There is a fact that you eventually have to come to terms with as a language learner such as myself: there are going to be certain words in foreign languages that have no direct translation to the English language. The art of translation is an imperfect one, which means that you need to be comfortable doing your best to come up with an adequate description of a foreign word even if there is no direct translation available.
The beauty of studying a foreign language is being able to use one word that is able to sum up a number of different emotions and feelings that are tied together. While there are singular phrases and/or words in the English language that have no equivalent in other languages, the same could be said for the Portuguese word of ‘Saudade.’
According to Dictionary.com, Saudade means “a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament.” As you can see from the English definition that I have written about above, there are a great number of different words in English that you could use to describe saudade in Portuguese. While there are multiple words in the English language that could be translated to have the same meaning as saudade, however, in its’ culture and in the overall context, there is only one saudade in its’ original language of Portuguese.
While I have never been to Brazil or to Portugal, I have recently begun to study the Portuguese language in earnest. I now believe that is a really powerful language in terms of communicating both emotions and feelings. Portuguese is a romance language like Spanish, and I have found that the way I communicate in either of these two romance languages is much different than how I communicate in my mother tongue of English. I think that there is a huge variety of ways for which you can express your emotions and feelings in romance languages such as Spanish or Portuguese, and you can be more expressive in those ways when compared to the English language.
I first learned about saudade not from my Portuguese language studies but rather from when I was watching a recent episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show, “Parts Unknown”, when he is visiting Porto, Portugal. There’s a beautiful scene in that episode where Mr. Bourdain is listening to an older woman singing a melodic song in Portuguese about how she has experienced saudade in her past, and how she mourns for a lost lover.
It goes to show you how any human being can relate to that exact feeling even if each individual language has a different way of stating what that feeling is. If you think about saudade in English when it comes to musical expression, the first thing that comes to my mind is the ‘blues.’ You can say that someone has the ‘blues’ and is feeling upset or bummed out about life. However, the ‘blues’ is also a form of expressive music in English similar to how singers and musicians can express saudade in Portuguese musical styles.
I have come to love the word, saudade, because regardless of the fact that it comes from a different language, everyone around the world can relate to it in terms of what it means. Everyone experiences saudade whether they realize it or not. Saudade is longing for someone or something that you’re nostalgic for from your past but which you’re unable to have with you in the present. It’s a deep yearning to go back in time to experience those positive, happy moments that put a smile on our face. It’s a very human thing to want to dive back into your memories and make them real again because one day, that’s all that we’re truly left with.
Whether it’s a long lost lover, a memorable trip, or a fun night out with your close friends, saudade can represent any one of those unique, happy memories. The older a person gets, the more they’re likely to experience saudade because it’s only natural to want the people or things back in your life that were once present and real. While our memories can be happy and joyous, they can also be painful and sad. If you’re yearning for a family member who passed away or a lover who you parted ways with, you’re going to be having saudade. In order to go through saudade, you need to experience life in all of its’ ups and downs. You need to feel things, have experiences, go off to new places, be part of events, etc. in order to make those memories happen whether they end up being beautiful or ugly. That is saudade at its’ core.
Millions of love poems and songs have been written about saudade, whether these feelings and emotions were described in the original Portuguese or other languages such as English, Spanish, etc. While we are happy to have had those experiences, met those people, and done those things, we are also sad because we know those occurrences are in the past and may never come to us again in our lives. Saudade is a very strong emotion and one that we all experience at least once.
When it comes to saudade, it’s important to remember that it’s still necessary to move on emotionally to focus on the present and the future. While it’s nice to reminisce about past memories and experiences, you don’t want to do it so often that you’re handicapping yourself from thinking about what’s next to come in your life, and what your future holds. Like many things in life, there’s a balance to be struck between the past, the present, and the future. Saudade is a powerful and potent feeling but you should not let it consume you.
If you decide to learn more about what saudade is, you should invest in studying the Portuguese language. When it comes to using ‘saudade’ in European Portuguese, it would look something like, “Tenho saudades tuas.” A sentence with ‘saudade’ in Brazilian Portuguese would look a little bit different but very similar to the European structure and form. “Tenho saudades de você”, which translates in English literally as “I have saudade of you” or if you are using the better, more figurative translation of this sentence; Either “I miss you” or “I have feelings for you” would work best in this context.
When it comes to other countries’ languages, there are words that come close to describing what saudade is. Whether its’ the ‘blues’ in America, ‘Sehnsucht’ in Germany, or ‘Tizita’ in Ethiopia, many cultures around the world have their own form of saudade in their respective languages. Saudade seems to be a cultural centerpiece in both Brazil and Portugal with there even being a specific day devoted to the word in Brazil that takes places every year on January 30th.
The fact that this word ‘saudade’ can have figurative translations to other similar words in different languages, and cultures in other parts of the world should show us how interconnected the world really is. There is universality in the human experience that transcends language, culture, and national boundaries. We all feel joy, pain, sorrow, anger, and happiness.
Considering that many languages across the world have a word such as the Portuguese ‘saudade’ to represent the ups and downs of life is a testament to how there is more that should unite us than divide us as human beings. Whether it’s a young Portuguese sailor missing his homeland on the initial journey to the new world, or an elderly man thinking about a lifetime of memories in the local park while feeding the birds as time passes by, saudade is saudade.