Poetry and music: a Portuguese liaison

Portuguese, also called A Língua de Camões in honour of our greatest poet Luiz Vaz de Camões -author of the famous epic Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads) about the great Portuguese discoveries in the 16th century-, is a language of poets celebrated through music since medieval times.


Modern Portuguese
dates from the 16th century and has its origins in Galaico-Português, or Old Portuguese, a West Iberian Romance language spoken in the northwest area of the Iberian Peninsula. Our strong connection between poetry and music dates from the final years of the 12th century until the middle of the 14th century, when Galaico- Português was used for literary purposes in the cantigas d’ amor (male-voiced love lyric), the cantigas d’ amigo (female-voiced love lyric), and the cantigas d’ escarnho e de mal dizer (including a variety of genres from personal invective to social satire, poetic parody and literary debate). The video below is an example of a cantiga d’amigo.

This medieval alliance between poetry and music was known as Trovadorismo. Our king Dom Dinis was also a trovador.

In spite of the fact that Galician and Portuguese had become two different languages, the cultural connection between Galicia and specially the North of Portugal remains.

Below, the Galician singer Uxia in a wonderful interpretation of Verdes são os Campos, a Portuguese poem of Luiz Vaz de Camões, our major poet.


Uxia, Verdes são os Campos

A word that appears quite often in our poems and music is Saudade which can be related to feelings of longing, yearning, a vague and constant desire for something, a turning towards the past or towards the future, the love that stays after someone is gone, and a strong feeling of missing someone.

Some specialists say the word may have originated during the Great Portuguese Discoveries of the 16th century, giving meaning to the sadness felt about those who departed on journeys to unknown seas, died in battle, or simply never returned.

Below, the Cape Verde singer, Cesária Évora, with her most famous song, Sodade (Saudade).


Cesária Évora and Mariza, Sodade

Our poetry was also used to express our freedom’s desire during the Dictatorship of Salazar and Marcelo Caetano.

The poets wrote in a more creative way so that the message could pass through the Censura (Censorship) eyes or, as we called, the lápis azul (blue pencil).

Ary dos Santos is, perhaps, the best known case. His strong lyrics managed to be sung in the Song Festival Contest.


Fernando Tordo, Cavalo a Solta (Free Horse), 1971 (got the 3rd place in the Festival)


Fernando Tordo, A Tourada (The Bullfight), 1973 (won and went to the Eurovision Song Festival)

The music and the poetry are so important to us that our Revolution towards Democracy in 1974 started with two musical signs given by the radio, so the troops knew that they should leave their headquarters.

The first sign was given by the song E depois do Adeus (After Goodbye), Song Festival Contest Winna in 1974 and for me, one of the prettiest Portuguese songs. The singer was Paulo de Carvalho, one of the most beautiful Portuguese voices, and the poem is by José Niza.


Paulo de Carvalho, E Depois do Adeus, 1974

The second sign was given with Grândola, Vila Morena, a song of Zeca Afonso, a talented musician and composer whose music and poems focus on the lack of freedom and people’s poverty , like this one:


Zeca Afonso, Indios da Meia-Praia

Our poetry has also enriched our national song, the Fado. Carlos do Carmo, our best male Fado singer, introduced a new kind of Fado, the Fado-Canção (Fado Song, a bit different from the original Fado), when he started to sing many Portuguese poets, especially Ary dos Santos, who wrote the next song.

Estrela da Tarde (Afternoon star) is a masterpiece of Portuguese poetry, written by Ary in less than a half hour. The music is by Fernando Tordo.


Carlos do Carmo, Estrela da Tarde, 1976

The next song, No Teu Poema (On your poem), is a song by José Luis Tinoco, and is also sung by Carlos do Carmo. In my opinion, one of the most beautiful Portuguese poems.

Amália Rodrigues, our greatest Fado singer, also sang great Portuguese poets: Camões, Bocage, Ary dos Santos, Pedro Homem de Mello, Alexandre O’Neill, Manuel Alegre, David Mourão Ferreira (who wrote the amazing Barco Negro).


Amália Rodrigues, Barco Negro

I could go on and on about Portuguese poets and music, but I think I should finish this post.

I will leave you with a poem and music that reminds me of my childhood in the seventies and even today makes me cry and smile of emotion. It’s about humankind dreams… a poem by António Gedeão.


Manuel Freire, Pedra Filosofal (Philosopher’s Stone)

Read more

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Portugal’s Young Fado Generation

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About the author

Sandra Silva
Sandra Silva has been living in the Netherlands since December 2007. Photography and travel writing are Sandra’s main activities, alongside learning Dutch and organizing a life abroad. She is a passionate lover of her country, history, photography, poetry, her cat and old photos. Main hobbies are reading and travelling.
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2 Comments

  • The last one is very nice. I’m a great fan of Cesaria Evora too. Thanks to your posts I am discovering many more Portuguese and Portuguese language musicians!

  • Maria Savant

    Dear Sandra,

    Thank you so much for all this wonderful information. I am researching No Teu Poema and can not find anyone here in my city to help me with this great song. Can you help me understand the lyrics.

    Maria