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Bossa Nova, Brazil (Brasil), Portuguese (Português)

“Wave” (Tom Jobim)

“Wave” performed live by Gal Costa in 1999 (YouTube)
: Brazil (Brasil)
Language: Portuguese (Português)
Genre: Bossa Nova


Antônio Carlos “Tom” Jobim
Wave (1967)

Vou te contar
os olhos já não podem ver
coisas que só o coração pode entender
fundamental é mesmo o amor
é impossível ser feliz sozinho

O resto é mar
é tudo que não sei contar
são coisas lindas que eu tenho para te dar
vem de mansinho à brisa e me diz
é impossível ser feliz sozinho

Da primeira vez era a cidade
Da segunda, o cais e a eternidade

Agora eu já sei
da onda que se ergueu no mar
e das estrelas que esquecemos de contar
o amor se deixa surpreender
enquanto a noite vem nos envolver

“Wave” (English translation, ORS 2011)

I’m going to tell you
the eyes can’t see anymore
things that only the heart can understand
basically love is the same
it’s impossible to be happy alone

The rest is sea
it’s all that I don’t know how to express
they are beautiful things, what I have to give you
the breeze comes gently and says to me
it’s impossible to be happy alone

From the first time, it was the city
From the second, the quay and eternity

Now I know
of the wave that rises in the sea
and the stars that we forget to mention
love is left to surprise
while the night comes to envelope us

Vocabulary and Etymology

1.  mansinho – tame, docile, gentle, gently; diminutive form of manso (meek, gentle, docile, tame); From Latin manere (to remain, stay); Related to Span. manso, Ital. mansueto
2.  o cais – the quay, wharf, pier; Related to Fren. le quai,
3.  erguer – to erect, lift, rise; the reflective form se erguer, thus, means to stand up, to rise.  From Latin erigere (raise, erect; ex + regere “to rule, manage”); Related to Span. erguir (to raise, straighten), Fren. ériger, Ital. erigere
4.  enquanto – while, whereas, as; literally, “in as much”

Points of difference between Portuguese and Spanish (by example)

A.  Indirect Object Placement

In both Portuguese and Spanish, the indirect object in a simple verb phrase can be placed before the conjugated verb (eu te dou : yo te doy : I give to you).  In more complex verb phrase, Portuguese tends to squeeze the indirect object between the verbs (before the infinitive in the phrase), while Spanish keeps the indirect object before the first conjugated verb.

Ex: Vou te contar : Te voy a contar (I’m going to tell you)
Ex: …coisas lindas que eu tenho para te dar : cosas lindas que yo tengo para darte (pretty things I have to give to you)
Ex:  Enquanto a noite vem nos envolver : Mientras la noche viene a envolvernos (while the night comes to envelope us)

B.  Só vs. somente vs. sozinho : Sólo vs. solamente vs. solo/solito

In Portuguese, both só and somente mean “only” or “solely”, as in “merely” or “no more than”.  The Spanish equivalents are sólo and solamente.

On the other hand, sozinho in Portuguese (a diminutive of só) means “lonely” or “alone”.  The Spanish equivalent is the unaccented (un accent-marked) “solo” and its diminutive solito.

Note that the Portuguese word apenas can be used to mean “only”, while the Spanish apenas means something different: hardly and as soon as (no sooner)

Ex: Coisas que só o coração pode entender : Cosas que sólo/solamente el corazón puede entenders
Ex: É impossível ser feliz sozinho : Es imposible ser feliz solo/solito

C.  To Forget: Esquecer and Olvidar

The words for “to forget” are very different in Portuguese and Spanish.  In Portuguese, esquecer is said to be from the Latin ex (away) + cadere (fall), to fall away ; in Spanish, olvidar is related to the English oblivion and French oublier, from the Latin ob (over) + levis (smooth), in other words, to smooth over and forget.

The grammatical use of these different vocabulary words is also very different.  In Portuguese, you can use esquecer like we use “to forget” in English, while in Spanish, olvidar would be the something like “to be forgotten by oneself”.  An easy example is “I forgot”; in Portuguese, eu esqueci (preterite conjugation, like in English), but in Spanish, se me olvidó (something like “it was forgotten by me”).

