The Day of Saudade
When I first read what the Portuguese word saudade meant, I cried really hard.
I had been feeling it my whole life and never had a word to express the complexity of this beautiful expression. I was in a deep state of grief (another story for a later time) and I was feeling it intensely, for many different things. So, I went on a research bender to better understand this elusive, emotionally potent word. I found that the word perfectly set the tone for the heart and soul of what I wanted our new company to reflect, regardless of where the services, products or work would take us.
So, it's fitting that our first blog post was meant to be today, January 30th, 2018. The official Day of Saudade in Brazil.
The word saudade was used going back as far as the 13th century. Some specialists say the word may have originated during the Great Portuguese Discoveries, giving meaning to the sadness felt about those who departed on journeys to unknown seas and disappeared in shipwrecks, died in battle, or simply never returned. Those who stayed behind—mostly women and children—suffered deeply in their absence.
In the latter half of the 20th century, saudade became associated with the feeling of longing for one's homeland, as hundreds of thousands of Portuguese-speaking people left in search of better futures in South America, North America and Western Europe.
PRONUNCIATION + DEFINITION
To start, I admit I could not pronounce it for the life of me. I consider myself a linguistically challenged American, so I scoured the internet to find some help. Here's my quick guide:
The Portuguese pronunciation is 2 syllables:
SOU (like sour, drop the r) and DOD (rhymes with pod)
Brazilian Portuguese adds a soft "g" to the end:
SOU-DOD-JAY (like the letter "j")
The Dicionário Houaiss da Língua Portuguesa defines saudade (or saudades, plural) as "A somewhat melancholic feeling of incompleteness. It is related to thinking back on situations of privation due to the absence of someone or something, to move away from a place or thing, or to the absence of a set of particular and desirable experiences and pleasures once lived."
The Dictionary from the Royal Galician Academy, on the other hand, defines saudade as an "intimate feeling and mood caused by the longing for something absent that is being missed. This can take different aspects, from concrete realities to the mysterious and transcendent. It is quite prevalent and characteristic of the galician-portuguese world, but it can also be found in other cultures." However, it is a notoriously difficult word to translate in many languages, especially English.
Some English translations of the word are rendered longing, missingness, nostalgia or melancholy. Love, pain, grief, hope and despair all orbit around these translations–although none of these words convey the other complex facets of the feeling.
In the book In Portugal of 1912, A. F. G. Bell writes:
"The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness."
A stronger form of saudade may be felt towards people and things whose whereabouts are unknown, such as old ways and sayings; a lost lover who is sadly missed; a faraway place where one was raised; loved ones who have died; feelings and stimuli one used to have; and the faded, yet golden memories of youth.
Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo describes it as
"a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy."
EVERYONE SINGS ABOUT IT
As with all emotions, saudade has been an inspiration for many musicians, old and new. The music related to this feeling is vast and I can't do it justice in this small post.
When I think of the sound of saudade, I hear Astrud and João Gilberto, Antonio Carlos Jobim and Stan Getz on the record player. It conjures up Bossa Nova from the 1950' and 60's. It's music you don't really dance to. You sway and drink a glass of wine while making dinner, or you watch the sunset while it softly plays.
The Good Son, a 1990 album by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, was heavily informed by Cave's mental state at the time, which he has described as saudade. He told journalist Chris Bohn: "When I explained to someone that what I wanted to write about was the memory of things that I thought were lost for me, I was told that the Portuguese word for this feeling was saudade. It's not nostalgia but something sadder."
"Nancy Spain", a song by Barney Rush, made famous by an adaptation by Christy Moore, is another example of the use of saudade in contemporary Irish music, the chorus of which is:
"No matter where I wander I'm still haunted by your name
The portrait of your beauty stays the same
Standing by the ocean wondering where you've gone
If you'll return again
Where is the ring I gave to Nancy Spain?"
If your interest is piqued, I'd recommend you checkout all the resource links below to hear the variety of music that saudade inspires. We're working on a Spotify playlist that will eventually be shared. Please stay tuned!
A SPECIAL THANK YOU
Saudade is most commonly described as "the love that remains". It is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places, or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again.
Today, on this very special day, I feel saudades for many things I've loved and lost. And for the things yet to come. All the love, happiness and heartache. I welcome the sweet ache of it all.
Time to throw on a record and drink some wine.
If you click on any of these links, listen to the first one from NPR. Especially, if you love music. Fast forward to the 11:40 mark, they also explain the different pronunciations. Way better than the robot voices on the dictionary websites. Below is a list of various articles, songs and radio shows. Enjoy!
Saudade: An Untranslatable, Undeniably Potent Word
Antonio Carlos Jobim's song "Waters of March"
"Sodade" (saudade in Cape Verdean Creole) by Cape Verde singer Cesária Évora
Saudade: The Presence of Absence, by Laurie Burrows Grad
Saudade by John Freeman - Poets.org