Saudade in literature and music


Saudade (Photo credit: A Sheep in Man’s Clothing)

In an article on Rachel Pieh Jones blog Djiboutijones I recently wrote about the feeling of saudade (port.) that can affect everyone who has to move and leave places and persons they like behind.

The term of saudade derives from the latin SOLITATEM but its semantic field in Portuguese is much wider than the direct translation from the latin source, which would be mainly “isolation” and “loneliness”.

Saudade (do ant. soedade, soidade, suidade – Lat. solitate, com influência de saudar), s.f. lembrança triste e suave de pessoas ou coisas distantes ou extintas, acompanhada do desejo de as tornar a ver ou a possuir; pesar pela ausência de alguém que nos é querido; nostalgia; (Bot.) nome de várias plantas dipsacáceas e das respectivas flores; (no pl.) lembranças afectuosas apessoas ausentes; (no pl.) cumprimentos.  (cfr. Dicionario Universal Lingua Portuguesa, published by Cabo Verde Editoria.)

My translation: Saudade (feminine noun) describes a sad but sweet memory of persons or things that are distant or lost, accompanied by the desire to see or have them again; to feel grief over the absence of a person whom you love; nostalgia; (Bot.) the common name of various plants of the family of the dipsacaceae (cfr. the teasels), and their flowers (in the plural “saudades”). Affectionate remembrances of those who died; (in the plural saudades) may be used as a greeting [apparently this use is more common in Portugal].

During my research about this term, I discovered that in 2007 a German jury (commissioned by the Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e.V. in Berlin) assigned saudade the sixth place in a list about the 10 most beautiful words in the world and British survey among linguists and interpreters decided to put saudade in the Top-Ten-list of the untranslatable words (I will soon publish a post about possible translations of this term in other languages).

The word saudade was used the first time in the Galician-Portuguese Cancioneiro da Ajuda (probably from the last quarter of the 13th century (cfr. edition: Canconeiro da Ajuda (reimp. da ed. diplomática de Henry H. Carter) de Ramos, Maria Ana (introd.), Lisboa, Impersa Nacional-Casa da Moeda, 2007) which is a part of the Cancioneiro da Vaticana.  The Cancioneiro da Vaticana is a compilation of troubadour lyrics in Galician-Portuguese, i.e. a songbook that contains 1205 lyrics dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, and by poets of the time of King Denis of Portugal (1279-1325). Please find a definition of its origin here.

Lágrimas de Saudade (tears of saudade) is an anonymous work from the Cancioneiro de Paris (ff. 23v-24) “Lágrimas de saudade Vinde não vos detenhais Pois tardando me matais” (Tears of longing Come, do not linger For by tarrying you kill me).

Saudade occurs as a theme in Portuguese music since the 16th century, the golden age of Portugal. Saudade, as well as love suffering, is a common theme in many villancicos and cantigas composed by Portuguese authors.

Saudade is expressed in the Portuguese chanson, the Fado. Fado comes from Latin FATUM meaning “fate” or “destiny”. Fado is a Portuguese music style, generally sung by the fadista along with a Portuguese guitar. It is a musical cultural expression of the “unassailable determinism which compels the resigned yearning of saudade, a bitter-sweet, existential yearning and hopefulness towards something over which one has no control” (please find other definitions of saudade in my post).

The Paraguayan guitarist Agustin Barrios wrote several pieces invoking the feeling of saudade, including Choro de Saudade and Preludio Saudade. The term is prominent in Brazilian popular music too, like the first bossa nova song, Chega de Saudade (“No more saudade”, usually translated as “No More Blues”), written by Tom Jobim and performed by João Gilberto. In 1919, on returning from two years in Brazil, the French composer Darius Milhaud composed a suite, Saudades do Brasil which exemplified the concept of saudade. The singer Amália Rodrigues typified themes of saudade in some of her songs and the spanish singer Julio Iglesias, whose father is a Galician, speaks of saudade in his song Un Canto a Galicia (which roughly translates as “a song/chant for Galicia”). “In the song, he passionately uses the phrase to describe a deep and sad longing for his motherland, Galicia. He also performs a song called Morriñas, where he describes the Galicians as having a deeply strong saudade.” [cfr.Wikipedia]

Saudade (Part II)” is also the title of a flute solo by the band Shpongle. New York City post-rock band Mice Parade released an album entitled Obrigado Saudade in 2004.  In 2006, the jazz fusion group Trio Beyond, consisting of John Scofield, Jack DeJohnette and Larry Goldings released an album dedicated to drummer Tony Williams (1945–1997), called Saudades. The US Funk-Metal-Band Extreme released an album with the title Saudades de Rock in 2008. Chris Rea also recorded a song entitled Saudade as a tribute to Ayrton Senna, the Brazilian three-times Formula One world champion killed on the track.

