comments 5

Adventures with Portuguese: “A PELE QUE HÁ EM MIM”

“I did nothing yesterday,” I said to Kris, emphasizing “nothing.” Kris was my new friend in San Miguel de Allende and we were lounging on the grass at La Gruta hot springs. It was the second week of my writing workshop and I was feeling anxious for not having written five novels already in 14 days.

“Me neither,” Kris said dipping her chips in the guacamole. Our beers were barely chilled but I couldn’t care less. Sunbathing with good company in Mexico not writing was better than staring cross-eyed at my facebook newsfeed not writing.

The truth is I was lying—I had done something the day before.

“Well, I did translate a song from Portuguese to English,” I said.

Kris laughed: “Of course, you did!”

“I don’t speak Portuguese.”

“Of course, you don’t.” She laughed some more.

After listening “A PELE QUE HÁ EM MIM” on repeat for two days, I copy pasted the lyrics into Google translate. It was awful; made no sense whatsoever. But I was obsessed and no matter what, I had to understand what this love ballad between Márcia and JP Simoes was all about.

I fed the lyrics into Google again, this time translating into Spanish, Turkish, and Hebrew—the languages I do speak. It helped a little with a sentence here, a word there. At that point, I had a general idea about the song but I couldn’t understand the nuances. The song was poetic, I could feel it. And I just had to understand it! That’s when I opened two more tabs: a proper Portuguese-English dictionary and a website called “conjuga-me.”

I learned that e means “and;” fala means “speech.” Those were easy. Ficou gave me a real hard time, so did recanta. O apparently can mean “the” but also “it” or “him.” Minha means “my” but so does meu. And why was this song talking about a yarn? Or was it a wire?

“I get it! You broke up, love died, great, but why?” That’s when I started talking to Google translate. It wasn’t my most graceful moment to say the least.

Did he “yank” her braided hair, which could obviously explain break-up? I for one would not stay with a man who pulls hair. That’s a deal breaker. But maybe that line was about locks ripped open. Highly unlikely. That guy definitely pulled her hair.

At some point my Mexican flat mate Crystal walked in, probably wondering why I kept playing the same song over and over. I solicited her help. A native Spanish speaker could perhaps have secret powers to unlock Portuguese grammar, I thought.

“My Hebrew is better than my Portuguese,” she said and exited my room.

The whole ordeal—including the obsessive clicking of the replay button on youtube—must have taken at least three to four hours of my precious writing time (read: staring into space, looking through random people’s pictures on pinterest, eating a second lunch… I could keep going but you get the picture).

Anyway, I translated the damn song. Now I know why the lovers in the song had to separate: They are idiots. And so am I.

Anyone who actually knows Portuguese want to help me fix these lyrics?

Update: Thank you Ana Pessoa, who happens to be a professional translator who helped with the lyrics. The red below are her corrections! 

The skin in me (When the day grew dark)

When the day grew dark and your body touched my corner
a corner of mine, a dance awoke
and the sun arose, it was giant
in one moment it erased the serene sky
And a the serenity place to wait for waiting in me
The desire to tell the story according to counting from the end
It gave you air a sudden move of yours and your singing changed
And your body yanked from mine a braid
The blood cooled, my feet landed                                                                                                                                                                               My voice whispered, my dream died

Give me the ocean, my river, my way sidewalk
Give me the empty room of my house
I will leave you in the yarn thread of your speech
About the skin that is in me, you know nothing

When love has ended and my body forgot
The path it traveled through your the corners of your body
The moonlight faded and the night was speechless
The deep cold sky descended and it stayed
But the pain does not no longer lives in me
It already passed, it wore off, moved beyond the end
It is right to separate, to live again is the price of love
I feel neither the taste of sweat, nor the fear of your boiling lap
About the flower of your blood, I no longer want to know about the blooming of your blood.

Give me the ocean, my river, my way road
Give me an empty boat at dawn
I will leave you in the cold of your speech
In the vertigo of voice that finally shuts up


A Pele Que Há em Mim (Quando o Dia Entardeceu)

Quando o dia entardeceu e o teu corpo tocou
Num recanto do meu uma dança acordou
E o sol apareceu de gigante ficou

Num instante apagou o sereno do céu
E a calma a aguardar lugar em mim
O desejo a contar segundo o fim.
Foi num ar que te deu e o teu canto mudou
E o teu corpo do meu uma trança arrancou
O sangue arrefeceu e o meu pé aterrou
Minha voz sussurrou ?o meu sonho morreu?

