'Desafinado': A new translation

On April 16, 2021, Marjorie Perloff brought together Craig Dworkin, Odile Cisneros, Sergio Bessa, and Caetano Veloso for a tribute to Augusto de Campos, as part of the Brooklyn Rails New Social Environment Zoom series. As a tribute to Augusto, who joined the event, I did a new translation of one of the signature songs of bossa nova, “Desafinado.” Augusto had featured the lyric in his 1974 book BALANÇO DA BOSSA e outras bossas (image from this book):

I have long identified with the title — off-key, or as I translate it, offbeat, taking it as a kind of motto. However, the two common translations of the lyric turn it into more of a romance narrative than the crucial poetics statement that it is. I did a new translaton — and was glad that Veloso said, at the end of our program, that he liked my version, since he performs one of its cannonical versions. 

“Offbeat” (“Desafinado”)
Newton Mendonça (music by Antonio Carlos Jobim, 1958)
Translated by Charles Bernstein (2021)

if you say I’m offbeat, my dear
you know it hurts me, ain’t that clear?
only the privileged
have ears like yours
all I got’s what’s given by my dear Lord

if you insist my behavior is unsuitable
classifying my compositions unmusical
my argument, maybe untenable
is that it’s Bossa nova
that is the most natural

what you dont know
what you refuse to sense
is my off beats come straight from the heart
I photographed you with my Rolleiflex
what I see is that you don’t love my art

don’t talk about my love
its far more than you are capable of
you and your music forget the key ––
the sounds inside me beat offkey
deep and quietly
inside of me
the beat’s offkey
to hit the heart, but you don’t see

Jobim: here and here 
Jobim and João Gilberto
João Gilberto and Caetano Veloso:

There are 350 versions of the song.




Gene Lees adaption

If you say my singing is off key, my love
You will hurt my feelings, don't you see, my love?
I wish I had an ear like yours, a voice that would behave
All I have is feeling and the voice God gave
You insist my music goes against the rules
Yes, but rules were never made for love sick fools
I wrote this little song for you, but you dont care
Its a crooked song, ah, but, all my heart is there
The thing that you would see if you would play your part
Is even if Im out of tune I have a gentle heart
I took your picture with my trusty Rolleiflex

Possibly in vain, I hope youll weaken, oh my love
And forget those rigid rules that undermine my dream
Of a life of love and music with someone
Wholl understand
That even though I may be out of tune
When I attempt to say how much I love you
All that matters is the message that I bring which is:
My dear, one, I love you

Jon Hendricks and Jessie Cavanaugh adaption

Love is like a never ending melody,
Poets have compared it to a symphony,
A symphony conducted by the lighting of the moon,
But our song of love is slightly out of tune . . . .
Once your kisses raised me to a fever pitch,
Now the orchestration doesnt seem so rich,
Seems to me youve changed the tune we used to sing,
Like the bossa nova love should swing . . . .
We used to harmonize two souls in perfect time,
Now the song is different and the words dont even rhyme,
Cause you forgot the melody our hearts would always croon,
What goods a heart thats slightly out of tune?

Tune your heart with mine the way it used to be,
Join with me in harmony and sing a song of love,
Were bound to get in tune again before too long,
Therell be no Desafinado when your heart belongs to me completely
Then you won't be slightly out of tune, youll sing along with me!