Wanderlino Arruda
Djalma Souto


The Word “Saudade”

Wanderlino Arruda

As Bess Sondel so eloquently states, Words can evoke every emotion possible: shock, joy, terror, happiness, nostalgia, peace… Words have such terrifying power, they can drag one down to apathy or shoot you up to delirium, they can exalt to extreme moral and esthetic experiences. This is the most absolute truth. I don’t think there is a living soul anywhere that doubts it. Words have a force, a resistance, a power that supplants almost everything else that exists in the world. Armies, Dynasties, Republics… these all pass, but words, words are never lost. They are eternal, firmer than the granite of ancient monuments and palaces. The words of Socrates, tran scripted by Plato, supplanted all Greek government with its military and civil works. The majestic pyramids and sphinx of Egypt will one day turn to dust, but the words inscribed in the Book of the Dead will never disappear.

It is probably because of this, that we have at our disposition, in the Portuguese language, a word that, in the entire world, has no equal in sense, meaning and semantic force, as much power in the denotative sense (if this is possible) as well as the connotative sense, as the word saudade, its origin as murky and obscure as the depths of the Portuguese oceans, as dark, deep and mysterious as the virginity of the Amazon jungle, or as scalding as African Angola and Mozambique, also speakers of the Lusitanian language.

So, then… Let me ask you. Where exactly does the word saudade come from? From the Latin solitate, meaning solitude, loneliness? Or from the Arabian saudah? Perhaps the ancient Spanish soydade, suydade? Even Antenor Nascentes, who was our leading expert in etymology, doesn’t quite convince us in his explanation of the word’s beginning. Could it have been derived from the Portuguese word saúde, which means health, because it looks like a phonetic analogy? I really doubt it.

So, not being possible, at the present time, to define where this strange and magnetic word came from, we at least have the satisfaction and honor of having it securely within the domain of our Portuguese vocabulary. This, we can do without fear of interference from any language found in or out of the Latin family of languages. The French word solitude, exactly the same as in English, is far from expressing the feeling that saudade represents to us. The Esperanto words, (re)sopiro and rememoro are also just as far from defining what we mean when we use the word saudade. They are miles away from expressing the semantic treasure we tap when we use it.

And, by the way, just what is saudade? It’s an emotion that should dwell within the heart of all humanity, of all races, rich or poor, and in every country of the world. Saudade doesn’t choose, it doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t have to beg for permission to present itself. It can come as softly as a breeze or as terrifying as a thunderbolt out of the blue, arriving when we least expect. Saudade is solitude’s best friend, close companion, inseparable lover, invisible visit of friendship, sometimes smoldering coals of passion, and in many cases, a suave perfume, shared moments of tenderness.

To tell the truth, it’s not easy to define the feeling-meaning of saudade. And, it may be for this alone, that it exists only as an icon of the mystic Portuguese language. Saudade is even more exalted in the Brazilian dialect, this marvelous mixture of three great primordial races. White European, Black African and Tupi Amerindian. Saudade is a pain that suffocates the heart and gratifies the soul. Saudade is the presence of the absent, the memory of the loved one, a sort of bittersweet, give and take arrangement of convenience with distance, a joyful, pleasant sorrow of the seen-unseen, of love, in the absence of the beloved.

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