Gracias a la vida

In a nod to the last day of the Día de los Muertos, I post the video below. It’s Mercedes Sosa singing “Gracias a la vida,” perhaps her best-known song (written by Chilean Violeta Parra, the mother of Nueva Canción). Sosa’s voice is among the most expressive of the 20th century.

Why this song for the occasion? Because, simply put, the dead have taught me more about the value of my life than the living. If there’s one gift our loved ones give us when they die, it is this. Gratitude for our lives, because they are precious beyond belief. So at the close of a festival acknowledging dead loved ones, I can’t think of a better thing to share.

Even if you don’t know Spanish you will be moved by the song. I certainly am (limping along with my chumpy Spanish, and with the aid of translations like that posted below the YouTube video). But it’s also true that I am moved because the song has such powerful associations for me. About which more later. Meanwhile, just Mercedes will do.

Activist, musician, and former Chilean political prisoner Sergio Reyes has posted a translation (go to “Violeta Parra,” then “Translated Abstract of Songs”) reprinted below:


Thank you, Life, for you gave me so much.
You gave me two stars for eyes and when I open them
I can perfectly distinguish black from white
And up above in the skies the constelations
And in the crowds the man I love.

Thank you, Life, for you gave me so much.
You gave me ears so that I can hear
And record the sounds day and night of
Crickets, canaries, factories, dogs barking,
The rain falling, and the sweet voice of my loved one.

Thank you, Life, for you gave me so much.
You gave me the sounds and the alphabet
And with them the words I think of and declare
Mother, friend, brother and light shining
Over the route of my loved one’s soul.

Thank you, Life, for you gave me so much.
You gave my tired feet the strenght to walk
On them I have visited cities and potholes
Beaches and deserts, mountains and valleys
And your house, your street, your backyard.

Thank you, Life, for you gave me so much.
You gave me my heart that beats like a drum
When I see the fruits of the human brain
When I see good so far away from evil
When I look in the depth of your beautiful eyes.

Thank you, Life, for you gave me so much.
You gave me laughter and tears
So I can express happiness and sorrow
The two elements my songs are made of
And your songs, which are like my songs,
And everybody’s songs, which are also mine.

7 thoughts on “Gracias a la vida”

  1. Great song and great choice for today. That said, I have always been partial to the original version. I suppose after learning to love it in Violeta’s raspy, Chilean, anguished voice; I judge too harshly anyone else’s version. Though, Sosa has a beautiful voice and I can see why you like it.

  2. Hi there LD

    Thanks for the link and translation. This is my favourite song of all time.

    For me, the song is intimately linked to living/new life. I listened to it just before sproglets 3 & 4 were born (my first delivery). After the epidural worked there were a few minutes of complete stillness before active labour began…. so close to 3 & 4s much anticipated arrival……makes me think of awe and beauty and love as well as the stark contrasts in life.

    It was written just before the authoress committed suicide…but Ive always taken it as a song about the beauty of life. I translate ‘me ha dado tanto’ as ‘has given me so much’- which has a less final/ more contemporaneous hue than ‘gave me so much’. What do you think? I suspect anyone with a modicum of Spanish could trump my translating ability.

    Talking of which, hope this translates across the pond. Love the blog which I’ve just started to follow……


  3. Clare, here: a version sung by Parra. Both are so different from one another, as singers.

    ¡Hola, and welcome, Chumpy! What a wonderful association to have with that song! What an incredible moment. Very very pregnant with so much, and in this case only a moderate pun intended. And though I wouldn’t ask anyone to touch my Spanish translations with a ten-foot pole (for an entertainung read, might I recommend my Pequeña nota page, about which one Argentinian reader wrote me to say, basically: “Huh?!”), I do prefer your translation, which allows for the past to be perfect. 😉

    Glad you happened upon this cheery community — which I’m very honored (and honoured) to say is a community — of fellow travellers.

  4. Hi again LD

    Now youve got me! Im quite happy with Mercedes repetetively swirling round my fatigued neurons but not so sure about grammar.

    Wifey, usually an expert on grammar, is indisposed with a crucial Wii sequence and unable to impart crash explanation of past perfect.

    We have a saying in our house….’must have given birth to my brain’… describe the most stupid things we do (or forget to do) in the post-children/ mother of young children fug. On rereading your blog I now see that I…..must have given birth to my emotional intelligence/ empathy also……sorry to hijack your obvious sadness.

    Thanks for the welcome. Wish Id chanced upon your community earlier…but then Im sure you get that all the time.


  5. Ah, Chump, if I may shorten your handle to that every now and again.

    Past perfect, if I’m recalling correctly is when one “has done” rather than when one “did.” Thus the “ha dado” (has given) rather than “dido” (gave). As you so perspecaciously pointed out. The different feel, especially knowing whither Parra after she wrote this, is quite significant. All this translatorly chit-chat might bring other folks out of the woodwork and mebbe they can set me straight (no pun intended, really).

    And as to the sadness: no. Nothing to hijack. No, at this moment, at least, what I feel, and what Sosa’s rendition of Parra’s song says for me, is a gratitude. Perhaps a wizzened gratitude, a knowledgable one. And I am grateful because, rather than in spite of the fact that I have had people recently leave my presence, one who was a peer, a would-have been parent, and another who was a child. So my experience of my parenthood and of my children is deep deep sweet. Not a day goes by (or a week, in a rough patch) in which I don’t remember that I can take none of this for granted. For which I give thanks to the loved ones up over my shoulders.

  6. LD


    Thanks for the clarification. Your last 3 sentances resonate with me. It comes from different places but I feel it keenly.

    Off to recharge the white and grey with the much-more-suitable-bedfellow-than-grammatical-terms.

    Catch you again.


  7. omg, Im reading your blog amaze of how much someone so far away can know someone from just reading… I just saw a newer post and your kids are so big but I wanna read your whole journey with them… you having a clip of Mercedes and that old pic of Ella Fitzgerald, cupcake baking is quite a amazing because they tell me what kind of person you are… the ever presence of books in your household that I’ve seen so far (probably stronger now due to your mothers influence) what a great baba you are 🙂

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