (For the executed just one)
For the murdered hero
who never denied your name, (For the fires that have gone out)
I call your name, Freedom.

Te nombro, en nombre de todos,
por tu nombre verdadero.
Te nombro y cuando oscurece,
cuando nadie me ve,
escribo tu nombre
en las paredes de mi ciudad.
Escribo tu nombre
en las paredes de mi ciudad.
Tu nombre verdadero,
tu nombre y otros nombres
que no nombro por temor.
Yo te nombro,

I call you, in the name of all
by your real name.
I call you and when the darkness comes,
when no one sees me,
I write your name
on the walls of my city.
I write your name
on the walls of my city.
Your real name,
your name and other names
I don't name out of fear.
I call your name, Freedom.


  1. This is great, "rebel girl". I've been singing Nacha's version of "Yo te nombro" for years. I knew it was based on Eluard's poem, but you did a great research here. What surprised me most about this song is that, among my friends, it appealed most to exiled cubans! I guess freedom is not exclusive a left or right, but a superior good.

  2. Excellent page, full of interesting information. Many thanks.