Vinicius de Moraes

Vinicius de Moraes was a lyricist unlike anything in English, his stuff was so extraordinarily literate it read like real poetry, great poetry, with such imagery and feel. Check out this one, a remarkably good translation of Arrastao from the Portuguese, set to an Edu Lobo tune. The version here is Elis Regina’s classic take with the Zimba Trio, recorded live in Sao Paulo in 1965. It is intense and huge sounding yet it is just Elis with an acoustic trio, piano, bass and drums. There was absolutely nothing in American music like this at the time, not in jazz or rock, or in words even. Here below is the lyric, in English, awash in syncretic meaning, the ancient Mediterranean Roman Catholicism and Yoruban candomble intertwined, orishas and saints one and the same in the way the Holy Trinity is one in the same, consubstantial. Hypostatis the scholars described in it late Roman days, in Greek, a concept rejected by the Arians with great slaughter, but is now so embedded in Catholicism that the holies and spirits and gods of other religions become one with Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit, and with the Madonna and the saints and martyrs, and of course Satan and his minions. Thus our narrator here guilelessly prays to Yemanja the goddess of the sea with syncopated piano and rolling drum meter; then to her Catholic side, Saint Barbara, in a melody like the inside of a cathedral, soaring, the notes hanging in the still air. The people go out into the sea in boats and let float candles on tiny rafts and the bay is filled with points of light and the silhouettes of fishermen, and the night air rings with drums and chants and the low mumble of prayers. Yemanja answers, Santa Barbara answers, and the nets are filled with fish and hearts with love. Somehow, Vincinius tells all this in a simple fisherman’s prayer on a night spent trawling, in Portuguese arrastao.

Eh! There are dinghies in the sea
Hey! hey! hey!
They’re trawling today
Eh! Everyone fishing
Enough of the shade, João
Jovi, look at the trawl
Going into the endless sea
Eh! My brother, bring me
Yemanjá for me
My Santa Barbara
Bless me
I want to get married
To Janaína

Eh! Pull real slowly
Hey! hey! hey!
The trawl is already coming in
Eh! It’s the Queen of the Sea
Come
Come in the net, João

For me

Help me God
Our Lord of Bonfim
Never before were there seen
As many fish as this

My Santa Barbara
Bless me
I want to get married
To Janaína…

Eh! pull real slowly
Hey! Hey! hey!
The trawl is already coming in
Eh! It’s the Queen of the Sea
Come!

Come in the net, João

For me

Help me God
Our Lord of Bonfim
Never before were there seen
As many fish as this.

You’d swear that was written in English, it’s so vivid and perfect. You reduce a tale to images and bits of dialogue, and the language is irrelevant. The best writing goes beyond mere language, and the reader’s brain sees everything perfectly, as if the reader were there.

Remember, dear reader, that language is merely a tool, and that words can get in the way of what you are trying to say. Writing is communication, and communication went on for millions of human years, and hundreds of millions of years before people, with no words at all. The brain reads words, but it thinks in feelings and senses and images. That is what Vinicius de Moraes evoked here, we are in the boat on a quiet sea, music drifts over from the beach and the net is teeming with fish, who flop and struggle and gleam by the light of the moon. Nunca mais se viu tanto peixe assim….

Vinicius de Moraes in the sea.

Vinicius de Moraes

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