Lyrics from “Lígia” by Tom Jobim (1972)

Good Audio Version (João Gilberto)

I’ve never dreamed of you, I’ve never gone to the movies
I don’t like samba, I don’t go to Ipanema
I don’t like rain, I don’t like sun
I never called you up, why, if I knew?
I never attempted – and would never dare – the sweet nothings
That I learned with you
No, Lígia, Lígia

To go out with you holding hands on a serene afternoon
A cold beer in a bar in Ipanema
Walk along the beach down to Leblon
I’ve never fallen in love, I’d never be able to marry you
I would suffer such pain inevitably just to lose you in the end

You come close to me with your peculiar ways, and I say yes
But your brown eyes fill me with more fear than a ray of sun
Lígia, Lígia

— Interpretation–

Tom Jobim at Ipanema Beach, c. 1968
Tom Jobim at Ipanema Beach, c. 1968

Tom Jobim used to say that any song with a woman’s name just stirred up trouble. He cited the case of Dorival Caymmi’s “Marina,” which provoked threats to Caymmi from an angry husband who thought the song had been written for his wife.

And indeed “Lígia” caused some problems for Tom, since the name happened to be the name of his close friend Fernando Sabino’s wife.

In interviews over the years following the release of “Ligia,” Tom avoided the subject or denied that the song was written for Sabino’s wife, Lygia Marina de Moraes. But in a 1988 interview with Ruy Castro for Playboy, Tom hinted that his denials could be interpreted in the same way as the denials in the song: “Fernando Sabino is a good friend, I get along really well with him and his wife, Lygia. They come to my house, I want all the best for them and, naturally, Lygia is a very beautiful woman and all that. What exists in  “Lígia” is the following: something that you deny so much that ultimately it turns into an affirmation – a supreme affirmation of love. ‘I’ve never dreamed of you, I’ve never gone to the cinema… when I called you… it was just an illusion, I ripped up your name.’ That is to say, I’m not even close to Lygia.”

Tom went so far as to say the song was about a pretty girl – the girlfriend of a friend of his – who used to go to bar Veloso (now Garota de Ipanema). But in 1994, after Lygia and Fernando separated and Tom passed away,  Lygia revealed the full story: She was out with a friend one day in 1968 and they ran into Tom, also with a friend, in Veloso. Tom began to flirt with Lygia, who turned out to be his daughter Elizabeth’s teacher.  She ended up accompanying Tom to an interview he was giving with Clarice Lispector. In the interview, Lispector challenged him to improvise a  poem that could become lyrics for a song, and the translation of the improvised poem goes as follows:

Teus olhos verdes são maiores que o mar/ Your green eyes are bigger than the sea
Se um dia eu fosse tão forte quanto você/
If one day I were as strong as you
Eu te desprezaria e viveria no espaço/
I would scorn you and would live in space
Ou talvez então eu te amasse/ Or maybe then I would love you
Ai que saudades que me dá
Da vida que eu nunca tive/ Oh how it makes me long for the life I never had

Lygia Moraes in Rio de Janeiro in 2011.
Lygia Moraes in Rio de Janeiro in 2011.

According to green-eyed Lygia, Tom dedicated the poem to her before they said goodbye, with a kiss on the cheek, in his car – the only time they went out alone together. (He was married to his first wife Thereza at the time.)  “The song tells of everything that never happened – the cinema, the walk down the beach,” Lygia revealed.  The eyes in the song probably turned from green to brown to rhyme, “estranho” and “castanho.”

At least in this case, Lygia’s story corroborates Tom’s insistence, in self-defense, that every song he wrote with a woman’s name was written for a woman he’d never slept with.

This song was first released in 1972 on the album Stan Getz e João Gilberto. Two years later,  Chico Buarque included it on his album Sinal Fechado, a collection of songs mostly by other composers which he recorded since the military censors had taken to banning almost all of the songs he submitted to them. (He wrote one song on the album, “Acorda Amor,” which he released under the pseudonym Julinho da Adelaide.) For the 1974 recording Chico and Tom changed the lyrics slightly, though Chico took no credit.

