March 27th, 2009

The Girl From Ipanema returns

[NOTE: While we're talking about Brazil (and why not? I'm tired of talking about Obama) let's revisit an old post of mine with a Brazilian theme: "Lost in translation: the girl from Ipamema."]

A while back we had a discussion about poetry, and whether its recent incarnation speaks to most people these days. As the back-and-forth in the comments section got going, quite a few people ventured the idea that song lyrics have taken over where poetry left off about fifty years ago.

Well, I happen to know a little bit about the lyrics of “The Girl from Ipanema.” Even though I don’t speak Portuguese myself, I am close to someone who does, and he once gave me a recitation and translation of the original Portuguese lyrics to the song. And I have to say I was blown away, not only by their loveliness (you could recite the phone book in Portuguese to me and I’d think it was lovely), but by the depth of the Portuguese version compared to the relative shallowness of the English translation-which-is-not-a-
translation (can’t resist those water metaphors).

It turns out that the author of the Portuguese words to the song, Vinicius de Moraes, was a man who quite handily bridged the poetry/lyrics gap. He was a well-known poet and popular lyricist, as well as a diplomat (!) who was at one time vice-consul to Los Angeles (no, I kid you not, so if things had worked out differently we might have had “The Girl from Santa Monica”).

Here are all the words: first, the familiar English version most of us know; then, the original Portuguese lyrics; and lastly, a literal translation into English of those Portuguese lyrics. I wish the popular English version had followed them more closely–but then, if it had, would it have been as popular?

Tall and tan
and young and lovely
the girl from Ipanema
goes walking
and when she passes
each one she passes
goes ahhh

When she walks
she’s like a samba
that swings so cool
and sways so gently
that when she passes
each one she passes
goes ahhh

Oh, but he watches so sadly
How can he tell her he loves her
Yes, he would give his heart gladly
but each day when she walks to the sea
she looks straight ahead not at he

Tall and tan
and young and lovely
the girl from Ipanema
goes walking
and when she passes
he smiles but she doesn’t see
she just doesn’t see

Olha que coisa mais linda,
mais cheia de graça
É ela menina
que vem que passa
Num doce balanço
caminho do mar

Moça do corpo dourado
do sol de Ipanema
O seu balançado
é mais que um poema
É a coisa mais linda
que eu já vi passar

Ah, porque estou tão sozinho
Ah, porque tudo e tão triste
Ah, a beleza que existe
A beleza que não é só minha
que também passa sozinha

Ah, se ela soubesse
que quando ela passa
O mundo sorrindo
se enche de graça
E fica mais lindo
por causa do amor

Look at this thing, most lovely
most graceful
It’s her, the girl
that comes, that passes
with a sweet swinging
walking to the sea

Girl of the golden body
from the sun of Ipanema
Your swaying
is more than a poem
It’s a thing more beautiful
than I have ever seen pass by

Ah, why am I so alone
Ah, why is everything so sad
The beauty that exists
The beauty that is not mine alone
that also passes by on its own

Ah, if she only knew
that when she passes
the world smiles
fills itself with grace
and remains more beautiful
because of love

There’s more: here’s a discussion comparing the legend of the writing of this song to the supposedly true story of its origins (I have no way to evaluate the veracity of any of this).

And here’s an interesting comparison of the two versions, along with a link to the Getz/Gilberto rendition.

[ADDENDUM: I didn’t have access to You Tube when I first wrote the post. But I do now. So here you are (there’s a fairly lengthy intro before the more familiar tune begins):

21 Responses to “The Girl From Ipanema returns”

  1. Don Janousek Says:

    neo-neocon: Well, thank you very much! Almost went crazy humming that “tune” all the time back in 1964. Finally got it out of my head and now you brought it back! Going to spend the rest of the day with “Tall and tan and young and lovely….” rattling around in my brain. But, better than that “classic” from 1968 – “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies, I reckon. Had that one going round and round for almost a year when I was in the Philippines!
    On another topic – wish someone would form a “special ops” unit to “secure” Manchester’s notes so that someone could write Volume III. Might have to start working on that. Could have secret codes and ever’thang. Will keep you advised. Oops! Afternoon meds. Later. (“Tall and tan and young………….”)

