Saudade: A Feeling Beyond Longing




Saudade. It is what I feel when the plane rises above the clouds and the destination below fades away from view.
Saudade. It is what I feel at airports, watching people coming and going, into and out of loving embraces that remind me of those special people in my own heart from the past, present, and future to come.

What, exactly does Saudade mean?

Saudade is a Portuguese and Galician word that has no direct translation in English. It describes a deep emotional state, which may be expressed as a feeling of longing. But it is beyond a longing, and the explanation is not so simple.

I had previously attempted to learn Portuguese in my early 20s when I was obsessed with Brazilian Bossa Nova music and dreamed of drinking caipirinhas on the warm sands of Copacabana. However, my attempts were meager, I never made it it Brazil, and at the time, I never heard of the word Saudade. Then while visiting Lisbon in Portugal last summer, I learned of Saudade. I learned of the word which accurately summed up so many moments of intense feeling that I’ve felt all my years.

Because this word is so difficult to explain, and I want to do it proper justice, I decided to go right to the source and ask my Portuguese and Brazilian friends for their explanations of Saudade. Here is Saudade, in their words:

“Saudade is a feeling of missing or longing for something that you love…that means something to you. It is a state of your heart. It can be a person, a moment. It can be a nostalgia for something you lived, but maybe something that has not even happened. And although it is melancholic, it is also beautiful and you cherish it. It’s a very profound word and we feel it a lot.”   -D., from Rio de Janeiro

“I Googled and I love this definition: ‘Yearning, overtone of melancholy and brooding loneliness, and an almost mystical reverence for nature that permeates Portuguese and Brazilian lyric poetry.’ It’s hard for me to put it in English…it’s also the feeling of missing something.”  –J., from Lisbon

“Saudade is in love, saudade is in friendship, saudade is in music, saudade is in life. You cannot explain saudade, but just feel it, just sing it. Saudade relates to nostalgia and melancholy, wanting more, like something, like someone…some moment. It is a word itself that is a feeling.” -M., from Porto



Saudade, beyond longing

What I love is that it’s beyond longing. It can be a beautiful mix of both happy and sad. Both past and future. Both an absence and a presence. Traveling is one of my passions, and it is often on those journeys that I feel Saudade. I think of home in San Francisco…I think of the cities that I’ve fallen in love with over the years and their streets, their hidden alleys, their cafes, their skies…I think of the kind souls along the way and their eyes, their voices, their energy…I think of the perpetual change that we experience, always arriving and leaving…and I think of the future dreams that haven’t happened yet…the people I haven’t met yet but miss already somehow.

Sometimes it’s a song that so gently yet powerfully moves me, and reminds me of a person, a moment or place. This NPR segment on Saudade is a beautiful collection of music to express that “untranslatable, undeniably potent word.” Through the songs, one can better understand Saudade.

I’m going through a period of transition in my life right now, and as the cycle of change continues, I welcome Saudade to envelop me.

To those people, to those moments, to those places I say, “Tenho saudades tuas.”



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