Dá-me o mar, o meu rio, minha calçada.
Dá-me o quarto vazio da minha casa
Vou deixar-te no fio da tua fala.
Sobre a pele que há em mim tu não sabes nada.

Quando o amor se acabou e o meu corpo esqueceu
O caminho onde andou nos recantos do teu
E o luar se apagou e a noite emudeceu
O frio fundo do céu foi descendo e ficou
Mas a mágoa não mora mais em mim
Já passou, desgastei, para lá do fim
É preciso partir é o preço do amor
Para voltar a viver já nem sinto o sabor
A suor e pavor do teu colo a ferver
Do teu sangue de flor já não quero saber

Dá-me o mar, o meu rio, a minha estrada.
O meu barco vazio na madrugada
Vou deixar-te no frio da tua fala.
Na vertigem da voz quando enfim se cala.


  1. Hi there

    I gather that your last sentence about the love story in this song and the journey it prompt to carry to translate the song is nothing more than a literary patch to provide some punch line. Of course love stories/songs can be at times stupid unless we relate to them somehow if not…We should simply just go with the emotion and feeling that such stories told in song tells. And it’s all about how it makes you feel. You were totally right to guess at the very beginning of your quest that this song is Poetic and yes, it is. The gramatical structure of the lyrics in the majority of the song is not based on the standard and current Portuguese form. So that would prove to be a challenge to translate it to start with plus to add more to my point there is always and also the matter with semantics! A direct translation is always or in most cases not possible but regardless when it comes to translate pieces with a poetic feel it’s twice as hard. Yet…you did a good job and the professional translator helped a great deal…yet I wonder if she ever explained to you what or how some the words are purely placed in a metaphorical way? And of course some will just make sense to native speakers. It would be necessary to use the “English ” or other languages equivalent of the same expression to get the meaning. So for instance and in case you didn’t get it in the end by “and your body yanked from mine a braid” it’s like saying “it took a piece off my heart” yet here you have to imagine yourself or the singer as if her whole body was made out of hair at that stage and once her lover pulled away from her (being once one) he ripped her apart by or as if his body yanked from her a braid. Here I will ask you a question. …have you met someone with dreadlocks? 🙂 they would probably be able to dwell more on this. But to avoid swerving away from the point I’m trying to make I’d like to say that your first translation was the right one. The one that continuously and repeatedly made you hit the replay button on YouTube over and over again! The translation that came from your heart from deep within…not your head…not the words but just the feeling! I am Portuguese I would dare to say that even some Portuguese people would struggle to understand the semantics or words in the song and Marcia (The singer ) she doesn’t always cast her words out (…) but more important than point if her dictation are to the point or not the most important thing is that this song has taken you into a journey as it has taken me and so many others into a journey of compliance and emotions full of empathy that forces our hearts and minds to embrace the rythm caress the tone and hit the replay button so that we start alongside one more journey. Enjoy the ride.

    • nathalie alyon
      nathalie alyon says

      NR – Thank you for your comment and the clarifications. The line about the braids and the hair make sense now – so beautiful. About the last line in my post; it wasn’t just a literary punch. As you also wrote in your comment, love songs like love itself cannot be understood but rather felt. The characters in the song are idiots for letting go of a love that could inspire such beauty and I am one for trying to “understand” love.. Love (or maybe I should say lust) is blinding and makes us do stupid things.. Or maybe I will explain my art with someone else’s art – Woody Allen
      “To love is to suffer, not to love is to suffer..” 🙂

  2. Hi Natalie.

    You are welcome. I do hope you managed to make sense of everything i’ve written above as some words were missing particularly in the beginning of my reply. Most likely it was my dyslexia kicking in!:). But I gather that you understood most of it and that fact that you point out that love songs like love itself cannot be understood but felt makes it clear. We’re definitely aligned. Perhaps I didn’t understand you promptly when you used the word “idiots” as I didn’t get right then that you are a “sucker” for love :). But believe me….I can reciprocate. ..I’ve been there than that and I have the biggest t-shirt …well it is one I’m actually not proud of when it comes to make one do Stupid things. But I DID! Love is like that…you’re right. And those who love can easily fall into that “path” or “trap” or maybe is just a “trait” a love trait! It’s perhaps a sign of true love but one that might not always reciprocate or that along the way slowly fades away from whatever side.

    In either…before I even check the link provided (thank you by the way ) I will quote also someone Alfred Tennyson.

    “Is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved and all” 🙂

    Hey…I thought this sentence belong to someone else but apparently not.

  3. Pingback: "Fever to Form": How can Art help make sense of life? | Pack the Story

Leave a Reply