According to Lygia, Tom and Chico changed the lyrics about the phone call in this version because in 1973, Tom  called Fernando to ask for Lygia’s number and Fernando gave him the wrong number. On top of that, Fernando called people at the number he gave Tom and told them to give him another wrong number and pretend it was Lygia’s:

I’ve never dreamed of you, I’ve never gone to the cinema
I don’t like samba, I don’t go to Ipanema
I don’t like rain, I don’t like sun
And when I called you, I hung up, I’d dialed the wrong number
I don’t know your name
I left on the piano the sweet nothings that I was going to say to you
No, Lígia, Lígia
I never wanted to have you by my side
On a weekend, a cold beer in Copacabana
Walk along the beach down to Leblon
And when I fell in love it was nothing more than illusion
I tore up your name
I made a samba-song with the lies of love that I learned with you
Yes, Lígia, Lígia

And when you wrap me up in your serene arms I’m going to give in
But your brown (Moreno) eyes fill me with more fear than a ray of sun

Lyrics in Portuguese (1972)

Eu nunca sonhei com você
Nunca fui ao cinema
Não gosto de samba
Não vou a Ipanema
Não gosto de chuva
Nem gosto de sol
Eu nunca te telefonei
Para que se eu sabia
Eu jamais tentei
E jamais ousaria
As bobagens de amor
Que aprendi com você
Não, Lígia, Lígia

Sair com você de mãos dadas
Na tarde serena
Um chope gelado
Num bar de Ipanema
Andar pela praia até o Leblon
Eu nunca me apaixonei
Eu jamais poderia
Casar com você
Fatalmente eu iria
Sofrer tanta dor
Pra no fim te perder
Lígia, Lígia.

Você se aproxima de mim
Com esses modos estranhos
E eu digo que sim
Mas seus olhos castanhos
Me metem mais medo
Que um raio de sol
Lígia, Lígia.

Lyrics in Portuguese (1974)

Eu nunca sonhei com você
Nunca fui ao cinema
Não gosto de samba
Não vou a Ipanema
Não gosto de chuva
Nem gosto de sol
E quando eu lhe telefonei
Desliguei, foi engano
O seu nome eu não sei
Esqueci no piano
As bobagens de amor
Que eu iria dizer
Não, Ligia, Ligia

Eu nunca quis tê-la ao meu lado
Num fim de semana
Um chope gelado
Em Copacabana
Andar pela praia até o Leblon
E quando eu me apaixonei
Não passou de ilusão
O seu nome rasguei
Fiz um samba-canção
Das mentiras de amor
Que aprendi com você
Ligia, Ligia

E quando você me envolver
Nos seus braços serenos
Eu vou me render
Mas seus olhos morenos
Me metem mais medo
Que um raio de sol
Ligia, Ligia

Main source for this post: Histórias de Canções: Tom Jobim, by Wagner Homem and Luiz Roberto Oliveira.

3 thoughts on “Lígia”

  1. For several years I’ve taken this as a musicalization of the Edgar Alan Poe story, “Ligeia.”

    The story features a lonely hero whose black-haired wife, Ligeia, has died, causing him to retreat into isolation (no movies, no samba). Even a new marriage, to a red-headed woman, can not snap him out of his depression, and he stays hidden in his castle night and day with his new wife, until, one night, a mysterious disease ends her life, at which point her body, though dead, begins to stir; she rises slowly from her death bed, and, as the veil over her head falls away … [I let Poe take over here … ] :

    … there streamed forth, into the rushing atmosphere of the chamber, huge masses of long and dishevelled hair; it was blacker than the raven wings of the midnight! And now slowly opened the eyes of the figure which stood before me. “Here then, at least,” I shrieked aloud, “can I never — can I never be mistaken — these are the full, and the black, and the wild eyes — of my lost love — of the lady — of the LADY LIGEIA.”

    Pretty dramatic stuff. It seems to parallel the Jobim song very closely, however. I wonder if the song emerged not just from his attraction to Ligia, but from his awareness that her name more or less matched that of Poe’s heroine …

      1. Your blog is a delight, almost a dream come true, since, though my interest in Brazilian music is boundless, my understanding of Portuguese is limited, and your information is highly valuable to me. You’ll be hearing more from me, I’m sure. Meanwhile, thanks for the blog – it’s a definite public service …

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