There are many more songs worth to be mentioned here, but I wanted to give just a first short insight into the variety of musical interpretations of saudade. And I would add a last one that I was glad to discover (as I’m living in the Netherlands and am still discovering many aspects of the Dutch culture). The Dutch jazz/rock guitarist Jan Akkerman did record a composition called Saudade, the centerpiece of his 1996 album Focus In Time.


Saudosismo is an artistic and philosophical idea that appears in the early 1900s. It is a highly poignant nostalgia for the way the things used to be; the longing for the old folkways, the idealization of the life that once was, the desire to escape the modern world and live as the noble Portuguese once did.  The founder of the Saudosismo was Joaquim Pereira Teixeira de Pascoaes (recte: de Vasconcelos, 1877-1952). He claimed “the consciousness towards the very own vigour of the portuguese nation in the alma portuguesa”:

Die saudade ist die durch das Leiden vergeistigte leibliche Liebe oder die durch das Verlangen verdinglichte geistige Liebe; sie ist Venus und Mutter Gottes in einer einzigen Frau. Sie ist die Synthese aus Himmel und Erde; der Punkt, in dem alle kosmischen Kräfte sich kreuzen; der Mittelpunkt des Alls: die Seele der Natur in der menschlichen Seele und die Seele des Menschen in der Seele der Natur. […] Sie ist eine latente Seelenverfassung, die morgen Bewusstsein und Lusitanische Kultur sein wird.”

Saudade is the spiritualized physical love obtained through suffering or the objectified spiritual love achieved through desire; she is Venus and Mother of God in one . She is the synthesis of heaven and earth; the point, where all the cosmic powers collide; the center of the universe: the soul of nature in the human soul and the soul of the human in the soul of nature. […] She is the latent spiritual condition, which tomorrow will be consciousness and lusitanian culture.” [my (very spontaneous) translation]

Through the Portuguese culture it’s possible to express the intensity of saudade which can be read (and felt!) through the poems from Conceição Lima, Vasco Cabral, Alda Lara, Mia Couto, Padre Jorge de Barros Duarte, Fernando Pessoa among others.

Saudades, só portugueses / Saudades – only Portuguese

Conseguem senti-las bem. / can know this feeling.

Porque têm essa palavra para dizer que as têm. /   Because only Portuguese do have this word,  to call it by this name. (Fernando Pessoa)


(Saudosismo written by Caetano Veloso)

17 replies »

  1. I found this post fascinating, I love reading this sort of thing about languages! Although I’m not sure about its etymology, I think that the notion of ‘hiraeth’ in Welsh is similar to what is conveyed by the term ‘saudade’ in Portuguese.

  2. Thank you Jonathan: I did publish an older version of the paragraph with the etymon. Thanks for pointing this out. The origin of port. saudade is SOLITATEM from SOLITAS, -ATIS. And about the Welsh “hiraeth” is pretty close to ‘saudade’, I have it already on my list for the post about possible translations of ‘saudade’ into other languages. Maybe you could help me to find some examples for a Welsh context with “hiraeth” that is similar to those with “saudade”? That would be really great. I found many other very similar terms in languages I don’t really know and am perfectly aware that it will cause some discussions, but I think it’s worth it 😉

  3. I’ll see what I can do. I think that ‘hiraeth’ is very much associated not just with missing home (i.e. homesickness) but crucially a sense of longing and almost nostalgia towards the land that one has left.

    • Thank you very much for your comment! I got inspired by articles like yours and thought to explore it. I know, it’s maybe “just a word”, but I’m fascinated by its layers of meanings and the fact that in some languages there are even music styles built on this concept and feeling (cfr. see my other post about saudade). Yes, please, lets continue the conversation on saudade.

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