Carlos Ramos sings a Fado from a time before divorce

Carlos Ramos "Não venhas tarde"

Carlos Ramos "Não venhas tarde" (Don't come home late)

Words: Aníbal Nazaré
Music: João Nobre

This is a song of intense male regret, posing almost as a comedy song. It goes back to 1958. There were a lot of poor quality Fado lyrics around at the time, often focusing on everyday domestic dramas. This was one consequence of the control regime Fado was still under in Portugal. Lyrics were subject to prior approval and censorship, and lighter, more conventional topics were more likely to make it through.

But there is real feeling behind Carlos Ramos's delivery of this song, and it has become a Fado classic. There is also an unstated reality behind the story it tells, which is why it resonated with listeners at time, in a way that is hard to recapture in the very different circumstances most of us live in today.

Of that more below. First here are the words in Portuguese, with my English free translation below each verse.

Não venhas tarde
Dizes-me tu com carinho,
Sem nunca fazer alarde
Do que me pedes, beixinho

Don't come home late
You say to me with affection
Without making a fuss
About what you are asking me, softly.

Não venhas tarde,
E eu peço a deus que no fim,
Teu coração ainda guarde,
Um pouco de amor por mim.

Don't come home late
And I ask to God that in the end
Your heart still keeps
A little love for me.

Tu, sabes bem
Que eu vou p'ra outra mulher,
Que ela me prende também,
Que eu só faço o que ela quer.

You know perfectly well
That I go to another woman
That she holds me too
That I only do what she wants

Tu, estás sentindo,
Que te minto e sou cobarde,
Mas sabes dizer, sorrindo
Meu amor, não venhas tarde.

You are feeling
That I lie to you and am a coward
But you can say, smiling
My love, Don't come home late

Não venhas tarde,
Dizes-me sem azedume.
Quando o teu coração arde,
Na fogueira do ciúme.

Don't come home late
You say to me without bitterness
When your heart burns
In flames of jealousy

Não venhas tarde,
Dizes-me tu da janela.
E eu venho sempre mais tarde,
Porque não sei fugir dela.

Don't come home late
You say to me from the window
And I always come back later
Because I don't know how to escape from it

Tu, sabes bem,
Que eu vou p'ra outra mulher,
Que ela me prende também,
Que eu só faço o que ela quer.

You know perfectly well
That I go to another woman
That she holds me too
That I only do what she wants

Sem alegria
Eu confesso, tenho medo
Que tu me digas um dia
Meu amor, não venhas cedo.

Without joy
I confess that I fear
That one day you will say to me
Don't come home early.

(Guitar interlude)

Por ironia
Pois nunca sei onde vais,
Que eu chegue cedo algum dia,
E seja tarde demais.

Because I never know where you go
That if I get home early someday
It will be too late.

Divorce in Portugal before 1975

Divorce was virtually impossible in Portugal for normal people when this song was written. In 1940, at the high-point of Fascist power in Europe, the Portuguese state under the leadership of António de Oliveira Salazar had concluded an agreement with the Vatican. When it came to marriage and family life this handed control over to the Catholic Church. This arrangement followed the lines of a similar deal agreed in Italy between Mussolini and the Vatican in 1929.

In Portugal it meant that if you had married in church - which was the case for almost all Portuguese couples, marriage was governed by Church law. Marriage was therefore for life, and divorce for all practical purposes ruled out. Divorce had been easier before, under the constitution of the First Republic (1911 to 1926) that came before military dictatorship, Salazar and his New State.

Divorce remained under these restrictions right up until the Revolution of 1974 to 1975, when it was one of the first things to be reformed. In Italy meanwhile civil divorce was legalised for Catholics in 1970, with the changes confirmed in a Referendum in 1974. In Ireland a similar prohibition on divorce lasted until 1996, when it became legal following the results of a referendum in 1995.

So what this meant for many in these Catholic countries of Europe was that they found themselves living with partners they no longer loved, or apart from people they did love. And not just because of the law, but also because of the social pressures that then ensued.

How people coped and felt was a subject much covered by the arts, particularly in films and drama, but much more freely in Italy than in Portugal.

In Portuguese terms this song is fairly explicit and daring. But it got through the censors. Maybe because, like much of the Fado of the period, it is ambiguous. Maybe it's a protest, maybe it isn't.

The ending is open to the interpretation that the singer is reconciled to his fate, very typical of the Fado of the time. So his true love may well be the forbearing woman who calls out to him at the beginning of the song. And maybe the song is saying to women, this is how you should treat a wandering husband.

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