Tanto Mar

Lyrics from “Tanto Mar” by Chico Buarque

Version 1 (1974, Banned in Brazil)

I know you’re celebrating, friend
It makes me happy
And, while I’m absent
Save a carnation for me
I would like to be in that celebration, friend
With your people
And pick personally some flower
In your garden
I know there are leagues separating us
So much sea, so much sea
I know too how it’s necessary, friend,
To sail, to sail
Over there it’s Spring, friend
Here, I am sick
Send, urgently, some little sniff
Of rosemary

Version 2 (1978)

The celebration was beautiful, friend
It made me happy
I still stubbornly save an old carnation for myself
They’ve already wilted your celebration, friend
But surely
They’ve forgotten a seed in some little garden corner
I know there are leagues separating us
So much sea, so much sea
I know too how it’s necessary, friend
To navigate, to navigate
Praise Spring, friend
Here I’m in need
Send again a little sniff of rosemary

— Interpretation —

Chico Buarque wrote this song in honor of Portugal’s “Carnation Revolution” of April 25, 1974. The nearly bloodless coup (6 civilians were killed when shots were fired on a crowd from police barracks) marked the end of almost 50 years of fascist dictatorship in Portugal, which began with the military regime of 1926-1933 and continued during Portugal’s “Estado Novo” (New State), from 1933 – 1974. The coup was carried out by Portuguese troops – organized into the “Armed Forces Movement” – who had spent the past 13 years fighting in the gruesome, interminable and unjustified colonial wars in Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde and São Tomé and Principe.  They were led by General Antonio de Spinola, a former deputy armed forces minister and Governor of Portuguese Guinea from 1968-1972 who had been fired after he wrote the book Portugal and the Future, which argued that Portugal needed to seek a political, rather than military, end to the colonial wars.

Just after midnight on April 25, 1974, the song “Grândola, Vila Morena” was played on radio Renascença (Radio Rebirth), calling the troops to action. The troops took control of radio and television broadcast centers and seized several strategic points in the city, including the airport and Salazar Bridge (named for the Estado Novo’s founder and long-term dictator, Antonio Oliveira Salazar) over the River Tagus. They stormed the barracks where Prime Minister Marcelo Caetano had taken refuge, and by dawn, the troops had established control. They demanded the restoration of civil liberties and democratic rights – such as political parties and parliamentary representation – and freedom for the colonies and for political prisoners.

Carnations were in full bloom in Lisbon, and jubilant civilians showered the troops with the flowers.

In the following years, Portugal adopted a strategy known as the 3Ds:  Decolonization, democratization, and development, in that order. Economic and political crises rocked the country, though, and these stresses, in the Cold War climate, brought the country to the brink of civil war, “wilting” the euphoric optimism inspired by the Carnation Revolution.

The coup in Portugal happened at a time of extreme oppression in Brazil under the military dictatorship, and as Chico Buarque explains in this video, it became taboo to discuss the revolution. The regime banned the first version of his song. In 1978, Chico rewrote the song to reflect disappointment with the path taken after the revolution. Chico changed the lyrics to speak about the revolution in the past tense, and express hope that the values it espoused could be revived (by “the seed” they must have forgotten in a garden somewhere).

I translated “pá” — a Portuguese (from Portugal) expression used similarly to “dude” in the United States — as friend, though it could be translated as “man.” Along with employing this Portuguese phrase, Chico uses the continental Portuguese verb structure for the present continuous “separating,” and alludes to the Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa’s (1888-1935, Lisbon) poem “Navegar é preciso” (It’s necessary to navigate), meaning it’s necessary to push forward, carry on.

The word for rosemary in Portuguese, alecrim, means “dew of the sea” in Latin, and rosemary is native to Western Europe and the Mediterranean.  Chico used the opposite seasons — spring in Portugal and fall in Brazil – as a metaphor for the rebirth that was happening in Portugal as Brazil sunk deeper into the fall/winter of military dictatorship.


Post by Victoria Broadus

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