The Portuguese word saudade means, broadly, to miss someone or something. But the English miss doesn’t begin to convey the intensity of saudade. It can cover the sentiments understood in words such as “longing” and “yearning,” as well as “homesickness” and “nostalgia”; in fact, it is all of those and more, a whole experience. When someone says, “Tenho saudades tuas”—”I have saudades for you”—while it can mean, simply, “I miss you,” it can be much stronger; it’s possible to have saudade for a person when you’re actually together yet have the feeling that in some way, emotionally or physically, you may be separated in the future. There’s a sense in which saudade is in fact a longing for the unattainable, or for a love that perhaps was once but can never return. Notions of saudade recur again and again in Portugal’s traditional fado music. In a 1912 book, In Portugal, the author, A.F.G. Bell, says, perhaps a little patronizingly, “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.”
Saudade in the New World
Although saudade first appeared in Portugal somewhere around the 15th century, there is something about it that is particularly suited to Portugal’s New World child, Brazil, where I come from. Everything there, including feelings, is so intense. This was brought home to me, literally, when I visited recently with Jake, my white American husband from Portland. His family is German, and though he’s not actually a cold person, compared to me he is so cold. It was summer in Brazil, so for the first time Jake saw our rain, real rain, rain with ice. He said, “Oh, what’s going on here, my God, I never saw such water!” In two minutes there is so much rain. He’d never seen that. To me, everything in his life is very plain; it never goes too deep. But in my country, when it rains, it rains like crazy. When it’s hot, it’s hot. When you hate someone you kill them and stab them. It’s all very deep and passionate. It’s Latin. When you love someone you do. And then you love them. I love my friends with all my heart. If they needed my organs I would kill myself for them. We never say “I love you” casually, the way people do in America. In Brazil, when you say it, it means a lot. And you feel saudade.