On Saudade and Longing: Two Poems

August 26, 2010

Have you ever felt a deep longing for something or someone?  Someone from your past, perhaps, or a place or time for which you feel an intense, nostalgic yearning.

There’s a wonderful word in Portuguese that describes this feeling: “Saudade,” which some define as a “feeling of incompleteness…due to the absence of someone or something…or the absence of a set of particular and desirable experiences and pleasures once lived.”

It can be very intense and somewhat hard to decipher.  You know when you feel it, however — and when you got it bad. I’ve tried to describe it in two poems over the years; although one could argue it is a consistent theme in much of my poetry.  (Perhaps it’s my Portuguese heritage?)

The first poem is called “Saudade,” and it was published in the literary journal Kimera in 2001:


I feel beliefs that I do not hold.
I am ravished by passions I repudiate.
–Fernando Pessoa

We’re surrounded by people
who sentimentalize collegiate life,
swoon over first marriages,
would kill to return to Rome, or
wish for the restitution of days
gone by, or worse, days
they’ve never known.
(The Portuguese have a word for it,
saudade, a longing for lost things.)

For myself, I have fond memories
of houses in New England
(where my childhood
blossomed, disappeared);
of a life of the mind,
of places for a brief time mine.
But the only thing I long for
is the old cherry tree,
in front of our home
— we were newly wed —
how it dashed its branches
against our roof.


The second poem, “Longing,” is from my poetic sequence called “Dwelling,” which a poet friend of mine has described as “a phenomenology of how we live on the Earth.”  This is the first time it has appeared anywhere (not for lack of trying!):


“Love is the distance

between you and what you love

what you love is your fate”

–Frank Bidart

Desire is a city street flush with longing;
losing is the darkness inhabiting that street.

Say that losing becomes a way of knowing,
words failing to capture its music–

Desire is to longing as longing is to losing.
If this is so, losing strengthens longing

as longing makes mystery of desire.
Concave mirrors cascading light in common focus

each reflecting and magnifying the other,
unformed or uninformed, but nevertheless–

Life’s little endings: the big unresolved, unrequited
unfolding of the world into what longing desires.


I’m not sure which poem is more successful at capturing that intensity of feeling and persistent yearning or desire.  (Well, obviously, someone thought “Saudade” caught it better, for it found its way into print.)

Frankly, I’m not sure the word saudade can ever really be described in English; we just have to feel it to understand it.

What do you feel saudades about?

–Scott Edward Anderson

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2 Responses to “On Saudade and Longing: Two Poems”

  1. I prefer poem number two. Thank you for writing this.

    Have you heard Thievery Corporation’s album Saudade?

    Full album here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W0CBzKfvA80

  2. […] to that longing (the Portuguese have a word for it, saudade, which I’ve defined elsewhere as a longing for lost things) is the feeling that I’ve found a home there, which I hope to fully realize in the not too […]

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