Brazilian singer Vital Farias’ ‘An Amazon Tale’ in poetic new English translation
Winding through the Amazon. | Ministry of the Environment Brazil

Following are my English lyrics for Brazilian singer/songwriter Vital Farias’ “Saga da Amazônia.” A poetic translation, especially of a complex lyric that employs many regionalisms, is necessarily and by definition a new work of art. I hope I have done justice to this beautiful song of protest dating back to 1982. If anything, it’s even more relevant now. You can hear Farias performing his song here. In one of the first comments, you can read the entire original Portuguese text.

An Amazon Tale

Once upon a time in Brazilian Amazonia
The most beautiful forest had no owner
Green canopy beneath an azure sky
Stretched as far and wide as condors fly
Pink dolphins frolicked in rivers deep
While half breeds cried themselves to sleep
Paying the price in paradise.

As parrots and parakeets preen their vivid feathers
Native kids swim and love all the river’s weathers
While embodied spirits vie for extractive dominion
Over animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms.

Every forest has a caapora or dragon to guard it
The latest, a big ass bulldozer on destruction bent
A tree-eating, forest-flattening Giant the devil sent
In a deal so slick and stealthy that no one witnessed
Where yet again the wealthy men got all the business.

If, my friend, the forest had feet I’ll tell you what
It would’ve run for dear life before the trees were cut
With bunches of nuts and fruit we picked when ripe
Which disappeared so fast we had no time to gripe
Monkeys, lagoons, air full of moisture from inland seas
Dragon devours the forest with no concern at all for these.

And those who live in this forest, what on earth must they do?
Forest-dwellers, rubber-tappers, sloths, anteaters, turtles too
All of them running for their lives through burning brush
Through land once thick with trees amid debris they rush
Deed forgers cheat landholders robbing them of their livelihoods
Only injustice and persecution remain where once there were woods
Native hunters and gatherers became peons, New World serfs
They are the nameless ones who resisted and died on alien turfs.

“They killed an Injun who killed a cheat who killed a squatter”
The nut-gatherer told the latex-tapper, “it really doesn’t matter
That a stranger took my place.”

That’s when a wandering troubadour, lost in space
And broken-hearted, wrote this song about disgrace
Loss and desperation amid so much devastation
Then hit the highway with no rent or reservation
Tears in his eyes, a lump in his throat
On a dried-up river there is no boat.

Here ends this tale of love and squalor
For those who still retain their valor
And defend what’s left without excuse
We’ve grown used to profligate abuse
By a president turned prestidigitator
Who vanished the forest on the equator.



Peter Lownds
Peter Lownds

Peter Lownds is an author and translator living in Los Angeles.