Poet's Choice By Edward Hirsch

By Edward Hirsch
Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Portuguese and Galician term "saudade" suggests a profoundly bittersweet nostalgia. Aubrey F. G. Bell described it as 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" ("In Portugal," 1912). It is not just a nostalgia for something that was lost; it can also be a yearning for something that might have been. The feeling can be overwhelming, and the Portuguese speak of the desire to "matar as saudades" ("to kill the saudades").

Whereas we tend to consign a dark, bittersweet nostalgia to the all-encompassing dustbin of sentimentality, the Hispanic sensibility has saved it as a poignant and durable feeling relating to the transitoriness of life. Saudade, like duende, is a name for something we don't have an official word or term for in English, but can recognize when manifested in music or called back in poetry.

Ten years ago, I was moved by the Nicaraguan poet Claribel Alegría's book titled "Saudade," which Carolyn Forché rendered as "Sorrow" (1999), a collection of yearning love poems, brief piercing lyrics, to her dead husband, Darwin J. "Bud" Flakoll, her collaborator, translator and companion for nearly fifty years. "Sadness/can't cope with me," she declares, "I lead it toward life/and it evaporates" ("It Cannot").

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Searching for You

I went out searching for you

crossing valleys

and mountains

ploughing distant seas

asking of the clouds

and the wind your whereabouts

it was all useless


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