Saudade is a Portuguese and Galician word for a feeling of longing for something that one is fond of, which is gone, but might return in the distant future. It often carries a fatalistic tone implying a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might really never return.
In 2004, 'saudade' was considered, according to an English researcher, the seventh hardest expression in the world to translate. Also, in 2007 the word was determined by a German investigation to be the sixth most beautiful word in the world.
In his book In Portugal (1912), A.F.G Bell writes:
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' is often translated into English as nostalgia, but it is a more intense feeling. In an interview about his 1990 album The Good Son, Nick Cave characterized in this way the feeling that stressed his new work:
When I explained to someone that what I wanted to write about was the memory of things that I thought were lost for me, I was told that the Portuguese word for this feeling was 'saudade'. It's not nostalgia but something sadder.
Nostalgia implies mixed feelings, a memory of happiness but a sadness for its impossible return and sole existence in the past. 'Saudade' is like nostalgia but with the hope that what is being longed for might return, even if that return is unlikely or so distant in the future to be almost of no consequence to the present. One might make a strong analogy with nostalgia as a feeling one has for a loved one who has died and 'saudade' as a feeling one has for a loved one who has disappeared or is simply currently absent. Nostalgia is located in the past and is somewhat conformist while 'saudade' is very present, anguishing, anxious and extends into the future.
For instance, the phrases "Tenho saudades tuas" (literally, "I have 'saudade' for you") and "Eu sinto a tua falta" ("I feel your absence") would each be translated into English as "I miss you" — both "falta" and "saudade" being translated as "missing." However, these two statements carry very different sentiments in Portuguese. The first sentence is never told to anyone personally, but the second can be. The first would be said by a person whose lover has been abroad for sometime, it would be said over the phone or written in a letter. The second would be said by someone who has divorced, or whose partner is not usually at home, and would be said personally.
One of the best descriptions of the word 'saudade' was made by Chico Buarque de Hollanda on his song Pedaço de mim, when he says. "saudade é arrumar o quarto do filho que já morreu." which roughly translates to "saudade is to tidy the bedroom of a son who has already died."
History of usage
The word saudade was used in the Cancioneiro da Ajuda (13th century), Cancioneiro da Vaticana and by poets of the time of by King Denis of Portugal.  Some specialists say the word may have originated during the Great Portuguese Discoveries, giving meaning to the sadness felt about those who departed on journeys to unknown seas and disappeared in shipwrecks, died in battle, or simply never returned. Those who stayed behind—mostly women and children—suffered deeply in their absence; the state of mind has subsequently become a "Portuguese way of life": a constant feeling of absence, the sadness of something that's missing, wishful longing for completeness or wholeness and the yearning for the return of that now gone, a desire for presence as opposed to absence—as it is said in Portuguese, a strong desire to "matar as saudades" (lit. to kill the saudades).
The same feeling is also found in Brazil, the destination of immigrants and African slaves who never saw their homelands again. The feeling was so ingrained in the Brazilian mind that virtually every immigrant that settled there, including people with radically different mindsets, Germans and Japanese for example, soon internalised the notion. Another permanent source of 'saudades' for the Brazilians is the vastness of the country itself, which in the past caused most people to feel alone almost everywhere.
In the latter half of the 20th century, 'saudade' became associated with the feeling of longing for one's homeland, as hundreds of thousands of Portuguese-speaking people left in search of better futures in North America and Western Europe.
Besides the implications derived from an emigratory trend from the motherland, 'saudade' is historically speaking the term meant to describe the decline of Portugal's role in world politics and power. During the so-called 'Golden Age', synonymous with the era of discoveries, Portugal had undeniably risen to the status of a world power, its monarchy being one of the richest in Europe at the time.
Since then, with the rise of competition from other European nations, the country went both colonially and economically into a prolonged period of decay. This period of decline and resignation from the world's cultural stage marked the rise of 'saudade', aptly described by a sentence from its national anthem: 'Levantai hoje de novo o esplendor de Portugal' (Let us today once again restore the splendour of Portugal).
Saudade in music
Perhaps the kind of music that best typifies the feeling of 'saudade' is the traditional Portuguese fado. Longing, nostalgia and jealousy are the most popular themes, in short narratives of typical city life. Fado is a musical cultural expression and recognition of this unassailable determinism which compels the resigned yearning of saudade, a bittersweet, existential yearning and hopefulness towards something over which one has no control.
In addiction, the word 'saudade', together with some influences of fado, can be seen in many other musical manifestations, such as:
- The Brazilian bossa nova, as exemplified by the famous Tom Jobim song Chega de Saudade (No more saudade or No more blues
- The music developed in the African former Portuguese colonies, like Sodade, the Cape Verdian singer Cesária Évora's famous song
- Some music for Portuguese and Spanish guitar composed in the Iberian and Iberoamerican countries, for example several pieces by the Paraguayan guitarist Augustin Barrios, including Choro de Saudade and Preludio Saudade.
- Some music composed under the cultural influence of Portugal, Brazil or another Portuguese-speaking country. The French composer Darius Milhaud, on returning in 1919 from two years in Brazil, composed the suite Saudades Do Brasil. Also the J-Rock band Porno Graffiti has a song titled "サウダージ", pronounced "Saudaaji".
- IPA /sɑʊˈdade/ in Galician, /sɑʊˈdad/ or /sɑʊˈdadɨ/ in European Portuguese and /sɑʊˈdadʒi/ or /sɑʊˈdadi/ in Brazilian Portuguese.
- Today Translations, The most unstranslatable word of the world, June 2004.
- Institut für Auslandbeziehungen, Das schönste ABC der Welt.
- Bell, A.F. (1912) In Portugal. London and New York: The Bodley Head. Quoted in Emmons, Shirlee and Wilbur Watkins Lewis (2006) Researching the Song: A Lexicon. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, p. 402.
- Basto, Cláudio. Saudade em português e galego. Revista Lusitana, Vol XVII. Lisboa: Livraria Clássica Editora,1914.