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Poet's Choice By Edward Hirsch

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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").

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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

useless


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