  2. FredHjr Says:

    neo,

    I really loved Brazil, the people, and the Portuguese language. I felt sad to leave, but I had to get home to finish my last semester at UNH. I had already decided that I was going to enter the seminary at that point, but I was trying to decide between Maryknoll, the Jesuits (Society of Jesus), and the Domincans (Order of Preachers). When I was in Brazil one place I really loved, but it was a bit of a drive out of Sao Paulo, on the coast almost two hundred miles below Rio de Janeiro, was Ilha de Sao Sebastiao. Just lovely. Rio de Janeiro was an interesting place. I was there during their winter, so the beaches were kind of empty. The weather was actually kind of cool – in the sixties. In summer the place is sweltering. I tend to not do well in tropical humidity, so it would have been interesting to see what my experience would have been in January and February (at Carneval time).

    Lovely music, neo. I’ve always liked that song, but never heard it in Portuguese.

  3. br549 Says:

    Reading both English versions, they are basically two different songs. It’s interesting that much was “lost” ( I suppose) in the earlier translation.

    I’ve never been to Rio and Ipanema Beach. But I was raised on the beach in S.E. VA and sure can identify with how the fellow translated those words the first time.

    Totally off the post, Brian Wilson’s California Girls kind of hit me in a similar manner in its day as well.

  4. GeoPal Says:

    Neo,

    You’re right, the translation from the Portuguese is quite beautiful. It’d be great if someone recorded the song with those lyrics.

  5. Oldflyer Says:

    I believe that the setting of Rio and the beaches is as beautiful as any metropolitan setting on earth. I just looked over my shoulder at a picture of me flying over Sugarloaf with Ipanema in the distance.

    Unfortunately, humans have not been kind to the area. The same can be said of the Bay of Naples, among other beautiful places.

    PS
    Brazilians are very outdoor oriented and the beaches are crowded. Volley ball games are endemic. The girls wear minimal beach atire, including my first experience with thong bikinis. I did not see any that would have inspired the song.

  6. SteveH Says:

    Would be an interesting post to examine songs of languages besides english that Americans took to.

    This great Brazilian song brought to mind the little japanese tune “Sukiyaki” from perhaps around the same time.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3xcHysLbSk4

  7. Indigo Red Says:

    Just about any version of Girl from Ipanema is my favorite song. Thanks for this beastiful rendition and the lyrics. Something is always llost in translation.

    Don Janousek, just in case you couldn’t quite remember the tune Sugar, Sugar.

    SteveH, Sukiyaki is also a fav tune cuz it’s got the rock’n'roll whistling going for it. Back in October, I posted a very young Kyu Sakamoto also singing on a tv program. Included are the lyrics in Japanese, English, and Kanji.

  8. Indigo Red Says:

    Actually, I meant ‘beautiful’, but I was feeling aggressive today and my Freudian slip is showing.

  9. Don Janousek Says:

    Ah yes, SteveH, “Sukiyaki.” Spring of 1963. Reminds of a great “puppy love” I had then with a girl from a nearby town. A cheerleader, no less. Sort of one-sided though, since she didn’t even know I existed. Don’t recall ever actually talking to her. Anyway, Bill Murray did a great psuedo-Japanese version in one of his “lounge lizard” bits on SNL. Another foreign language song from late fall of 1963 – “Dominique” by The Singing Nun. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” in German by the Beatles. (We all pretended to be able to mimic the words.) Elvis did some Southern-fried German lyrics in “Wooden Heart” in the very early 60′s. “La Bamba” by Richie Valens is another great one. And, of course, when it comes to foreign language songs, who can forget “Louie, Louie” by the Kingsmen. Was in Klingon, I believe. Well, thanks, sorta, Indigo Red! You got “Tall and tan and young…..out of my head, but replaced it with “You are my candy girl, and you got me lovin’ you….Oh sugar……..

  10. FredHjr Says:

    One of the more breathtaking sights I’ve ever seen was the early morning arrival in Rio de Janeiro from a long, overnight flight from JFK. Flying down into Rio and passing by Christ the Redeemer on top of Corcovado and the sight of the city and the beaches.

    Rio is such a city of contrasts: Old and Modern, Baroque and contemporary, ostentatious wealth and fashion and abject, depressing poverty of the favelas. The brief time I was in Rio (most of my month in Brazil was in Sao Paulo) more than half of my time was in the hillside favelas where the missionaries were. In the communidades de base.

