It seems to me we can never give up longing and wishing while we are still alive. There are certain things we feel to be beautiful and good, and we must hunger for them.
― George Eliot
Recently a friend and I were discussing this idea of human longing and nostalgia. Missing someone or something that we once loved and that is no longer in our lives. It’s a concept which heavily informs his work as an artist and which has inspired some of the most powerful love poetry & music ever written. It can be condensed into one beautiful Portuguese word Saudade (pronounced Saudadji in Brazilian). It’s a feeling of incompleteness and melancholy characteristic of the Portuguese and Brazilian temperament. And today we’re going to look at a general overview of the topic and some poetry and music I feel best illustrate it.
So basically, Saudade is a longing. For love, for acceptance for a connection of some kind. We all have this desire for presence, missing something which is gone and wanting it back, especially love, losing love gives rise to enormous longing and suffering. I’m sure you’ve experienced that feeling that gnawing at the heart, the pain of remembering. Actually in Portuguese culture Saudade often carries the knowledge that the what is lost might never return – it’s much darker and melodramatic than the upbeat Saudade of Brazil which through hundreds of years of assimilation of cultures has become a much more amorphous term in that you can have Saudade for people, things, food, even for places you’ve never been. Saudade is the crossroads if you like, between loss and desire, something’s gone you want it returned. The great Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo describes it as ’a pleasure you suffer and an ailment you enjoy’. For me it’s the heartbreaking language of the soul, I suppose the best way is to describe saudade as the hearts desire and I can hear in these lines from Russian poet Anna Akhmatova:
‘This remorseless black separation’
I bear equally with you.
Why cry? Rather, give me your hand,
Promise to visit me in dream.
You and I – are like two mountains.
You and I – not meeting in this world.
If only sometimes, at midnight,
You’d send me a greeting through the stars.
Love is a huge matter when talking about Saudade. It’s what most poets and musicians write about and are inspired by. In terms of lost love you are missing part of yourself that you can no longer access. Even though reminiscing and vain hope are incredibly painful, you don’t want to let go of the heartache because you let go of the person, so you carry it with you. And this is the interesting point about Saudade, it is a missing and an absence but because you carry it with you it is also a presence. On love, firstly I went for this one by Chilean poet Pablo Neruda for it’s tender pleading ‘don’t go far off, don’t leave me’ It’s one of his 100 love sonnets dedicated to his beloved wife Matilde Urrutia. Neruda is well aware of what the sorrow of separation is like, he does not want to risk the agony of it and cannot bear even the thought of it. In Sonnet 45 he writes:
Don’t go far off, not even for a day, because –
Because – I don’t know how to say it: a day is long
And I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
When the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.
Don’t leave me, even for an hour, because
Then the little drops of anguish will all run together,
The smoke that roams looking for a home will drift
Into me, choking my lost heart.
Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;
May your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.
Don’t leave me for a second, my dearest,
Because in that moment you’ll have gone so far
I’ll wander maziliy over all the earth, asking,
Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?
Secondly, from her collection Radio Crackling, Radio Gone, American poet Lisa Olstein writes a sad poem of longing and disappointment. Dear One Absent This Long While stirs up those old feelings again of loss, rejection, sadness that something is unfinished or imperfect without ones other half. I know myself, losing love, it’s the bitter-sweetness of the longing that somehow lulls you back to it. Hear the yearning in the words ‘I expect you’ as she goes on to search for little happiness’s while coping with the reality that her lover might never come back. She says:
It has been so wet stones glaze in moss;
everything blooms coldly.
I expect you. I thought one night it was you
at the base of the drive, you at the foot of the stairs,
you in a shiver of light, but each time
leaves in wind revealed themselves,
the retreating shadow of a fox, daybreak.
We expect you, cat and I, bluebirds and I, the stove.
In May we dreamed of wreaths burning on bonfires
over which young men and women leapt.
June efforts quietly.
I’ve planted vegetables along each garden wall
so even if spring continues to disappoint
we can say at least the lettuce loved the rain.
I have new gloves and a new hoe.
I practice eulogies. He was a hawk
with white feathered legs. She had the quiet ribs
of a salamander crossing the old pony post road.
Yours is the name the leaves chatter
at the edge of the un-rabbited woods.