Portuguese Poets in Music

Bob Dylan winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016 sparked a (sometimes heated) debate about whether song lyrics can be considered poetry or not. Although I don’t have a strong opinion on the subject, I tend to believe that song lyrics can be regarded as poetry, as long as they are intricate, profound and convey a stimulating meaning through the rhythmic qualities of the language. The difference seems to be that usually song lyrics are regarded as popular while poetry is considered to be erudite.

Some Portuguese artists and bands mixed the two concepts by setting to music the works of famous poets. The two cases that immediately sprang to mind were Fernando Pessoa and Florbela Espanca. But there may be more examples that I don’t know of.

Fernando Pessoa (1888–1935) has had various of his poems used as song lyrics of diverse music genres – Jazz, Indie-Pop and Fado. Early this year, Salvador Sobral sang during a concert a song, Presságio (composed by Júlio Resende), whose lyrics are a poem by Fernando Pessoa.

 

Salvador Sobral is also the vocalist of the band Alexander Search, named after one of the many Fernando Pessoa’s heteronyms. The elements of the band, inspired by the concept of heteronyms, adopted new names for the project, which sets to music the poems originally written in English by Alexander Search. A Day of Sun was their first single.

 

 

I love the things that children love

Yet with a comprehension deep

That lifts my pining soul above

Those in which life as yet doth sleep.

 

All things that simple are and bright,

Unnoticed unto keen‑worn wit,

With a child’s natural delight

That makes me proudly weep at it.

 

I love the sun with personal glee,

The air as if I could embrace

Its wideness with my soul and be

A drunkard by expense of gaze.

 

I love the heavens with a joy

That makes me wonder at my soul,

It is a pleasure nought can cloy,

 A thrilling I cannot control.

 

So stretched out here let me lie

Before the sun that soaks me up,

And let me gloriously die

Drinking too deep of living’s cup;

 

Be swallowed of the sun and spread

Over the infinite expanse,

Dissolved, like a drop of dew dead

Lost in a super‑normal trance;

 

Lost in impersonal consciousness

And mingling in all life become

A selfless part of Force and Stress

And have a universal home;

 

And in a strange way undefined

Lose in the one and living Whole

The limit that I call my mind,

The bounded thing I call my soul.

Alexander Search (Fernando Pessoa)

 

In a completely different music genre, a poem by Fernando Pessoa was used as the lyrics of the song Cavaleiro Monge interpreted by Mariza, who sings mainly Fado, a traditional Portuguese music genre characterised by mournful tunes (although there are also a few songs with cheerful melodies).

 

Other Portuguese poet who has had one of her poems serving as lyrics for a song is Florbela Espanca (1894–1930). Ser Poeta, a poem about love and poetry, was set to music by the band Trovante in 1987, and it’s still one of their most well-known songs. I chose the video below because it’s a live performance of the song where you can listen to thousands of people singing along, and there aren’t that many poems which so many people know the words of.

 

Do you know of any other artists, wherever they are from, who have set to music poems by famous writers? Tell me in the comments!

2 thoughts on “Portuguese Poets in Music

  1. MarinaSofia says:

    I really like Brazilian singer/songwriters, especially Caetano Veloso, who seems to me an exceptional poet as well as a musician. Mind you, I am always half-guessing at his lyrics, as I don’t speak Portuguese!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susana_S_F says:

      I like some of his songs, but I’m not a huge fan. I think he’s a great artist and lyricist, don’t get me wrong. I just enjoy other music genres more. I believe he also has more than one book of memoirs and essays published.

      Like

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