Sadness, melancholy, nostalgia, longing for the lost, contemplation of the passing time, gratitude and acceptance of one’s lack – all these emotions (and more) are hidden in one Portuguese word: saudade.

Although the word saudade derives from Latin solitas, which means loneliness, it should not be perceived in a negative way, as it encompasses a wide range of both positive and negative emotions, such as melancholy, sense of want, and nostalgia for what is irretrievably lost. Moreover, it embodies acceptance of the passing time and deep gratitude for the opportunity to experience this beautiful, definitely finished past. Saudade can be described, on the one hand, as sense of emptiness, and on the other, as the awareness that this void is impossible to fill, because the object of this longing remains distant and unreal.

Untranslatable sadness

There is no one right Polish word to be found that would fully reflect the complex meaning of saudade –  the nearest semantic neighbours of this word might be “roztęsknienie” (“longing”), “niepełność” (“partialness”), or “niekompletność” (“incompleteness”). Moreover, the meaning of Saudade should not be reduced to temporary state of mind; it is a deeply rooted personality trait, a kind of sad thoughtful reflection. The Portuguese emphasize that saudade constitutes an important element of their ethnic identity as it is inseparably embedded in their history and culture –
namely the Sebastianism myth, the past glory related to the colonial empire and the discoverer of the New World, as well as the lost political and economic power. Saudade, although difficult to explain in lexical terms outside Portugal, has been reflected in world-famous music. It is the primary means of expression in Fado music, which was born in poor districts of the Portuguese port cities. This music genre expresses the entire essence of saudade – an inconsolable longing, which comes from the very bottom of the soul, for something that cannot be described, is lost, and cannot be retrieved.

Sadness in the world

Although saudade is an untranslatable word that exists only in Portuguese, the very phenomenon of this nostalgic melancholy is known throughout the world, and bears numerous names in various cultures. In Galicia, a Spanish province with strong cultural ties to northern Portugal, it is called morriña, whereas in Brazil it exists under the name of banzo. The words that are very similar to the Portuguese saudade are the Finish word kaiho, meaning the sorrow of the soul caused by longing for the unspecified, or the Romanian word dor – desire for something that is unreachable and little bit unreal. The complexity of saudade can be, in a sense, compared to Weltschmerz, even though the most important feature in the German equivalent of world-pain is a sense of hopelessness and complete resignation, whereas the dominating emotion in the Portuguese term is sentimental reverie accompanying longing.
Examples of melancholy can also be found in cultures that are slightly more distant from European cultures – in the Arab world, people use the word wajd, which is a state of intense sadness caused by the memory of a loved one who is absent. The feeling of irreversible loss is mixed, however, with gratitude that a given person had a chance to appear in someone’s life. On the other hand, in Japanese there exists an expression natsukashii, which is commonly understood as a warm emotion felt when reminiscing “the good old times”, which also conveys nostalgia and regret for what has passed. Its Korean equivalent is keurium. Interestingly, saudade also exists in Esperanto. It is hidden in the expression saŭdado, which was transferred directly to this language precisely because of its untranslatability. In order to properly express it in Polish, this term requires a much more elaborate description, although its meaning is understood instinctively.