Alfonsina and the Sea (Alfonsina y el mar)

Music piece by:
Félix Luna (lyrics) and Ariel Ramírez (music). Popularised by Mercedes Sosa.
Testimony by:
Sergio Vesely
Experience in:
Villa Grimaldi, January 1975

It was not easy to endure being locked up in one of Villa Grimaldi’s miserable cells, which resembled vertical coffins. It was even harder in the high temperatures of the summer months of the Andes foothills in Peñalolén. I was inside one of those cells, blindfolded, my feet and hands in chains.

One day it occurred to me to sing a beautiful song I had heard and learned by heart a short time before my arrest, at one of the safe houses that hid me from my persecutors. The song was called 'Alfonsina y el mar'.

All of a sudden, I heard the metal gate that separated us from the rest of the facility unexpectedly open and the guard asking who was singing. To avoid collective punishment, I knocked on the door from inside my “coffin cell” and identified myself as the singer. The guard, who I could not see, opened the cell door and stood in front of me. 'Nice song', he said. 'Sing it again'.

I mustered enough courage to sing the beautiful verses of this song a second time. The song was written as a tribute to a poet who killed herself in the sea. To my surprise, the guard let me sing the entire song without interrupting or beating me. And all my tortured comrades could hear my voice in the silence of their own cells.

When I finished singing, the guard asked what the song title was and who had written it, and locked me up again. Then, he was gone.

A few days later he called me again, euphorically shouting my name from the other side of the metal gate. He wanted to let me know that he now owned the song and that he could listen to it every day. The night before, he had raided the house of a resistance fighter and taken all the phonograph records he found.


Published on: 18 June 2015

A capella version by Sergio Vesely, 2015. Image: entrance of Villa Grimaldi.

Along the soft sand
that licks the sea
her small tracks
will not return
a lonely path
of sorrow and silence reached
the deep waters
a lonely path
of mute sadness reached
the foam.

God knows what anguish
accompanied you
what ancient pains
silenced your voice
to lie you down
lulled by the song
of sea snails
the song that is sung
at the dark bottom of the sea
by the snail.

You go Alfonsina
with your loneliness
What new poems
did you look for?
an ancient voice
of wind and salt
breaks your soul
and is carrying it
and you with it
like a dream, sleeping
Alfonsina dressed in sea.

Five mermaids
will lead you
along paths of algae
and coral
and phosphorescent
seahorses will
prance round your side
and the residents
of the water will soon
play by your side.

Lower the light
a bit more
let me sleep,
nursemaid, in peace
and if he should call
don’t ever tell him I am here
tell him I have gone.

You go Alfonsina
with your loneliness
What new poems
did you go seeking?
an ancient voice
of wind and salt
breaks your soul
and is carrying it
and you with it
as in a dream, sleeping
Alfonsina dressed in sea.