Ramon Piñeiro: Philosophy of Saudade Part II

Saudade in Rosalía

Ramón Piñeiro can be a little dry.  If you prefer the poetry, skip to the end and read the examples of Rosalía: they are bleak!

Besides the forms of solitude Rosalía speaks of explicitly- the loneliness of love and homesickness for the land or homeland- there are other manifestations of a yearning feeling, saudade, in her poetry.  Having seen what yearning is for Rosalía, now we must examine what saudade is in Rosalía.  However, since yearning (saudade) in Rosalía is a poetic and lyrical expression, it will be good to pause and consider the relationship between yearning and lyricism.

It hardly needs saying that yearning and lyricism have a lot in common.  Poets have been the ones who have done most to bring yearning to light, and struggled to express it, which indicates its close connection with lyricism. It is not for nothing that almost every study of the subject finds its evidence in poetry.  And it is quite natural that this should be the case.  Is not lyricism in the end the expression of, and the communication of, man’s feeling heart?  Now, these intimate feelings, insofar as they are lived, are yearning (saudade); insofar as they are expressed or communicated they are lyricism.  Both yearning (saudade) and lyricism come from a common root: the feeling heart of man.  These intimate feelings are the awareness of one’s own individuality, of the uniqueness of each human being.  Every man is a unique being and feels himself to be such in his feeling heart.  His solitude and yearning (saudade) live right there: all the many forms of his solitude, which are indeed varied since they take in the full range of his spiritual transcendence.  Since each person is unique, a unique individual who experiences himself and his existential solitude through his feelings, he is also a transcendent being.  Man’s spirit is constantly transcending loneliness, constantly communicating its unique being to other beings, with the world and, finally, to Being itself.  Man lives simultaneously in isolation and loneliness and in transcendence of his own being.  Solitude itself, without transcendence, with no reference to other beings or to Being, would lack all meaning.  Loneliness and yearning, saudade, is yearning for something.

So man’s being moves in two dimensions: that of his private solitude and that of his transcendent communication.  In the first dimension he lives out his uniqueness through his feelings; in the second, this unique being comes out of its isolation, transcends itself, and opens itself to everything that is outside itself, or that is beyond its own uniqueness.  This transcendence is engaged in an incessant activity of cognition and exercise of the will.  But every act of transcendence presupposes, beyond the individual from which it comes, a term of reference, a transcendent object of transcendence itself.  If in the activity of transcendence the term of reference to which the transcendence is directed is absent then the individual who is attempting transcendence- man- will feel solitary yearning, which will become powerfully apparent in direct contrast to the emptiness of the transcendence that fails to reach its term of reference.  It emerges from this that every form of transcendence, every activity that transcends the individual uniqueness of the human being is, at the same time, a path to his own loneliness in those cases where the transcendence is not fulfilled.  This happens, for example, with feelings of absence, of separation, of desire etc, which come to be, at root, real feelings of loneliness.  So when we feel the absence of someone (the loved one, let’s say) what we come to feel is our loneliness for that person- the loneliness of love; when we feel our separation from some thing (our homeland, let’s say)  we feel equally alone, we feel loneliness for the homeland; when we feel a desire for something (happiness, for example) we also feel alone, we feel a lack, the privation of that thing which we desire, we feel melancholy (morriña).  It is clear to see that there are many forms of saudade, at least as many as there are forms of transcendence.  There is, furthermore, the first spontaneous experience a man has of his own uniqueness, that comes before all transcendence; this is his ontological aloneness which is at the very root of his sentimental heart.

In a very general sense we could say that yearning (saudade) emerges as the feeling of aloneness (soidade), the felt experience of aloneness.  As we have come to see, since there are various ways of being alone, there must be a corresponding number of forms of yearning (saudade).  If the variety of forms of aloneness takes in the full range of human experience, from the purely psychological level to the level of pure ontology, the levels of yearning (saudade)- the forms in which we feel alone- will also take in everything from the psychological to the ontological.  Naturally pure yearning (saudade), true yearning, is ontological yearning, the felt experience of man’s aloneness in relation to pure Being.

All forms of solitude are only experienced in the feeling heart of man, they are felt experiences of the human being.

This private realm of the feeling heart of each man is, all told, the first element in his transcendent activity of communication. Man, when he expresses, when he communicates his feeling heart, which is what lyricism reflects, performs the first act of transcendence or, if you like, opening himself up.  Lyricism comes to be the expression- and, therefore, transcendence- of the feeling heart of man.  And thus, as we said before, all the forms of experiencing solitude are here in this heart, from the psychological to the ontological; and lyricism will collect in its manifestations the full breadth of the scale of human experience, also from the psychological to the ontological level.  All the forms of aloneness- and of yearning (saudade)- will be expressed by lyric poetry.

Is this what happens in Rosalía’s poetry?  Indeed it does.  Rosalía reflects all the forms of yearning (saudade) in her poetry.  Although she only speaks of the loneliness of love or of the homeland, she expresses the experience of all the other forms of yearning (saudade), including ontological yearning.  The extraordinary wealth and depth of her sentimental life is evident in her capacity for expression.

We already looked at some examples of the loneliness of love and the homeland in Rosalía’s poetry.  Now we can see other types of yearning (saudade).  For example, that yearning that we have when we get a very strong desire for an unattainable ideal.  It is a feeling that Rosalía expresses clearly:

I do not know what I am eternally seeking
On the earth, in the air, in the heavens;
I do not know what I’m looking for but it is something
I lost I don’t know when and I can’t find it
Even when I dream that it is there, invisible,
In everything I touch and see.

This desire for an unattainable ideal is n experience characteristic of the Romantics.  In all its variants it is no more than a desire for Happiness.  This desire, so intimately human, experienced and expressed in all its shades, from Hope to Despair, is one of the most inexhaustible quarries of lyric poetry.

But yearning (saudade) in Rosalía does not stick to this characteristically Romantic desire.  It goes further.  Rosalía came to live out the ontological solitude of her being; she came to feel authentic yearning (saudade).  She delved deeply and clearly inside herself, discovering the naked truth of solitude.  She expressed it in a variety of ways:

From then I sought out the shadows
The darkest and deepest
And I sought them in vain, for always
After the night I came up against the dawn.
Only seeking in the dark inside myself
And entering the shadows
Did I see the never-ending night
Of my solitary soul.

Dig lightly, dig,
Giant thought,
Dig a deep grave where we’ll bury
The memory of the past.
Dig, dig lightly
And for a tombstone give it dark oblivion
And for a cemetery give it Nothingness.

Some say: My land!
Others say: My sweetheart!
This one: My memories!
And that one:  My friends!
All of them sigh, all of them,
For something they have lost.
Only I say nothing
I alone never sigh,
Because my body of dirt
And my tired spirit-
Wherever I go-
They go with me.

Happy the bird now that seeks its black nest
The wild beast is content to lie in its den,
Death in his sepulchre, the sad in oblivion,
And my soul in its desert.

In these and in other similar poems, Rosalía communicates to us her personal experience of yearning (saudade) using all the resources of poetic expression.  They have the power of a pure affirmation: the affirmation of the personal truth of her own solitude, expressed simply and without complaint or protest.  Rosalía, great and profound spirit, experienced and expressed her ontological loneliness, her yearning (saudade).   A poet who does this will always belong in the realms of pure lyricism.


About Jason Preater

Working on Projects
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