Brooks Kolb

Brooks Kolb is a Seattle writer, artist, and a landscape architect.


Originally written in 2017

Recently, having attended a concert devoted to the music of Antonio Carlos Jobim at Seattle’s Columbia City Theater, on the occasion of his 90th birthday, I posted about the transformative quality of his lovely bossa novas.  Each simple and haunting tune nails itself into one’s head, where it cannot escape until you play another of his songs.  These subtle melodies, married to the timeless lyrics of Vinicius de Moraes and others, have a wistful quality that evokes the inseparable intertwining of happiness and sadness in our lives.  While the melodies seem quietly joyous, the lyrics speak longingly of the transient quality of happiness.  The girl from Ipanema never sees you, and in the song “Corcovado,” “quiet chords from my guitar (are) floating on the silence that surrounds us.” 

Nowhere is this more true than in the lyrics to “A Felicidade,” (“Happiness”):

Sadness never ends

Happiness does

Happiness is like a drop

of dew on a flower petal

It shines quietly

And then swings lightly

and falls like a love tear drop

This lyric, with its accompanying guitar melody, was enlisted as the theme song for the classic film, “Black Orpheus,” from 1959.  Orpheus sings it almost as a lullaby to his beloved Eurydice, who is running away from death, in this brilliant re-telling of the Greek myth, set to the samba  beats of Carnaval: 

Happiness of the poor seems

The great illusion of Carnival

We work all year

For a dream moment

To make the fantasy

Of king or pirate or gardener

For everything is finished in (Ash) Wednesday

Here, in the metaphor of the lively night of Carnaval giving way to the cold dawn of Lent, we have the promise and fragility of romantic love contrasted with the stark certainty of death.  Eurydice will die before the coming of dawn, unless Orpheus can save her.  Ironically, in the movie he kills her by trying to save her from Death.  She is hanging from an electric wire in a tram station, to which she has leapt after being cornered in the station by the Carnaval figure of death, in a skull mask.  In an attempt to find her and save her, Orpheus turns the power on, instantly electrocuting her.  Orpheus’ immediate and stabbing grief speaks to the universality of human suffering and the transient, elusive quality of happiness, themes which Buddhism addresses directly in its call for compassion for all sentient beings. 

The lyrics to “A Felicidade” remind me so much of another poetic song with a Buddhist theme:  “Everything Must Change; Nothing Stays the Same,” recorded by both George Benson and Randy Crawford.   In both songs, the listener is brought back to the present moment by reflecting on the impermanence of all phenomena and beings.  As the latter song reminds us,  “There are not many things in Life you can be sure of/ Except rain comes from the clouds; sun lights up the sky; and hummingbirds do fly.”

For more of my writings on spiritual themes, please visit