    The senses are awakened in startling ways in that city. Take a young man who is a university student from New Hampshire and set him the huge favelas on the hillsides of Rio de Janeiro. The smells there are not pleasant. It’s an open sewer. The kids are barefoot and ragged, and they find dirt lots where they kick around the tattered, repaired remnants of soccer balls. Smells from people’s kitchens all around you. Some of the men in the hovels you go into plunk down the bottle of cachasa (?), which is a kind of alcohol distilled from sugar cane and you have to have at least two shots of it.

    Then, on another day you are strolling the beaches on the warmer days (August is the end of their winter) when it might hit eighty degrees, and the fashionable Brazilian ladies are out tanning on the beach. You smell their lotion and perfumes. And as a young man, even though you are telling yourself you want to be a priest, you cannot help but be astounded by their erotic beauty. The leisure of their lives contrasts with the worn and worried looks of the women in the favelas.

    Very few places on earth contain the human, natural, and cultural contrasts you will find in Rio de Janeiro.

  11. Perfected democrat Says:

    Very nice…

  12. dane Says:

    So here is a view from a songwriter (for what it is worth). While I think the poetry of the Brazilian lyric is more flowing and has more depth you have to look at the culture and attitudes as well as the musical scene in America at the time to understand what a wonderful translation (transposition is maybe a better word) by Norman Gimblel it was for the American market at the time.

    Stan Getz was instrumental (pun definitely intended) in bringing Brazilian music to the US and making it popular. It was during his session with Joao Gilberto that his then wife sang a “demo” of the ” Girl From Ipanema”. Joao did not want Astrud to to record the version for the US but Getz insisted and the rest is history.

    A while back this subject came up and I posted this link but it is worth looking at if you have not seen it. A clip from an old Sinatra TV show doing a medley with Jobim. And note the tuxes and Sinatra’s cigarette (heck even look at the sparseness of the set but the style of the chairs and table – ti was about setting a mood but letting the artistry carry the day) – great comments on the style and sophistication of the time – artists today “don’t know cool”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGsDmxfqbtI

  13. Nolanimrod Says:

    Indigo – no kidding! The U is nowhere near the S!

  14. Nolanimrod Says:

    Neo – I admit so having undergone some classes in English lit, but that was long before the current craze for Nonsense-as-Wisdom, so this may possess some validity.

    Reading from the literal translation, I don’t think he was talking about the girl all that much. I think she was a kind of avatar for BEAUTY, the thing itself. Ode-alisque, punnishly?

  15. Beverly Says:

    Ah, lyricists. Here’s one by the master, Johnny Mercer, to a tune by Lionel Hampton.

    Your lips were like a red and ruby chalice, warmer than the summer night
    The clouds were like an alabaster palace rising to a snowy height.
    Each star its own aurora borealis, suddenly you held me tight
    I could see the Midnight Sun.

    I can’t explain the silver rain that found me–or was that a moonlit veil?
    The music of the universe around me, or was that a nightingale?
    And then your arms miraculously found me, suddenly the sky turned pale,
    I could see the Midnight Sun.

    Was there such a night, it’s a thrill I still don’t quite believe,
    But after you were gone, there was still some stardust on my sleeve.

    The flame of it may dwindle to an ember, and the stars forget to shine,
    And we may see the meadow in December, icy white and crystalline,
    But oh, my darling, always I’ll remember when your lips were close to mine,
    And we saw the Midnight Sun.

  16. Artfldgr Says:

    it did good for Cher

  17. Indigo Red Says:

    Nolanimrod — LOL!!

  18. Tatyana Says:

    you could recite the phone book in Portuguese to me and I’d think it was lovely

    Absolutely!
    Only I like the original-Portuguese version, not Brazilian. With “sh” where Brazilians pronounce “s”. That gets me worse than French.

    Jo-ah-oooo… Fran-sish-kooo (Fransisco) *melts*

    When this stupid crisis ends (it should end some day, it must, mustn’t it?) and I might have some spare change, I will return to Algarve’s fragrant heat, and then to fado joints of Lisboa.

  19. Huan Says:

    thank you for this nice post

  20. Ymarsakar Says:

    Very nostalgic Neo, for I remember this post the last few times you brought it up.

  21. A.j.hawk Jersey Says:

    The exceptional article assited me quite much! Saved your blog, really exceptional categories just about everywhere that I read here! I truly appreciate the info, thank you.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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