I’m a writer, literary scholar, and booklover. Saudade is a really special word for me. Its untranslatability stimulates curiosity. Saudade. An inspiring concept that actually inspired my first book and will always be close to my heart. Saudade contains everything a language explorer seeks. I found many definitions and many works of culture – books, poems, songs, even a whole music album! I remember when I was first introduced to this word and how it was continuously present in my surroundings.

What does it mean?

I’ve spent the last month in Lisbon and tried to find out what saudade actually means for different people. I’ve met over a dozen women and asked them about their life, experience, and feeling for the city. My Polish interlocutors each have a different understanding of saudade. For one of them, it means a strange habit of Portuguese to stare at the ocean and meditate. For another, it’s the Portuguese love for tradition. A Polish guide told me she feels saudade every time she leaves Portugal, even for a short time. That is her own experience!

I’ve also met girls who believe that saudade is a dead concept. Something we can see in music and literature but is not present in the everyday life of the nation. Some even say it is a negative phenomenon connected with the history of Portugal, especially with colonialism – a terrible experience for many different nations. Saudade is a pride of the past, after all… 

For different people, it means sadness, nostalgia, Portuguese spirit, homesickness, tradition. I believe saudade is a complex word that has many senses. I have been trying to explore it over the years as I’ve been visiting different parts of Portugal for almost a decade. But it was only a month ago when I decided to create a series of conversations, enrich it with my memories and publish it as a sentimental Lisbon guide titled Lisbon is a woman. This is my current project. I think I understand saudade better with every visit to Portugal. I’m deepening my knowledge of the history, tradition, habits, and language of Portuguese. I think it’s essential.

Two years ago, when I wrote my first book, I was understanding the meaning of saudade rather intuitively but now I know it was close to the truth. When I was preparing the project for the novel, I even read some books about Portugal and saudade.

What it means to me

Everything I got to know was, for me, similar to a depressing feeling of an artist who discovers that their ideas are not at all innovative since someone has created them already in the past. This is my saudade! A worry from the fact that the past was so beautiful, splendid, and magnificent that my achievements seem small and insignificant.

That’s why I’ve created a heroine-painter who has to face the great history of art but also to deal with her own past. I believe it’s saudade that made this fictional character so close to me, even if we are totally different.

I believe saudade for Portuguese people signifies pride, nostalgia, a fact of being on the edge of Europe. It’s some kind of loneliness. An expression of the philosophical nature of the nation. Sensitivity to beauty – art, fado music, azulejos, ocean. You can see many signs of the artistic soul of Portugal. So if Lisbon is a woman… Who is she? An artist?

Painter? Musician? Poet? I just can’t make up my mind.

One thing is sure – she knows saudade best.

She is saudade.

Author: Marta Lenkowska

Marta is a Polish writer, author of novels focused on interpersonal relations, searching for the true self, crossing borders. She loves a good book, and even more – talking about it. She has always been connected with her hometown – Toruń, although she loves travels and is deeply inspired by them.

One Reply to “A Foreigner’s Perspective on Saudade”

  1. Congratulations. That´s a great way to explain the meaning of this so special word for us (Brazilian People).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *