sonnet of fidelity

With everything, to my love I’ll be attentive, 

Until, and with that zeal, and always, and so much

That even in the face of the most enchanted

It’s made more enchanting still.

I want to live it in every vain moment 

And in its honour I shall spread my song

And laugh my laughter and shed my tears

At its grief or its joy.

So later, when knowingly it procures me

Maybe death, the anguish of the living 

Maybe solitude, the end for those who love

I can say of the love (I had):

Wishing it not immortal, pillar of flames

But eternal while it lasts.


Few readers in the Portuguese language need an introduction to Vinicius de Moraes, the prolific Brazilian writer of plays, poetry, essays and songs. Many too will know he is the lyricist behind the well-known tune ‘Girl from Ipanema’, and others may be familiar with his work in the new samba trend of the time, ‘bossa nova’, a style he recorded a number of albums in.

I started reading Vinicius de Moraes ‘Nova Antologia Poética’ (a re-publication of his original ‘Antologia Poética’ from 1954) in early 2012, and I constantly revisit his work. This poem I’ve chosen to translate and publish is one I’ve read thousands of times, and it strikes me as a deeply honest portrayal that reflects a matured understanding of love. The speaker doesn’t see love as an eternal possession, and shows an intense appreciation for ‘every vain moment’. ‘Vão’ could also be ‘futile’ or ‘useless’ or ‘frivolous’, but I chose vain because it reflects what I feel the poem projects (and anyone who has been in love will know) that there is vanity in love, in loving, and in being loved: vanity in the assumption that it will last forever.

It’s hard to pick my favourite lines in this poem, but the opening and closing lines hold so much weight in my readings. The intensity of the opening lines are hard to ignore, and move throughout the poem effortlessly, and right until the end. What I hoped to capture in this translation is the humour and honesty in the final stanza (and this is not the only poem where Moraes uses humour), that love shouldn’t be ‘immortal’, but like a ‘pillar of flames… eternal while it lasts’.

We’re very lucky to have a live reading of this poem (and many others), read in the quintessential lyrical style Moraes became well-known for. Enjoy.

Over to you folks, let me know what you think:

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