About this quote

The translation of this quote into English is (more or less):

It will not be Immortal, this Flame,
But it will be Infinite, while it lasts...

The quote is from Vinicius de Moraes, the great Brazilian poet. In the Portuguese language the word ``Chama'' or ``Flame'' is a euphemism for a deep and abiding love. It seems to me that this quote is just about the most sensible view I've ever heard on the subject.

Vinicius also wrote the original Portuguese lyrics for many of the classic early Bossa Nova songs, to the music of the great Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. Most Americans think of those songs as frivolous, because they've only heard the ``pop'' English translations. But if you look at the original lyrics, they are generally deeply poetic, painting complex and emotionally mature landscapes.

For example, the Vinicius/Jobim song Garota de Ipanema (Americans know the lyrics as ``Tall and tan and young and lovely, the Girl from Ipanema goes walking...'' from Norman Gimbel's translation) is far more interesting in the original Portuguese. A literal translation cannot convey the astonishing internal rhythmic and sonic beauty of the original lyrics to this song, but even so, you can start to get a feel for its poetry, even in this straight literal translation from the Portuguese:

Olha, que coisa mais linda,
Mais cheia de graça,
É ela, menina, que vem e que passa,
Num doce balanço, a 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, por que estou tão sozinho?
Ah, por que tudo é 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, such a sight, so beautiful,
So filled with grace,
Is she, this girl who comes and who passes,
In sweet balance, on her way to the sea.

Girl with body of gold
From the sun of Ipamena,
Her balance
Is more than a poem,
Is a sight more beautiful
Than I have ever seen pass by.

Ah, why am I so alone?
Why is there so much sadness?
This beauty that exists,
This beauty that is not just for me,
Who also passes by alone.

Ah, if she but knew,
That when she passes by,
The World smiles,
Is filled with grace,
And becomes more beautiful,
Because of love.

The great thing about this poem (aside from the remarkable beauty of its rhythmic structure, which you'll have to learn Portuguese to appreciate) is how it moves from a simple story of unrequited love to a profound philosophical meditation on the nature of love, and on how love's passion transforms the experience of living. The beauty to which the poet refers at the end of the poem is not that of the girl, but rather of the World itself. This beauty is created by the tale of these two souls who never connect, and by the way that the girl, all unaware, becomes filled with grace because of his unspoken passion for her.

We share an understanding with the poet that he would not approach the girl herself; he understands that these idealized feelings are his alone, not hers, and so he chooses to turn those feelings into poetic expression. In spite of (or perhaps because of) the sadness and aloneness of knowing that some souls will never connect with each other, the World has become transformed, not by the girl, but by the poem she inspires, into something more beautiful, complete and full of grace, for all those who are able to experience passion.

Just a thought.

- Ken Perlin