The Past is Prologue: Sehnsucht x Saudade

∆ some miscellaneous thoughts on music, language, and memory ∆

Sehnsucht Ger. — vague personal yearning, often to the point of obsession or addiction, in that German way

Saudade Por. — wistful longing for something, or someone, once possessed, and the hope of its return

Two words, similar in sentiment yet continents apart. In both, the yearning is better left unresolved, a kind of pleasure derived from constant minor pain. Yet these terms diverge in how one responds to them. One might say Germans turn inward while Brazilians do the opposite, but, of course, it’s more nuanced. To my ears, saudade is static basking, perhaps on one chord, futilely sharing in the hypnotic serenade. In contrast, sehnsucht is the ecstatic catharsis so engrained in that heavy Germanic canon–reaching the sublime through the personal.

Sehnsucht v. Saudade for more words or below for these ideas in music

SEHNSUCHT

SAUDADE

NOSTALGIA is as close as I’ve come to these affects in English. But as anyone who’s tried to explain a word to a friend after spending time abroad will know, the task is Sisyphean. These locutions don’t only carry definitions; they come linked to histories and customs. Better to let the art speak for itself.

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