When wondering about the one word that really captures the essence of the Portuguese soul, saudade [saw-da-dɨ] is quite likely the term that immediately comes to mind. But what does it mean? In English there isn’t a direct equivalent, a word that truly translates the meaning of saudade. Let me explain. Saudade is a nostalgic longing to be near someone or something that is distant or that has been lost. A recurring theme in Portuguese and Brazilian literature, saudade evokes a sense of incompleteness because there’s something missing. Saudade suggests a bittersweet nostalgia but it is not just nostalgia for something that was lost, it can also be a yearning for something that we might have or experience again in the future. It’s love and sadness combined caused by the absence of someone or something.
Portuguese scholar Audrey Bell attempted to translate this word and explain its meaning to the English reader several times. In his own words, saudade “is not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness.”
In Portuguese, you
can express your love
for someone you haven’t
seen for long by saying,
“Tenho saudades tuas”,
which literally translates
as “I have saudades
of you’” (it means
“I miss you”).
If you’re saying your goodbyes to a loved one, let’s say your spouse or best friend, who will be away for months, you might feel like you will “morrer de saudades”, literally “die with saudades”. Basically, you’ll miss this person deeply. Then there’s the case of a loved one who passed away and “deixou saudades”, it literally means “left saudades” (in a proper English translation, he/she “is missed”). You can also kill your saudades of someone (“matar saudades de alguém”) when you finally see them again, which is good.
Sometimes it’s not people we miss but things, places, or a specific time in our lives. “Que saudade da comida portuguesa!” literally, “Such saudade of the Portuguese food!”. This happens to me often when I’m out of Portugal. I miss the Portuguese food!
Saudade and Fado
Fado, a traditional form of Portuguese music characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, relates to saudade. The word fado actually means ‘faith’, ‘destiny’ as it originates in the Latin word fatum, from which we got the English word ‘fate’. Fado songs can be about anything, a city that we love, the sea, a lost love, or beautiful memories, but it needs to be infused with a sentiment of fatefulness, melancholia, and saudade.
Can You Capture Saudade in a Photo?
North American photographer Nick Tauro Jr. spent a month in Portugal looking for saudade. He guarantees that it is evident on the streets, in the architecture and routines. It is almost palpable. From that search around Portugal, he came up with around 9,000 photos which were edited into a photobook entitled, not surprisingly, “Saudade”.
Are there any terms in your mother tongue that you feel are untranslatable? Let me know in the comments section below.