To Be Seventeen Again (Volver a los diecisiete)

Music piece by:
Violeta Parra
Testimony by:
David Quintana García
Detention in:

I spent 45 days in the torture centre of Intendencia de Rancagua. Previously, I was detained with my brothers in the headquarters of the Cuartel de Investigaciones de Rancagua.

At the Intendencia, after experiencing torture, we concentrated on drinking mateInfusion of mate leaves, common in the Southern Cone., singing, telling jokes, and doing payasCompetition of popular poetry, in which two people alternate improvisations over a common theme, with guitar accompaniment..

I also played chess and was lucky to be with a fellow who was the national champion. We made a chessboard in the concrete and painted it with coffee. We made the figures with breadcrumbs.

I always remember a prisoner who was a teacher and sang ‘Volver a los diecisiete’ ('To Be Seventeen Again') by Violeta Parra(1917-1967) Chilean singer-songwriter and graphic artist who pioneered the revival of Latin American folk music in the 1950s..

Violeta was one of my favourites; several times I went to the Peña de los ParraChilean folk meetup established by Isabel and Angel Parra in Santiago in 1965. It was key to the development of the Chilean New Song.. I bought records there to sell in Caletones. It was something that I did to cooperate with Violeta and spread the music that they played there, more than to make money.

I remember that another prisoner used to sing ‘En qué nos parecemos’ ('How We Resemble Each Other'), popularised by QuilapayúnFamous Chilean group of the Nueva Canción movement, with strong affiliation to the Popular Unity coalition.. Those songs were linked to our actions during the Unidad PopularCoalition of leftist political parties formed in 1969, which supported the campaign and presidency of Salvador Allende (1970-1973)..

With the university brigades, we did lots of voluntary work, in the shanty towns and in the countryside. We also performed plays. I always acted in them.

When we were detained, listening to the music of the Unidad Popular took us back to the times during which we were together with the people. Those memories lifted our spirits.


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Published on: 06 April 2019


To be seventeen again
after a century of living
Is like deciphering signs
without wisdom or competence
to be all of a sudden
as fragile as a second
to once again feel so deeply
like a child facing God
that is what I feel
in this fecund instant.

[Chorus]
There it goes tangling
tangling like the ivy on the wall
and so it sprouts up, sprouts up
like tiny moss on the stone
like tiny moss on the stone
oh yes, yes, yes.

My steps going backwards
while yours go forward
the arch of alliances
has got inside my nest
with all of its wide palette
it has ambled through my veins
and even the hard chains
with which destiny binds us
are like a blessed day
that brightens my calmed soul.

[Chorus]

What feelings can grasp
knowledge cannot understand
not even the clearest behaviour
not even the broadest thought
the brimming, condescending moment
changes everything
sweetly removes us
away from rancour and from violence
only love with its science
makes us so innocent.

[Chorus]

Love is a whirlwind
of primeval purity
even the fierce animal
whispers its sweet trill
it stops pilgrims
it liberates prisoners
love with its solicitude
turns the elderly into a child
as to the bad person
only affection makes him
pure and sincere.

[Chorus]

The window opened wide
as if under a spell
love entered with its blanket
like a warm morning
and to the sound of its beautiful reveille
prompted the jasmine to flower
flying like a seraph
put earrings on the sky
and the cherub turned
my years into seventeen.

[Chorus]