Ex: (as) estrelas que esquecemos de contar : (las) estrellas que se nos olvida contar (the stars that we forget to mention)
D.  While : Enquanto and Mientras

Another example of different vocabulary words.  In Portuguese, they use “enquanto” (from Latin quantus, “how much/many”), but in Spanish they use “mientras” (unclear etymology, see this link explanation under “mentre”).

Ex: Enquanto a note vem nos envolver : Mientras la noche viene a envolvernos (While the night comes to envelope us)

Guitar Chords (coming soon)



4 thoughts on ““Wave” (Tom Jobim)

  1. The most attractive way to present a song translation is to make sure it rhymes after the translation foot-work:
    Wave (Vou Te Contar)
    Antonio Carlos “Tom” Jobim
    Portuguese Translated (with feeling, by me !)

    Vou te contar, os olhos já não podem ver I tell you, the eyes can no longer see
    Coisas que só o coração pode entender Things that only the heart can perceive
    Fundamental é mesmo o amor Fundamental is loneliness (your own)
    ֹÉ impossível ser feliz sozinho It is impossible to be happy alone

    O resto é mar, e tudo que eu não sei contar The rest is sea, and all I cannot know
    São coisas lindas que eu tenho pra te dar There are beautiful things I have to bestow
    Vem de mansinho a brisa e me diz The breeze comes softly and moans
    ֹÉ impossível ser feliz sozinho It is impossible to be happy alone

    Da primeira vez era a cidade The first time we met was in the crowded city
    Da segunda o cais e a eternidade The next was on the pier and became eternity

    Agora eu já sei, da onda que se ergueu no mar Now I feel the wave that arose from the sea
    E das estrelas que esquecemos de contar And the stars that are too numerous to see
    O amor se deixa surpreender Love has come, no longer a surprise
    Enquanto a noite vem nos envolver As the evening falls, it has already arrived

    I’m not a Musician so I don’t know if the syllables fit the Samba “time” of the music. A little fine tuning by a real Musician using a Metronome would probably measure up to and compete successfully with the English version ( allegedly written by Clifford Ray Smith) sung by Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Mel Torme, etc.

    Posted by Richard Bishop | September 27, 2012, 11:03 pm
    • Thank you for your thoughtful comment and creative translation of the lyrics. It is quite well done!

      I generally agree with you that rhyme and rhythm make the song translation more attractive. As I explain on the “On Foreign Language Learning and Music” page, however, I deliberately translate directly in order to provide a thoughtful reference, along with the sections on vocabulary and etymology, for a study of the original lyrics. Whether this is an effective method for redirecting attention to the target language is part of what I’m investigating.

      Posted by orangeroomstudios | September 27, 2012, 11:52 pm
  2. This is Richard Bishop again. I found out right away that Clifford Ray Smith did NOT write the English words to this song. It was Antonio Carlos Jobim himself who did the creative translating. Sorry for the mistake !

    Posted by Richard Bishop | January 14, 2014, 5:53 pm
  3. To continue: I’m sorry that I didn’t indicate the correct author earlier. Antonio Carlos Jobim, according to the Publisher’s data, released WAVE first in 1967 as an instrumental Album with 10 tracks, i.e., no words for WAVE. The first release wherein the Portuguese was translated into English was by Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 also in 1967. But an exact translation of a romantic Portuguese ballad into English does not necessarily sound romantic in English ! Their words in English, prepared by “Tom” Jobim, were not an exact translation of the Portuguese, but rather, were prepared for the English language to loosely stay within the theme of the original romantic work in Portuguese. One look at the later song “Covers” in English by top names (as shown in the Wikipedia article on the subject) indicates that “Tom” chose well in modifying his original text somewhat to make it sound more romantic in English. It is good that Antonio Carlos Jobim, himself, did this language switch because if some one else did this (without permission) they would be violating the International Copyright laws. . . . which require that no changes be made when translating (except with permission).

    Posted by Richard Bishop, Bossa-nova Fan | January 14, 2014, 9:10 pm

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