Lyrics to “Insensatez” (“Foolishness” or “Folly”), 1961

Music by Tom Jobim, Lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes

Ah, foolishness

What have you done

Such a reckless heart

You made cry from pain

Your love

Such a delicate love

Ah, why were you

So weak that way

In such a soulless way

Ah, my heart

That never loved

Doesn’t deserve to be loved

Go on, my heart

Listen to reason

Use only sincerity

He who sows wind

So says reason

Always reaps storms

Go on, my heart

Plead forgiveness

Forgiveness, in love

Go on

Because he who doesn’t plead forgiveness

Is never forgiven

— Interpretation —

This bossa nova classic already has an English version – “How Insensitive,” with lyrics by Norman Gimbel– but the lyrics are very different from the original Portuguese.  Tom’s music recalls Chopin’s Prelude in E minor (op. 28, no. 4), which he recognized as an inspiration.

Tom Jobim and Vinicius de Moraes met in 1956, when they worked together for the first time on the soundtrack for Vinicius’s play “Orfeu da Conceição.”  The pair went on to compose nearly 50 songs together, including some of the most iconic bossa nova songs like “Garota de Ipanema” (1962), “Se todas fossem iguais a você” (1956, for Orfeu da Conceição), and “Eu sei que vou te amar.”

João Gilberto recorded “Insensatez” in 1961.

Post by Victoria Broadus

10 thoughts on “Insensatez”

  1. Thank you for doing this, Victoria! Every time I sing Manha de Carnaval, I let the audience in on a little secret: “A Day in the Life of a Fool” is about a jilted lover in English, it’s much broader than in portuguese, and I tell them why. (Then I say, BTW, does anybody here speak Portuguese? and if nobody does, I say OK, the next song will be in portugese. Only once did I have to make a last minute linguistic announcement!) I look forward to seeing your other translations.
    By the way, do you have a relative named Margaret Broadus? I went to school with her a long time ago. Thought it worth asking, at least!

  2. Yes, this is Steve, an American living in Ventura, CA (USA) I had, of course, listened to Bossa Nova in high school in the late 60’s, etc. I play guitar and sing and decided about 10 years ago to start learning to play Bossa on the guitar and sing it in Portuguese. I noticed immediately that the translations were not literal, and,in fact, were not even translations. I’ve started to translate the English versions into literal translations as you have done here, but they were so different it was shocking–the phrasing is harder. The so-called English versions are better with phrasing that goes with the beat and the chords, etc. but the real meaning is lost. I ran into these issues while getting a Masters in English regarding the Russian/American author Nabokov who recommended that all translations should be literal–his example being Proust’s “Remembrance of Things Past” being translated literally from the French into “In Search of Lost Time” which, according to Nabokov, carries the true meaning of the title. A great performance imperative here would be for the guitarist/singer to sing all three versions in performance–the original Portuguese, the re-written English lyrics and the literal English translation. Again, the real translations are so different as to be hard to assign the right Bossa Nova rhythms to the right chord changes, but it should be done. I know there are problems with translations and many claim that literal translations cannot be done–subtle meanings between the Portuguese (the most beautiful language in the world) and English (a harsh Germanic language) etc. I was introduced to Gal Costa many years ago and I used her for pronunciation and phrasing of the original Portuguese. Also the great Gilberto and others. Again, to juxtapose the Portuguese with the literal translations would be the goal, and leave out the rewritten English lyrics–some of them are really lame also.
    This music is brilliant in composition and in the array of many Jazz chords in the songs. It deserves this new treatment. Young people don’t even know about this great, timeless music. Any guitarists needing to study the jazz chords and rhythms need to get Nelson Faria’s book “The Brazilian Guitar Book-Samba, Bossa Nova and Other Brazilian Styles.” It is out of print but you can get new copies from other suppliers on Amazon. I will start to apply your translations to the Bossa Nova songs and work out the beats and phrasings for myself. Surely there are other translators in Brazil who have done this but their work is not online. Yours is the first that I have seen.

    Steven Russi
    San Buenaventura, California (USA)

    1. Thanks so much Steve! Glad to hear from you and hear that the blog has been useful! I’m trying to keep working on it, though posts have slowed down a lot now as I work on the PhD – let me know any requests!

  3. Thank you so much for this clarification and translation. It challenges me. I have mentioned Insensatez in something I’m writing, but very much influenced by the Gimbel English lyrics and the scenes from La Notte which clearly show a declaration (by the woman) of the end of an affair. I must have done a little googling in the past because I mention “foolish end of an affair” in my reference to the song. But this translation knocks me back to rethink.
    Seems to me Gimbel makes literal and one-sided in English what is understated, ambiguous, reflective yet confessional in the Portuguese, with a plea for forgiveness. That’s as far as I will venture into lit. crit.
    I want to believe that Nabokov said other things more nuanced than recommending that all translations should be literal, he being multilingual and literal translation quickly ending up sounding “foolish”, so to speak. Doesn’t good translation work in another language by following the rules and nuances of the recipient language to achieve equivalence or fidelity of sense, sentiment, sensibility? The task is very difficult, and maybe one of the reasons Começar de novo can become The Island.
    Thanks again for this translation. I just looked at and it pretty much agrees with your translation. That translator says: This is my interpretation of this song! He is talking to his heart! Trying to make sense of what he did or caused. Elsewhere, the site says: “Literal translations to give readers an idea of what the song says, not singable.”
    All this just to say your translation is more than literal, it is poetic.

  4. I’ve recently discovered this genre, and I fell in love immediately! And I really admire your work. Thank you so much for allowing us to understand these beautiful-sounding lyrics…❤️

  5. Really good to reconnect with your site.
    When you find time, could you please point me to good translations into English of these songs:
    Começar de novo (Ivan Lins) — not the Gimbel lyrics for “The Island”
    Ponta de Areia (Milton Nascimento)
    Trovoada (Gilberto Gil/Milton Nascimento)
    Bom Dia (Gilberto Gil/Milton Nascimento?/Nana Caymmi?)
    Samba em Prelúdio (Vinicius/Baden Powell)


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