Friday, April 20, 2012

Letters from home


Maybe it's because of National Poetry Month that I've been reflecting a lot on why I write poems. This blog has changed dramatically since I began in 2006, and these last couple of years it has become almost exclusively a poetry blog. I never intended it! It's just how things want to come out, a sort of shyness, not wanting to say things directly. I don't apologize, but I do realize poetry isn't for everyone. Funny, this write began as prose. I had every intention of writing prose! But it shaped itself into a poem. What is a person to do when a poem asserts itself?

Letters from home

That’s what poems are.
We are migrants from
somewhere that loves us.
Poems come from there.
News of a death,
news of a birth, both
in one letter. We want only
the truth, and nothing
held back. Things that
have come to pass,
and dreams held fast.
Read them again;
read them over again,
softened with time
in the shifting dust
of this foreign place.

April 2012

Note: The painting is Saudade by Brazilian painter José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior, painted in 1899.

The word saudade is a Portuguese-Galacian word that has no true equivalent in the English language. Wiki calls it a "deep emotional state of nostalgic longing" for someone, or something absent. Saudades are woven in the fabric of Brazilian music (I've shared one below). There is a fine, in-depth write about saudade at wiki here. However, I get the feeling that it can never really be understood by anyone who doesn't come from a culture where it is profoundly felt by its entire people. For instance, Brazil has a day of saudade on January 30, out of longing for the Portuguese homeland. I only recently discovered the word, and its melancholy and provenance have put me in a state of saudade for saudade, it is so beautiful. I find this helpful from wiki:

The "Dicionário Houaiss da língua portuguesa" defines saudade (or saudades) as "A somewhat melancholic feeling of incompleteness. It is related to thinking back on situations of privation due to the absence of someone or something, to move away from a place or thing, or to the absence of a set of particular and desirable experiences and pleasures once lived."

The Dictionary from the Royal Galician Academy, on the other hand, defines saudade as an "intimate feeling and mood caused by the longing for something absent that is being missed. This can take different aspects, from concrete realities (a loved one, a friend, the motherland, the homeland...) to the mysterious and transcendant. It's quite prevalent and characteristic of the Galician-Portuguese world, but it can also be found in other cultures."

The similar feeling of morriña is defined as "Feelings and mood of melancholy and depression, particularly when caused by nostalgia for the motherland".

Maria Bethânia sings "Saudade" in Portuguese
(sorry I don't know who the gentleman is with her).
Music is the language of the heart, so for us
who don't know more than a few words of Portuguese,
even without understanding the words
we can feel the melancholy.
But if you're curious like me,
you can put the lyrics, below,
through an online translator.
There is moon, and sea . . .

Saudade by Maria Bethânia on Grooveshark

Saudade a lua brilha na lagoa
Saudade a luz que sobra da pessoa
Saudade igual farol engana o mar
Imita o sol
Saudade sal e dor que o vento traz

Saudade o som do tempo que ressoa
Saudade o céu cinzento a garôa
Saudade desigual
Nunca termina no final
Saudade eterno filme em cartaz

A casa da saudade é o vazio
O acaso da saudade fogo frio
Quem foge da saudade
Preso por um fio
Se afoga em outras águas
Mas do mesmo rio.



The Solitary Walker said...

Same with me — I would never have believed at one time I'd be putting my poems online. But I'm so glad I did. It's nice to be read and to read the work of others, and share and learn from all this.

And as for your present poem, I love it. It perfectly captures that nostalgic longing — but there's nothing sentimental about it. It's quite hard-headed — as well as profoundly intimate and personal, as all letters from the homeland and heartland are. I like this more objective, sparse, direct style of yours very much.

George said...

Loved this poem, Ruth—indeed, the entire post. I feel this urge to write some poetry on my own blog, but haven't made the transition. I really don't know what's holding me back. I also love the concept of saudade. As you would surely appreciate, this resonates with me on a deep, personal level.

The Broad said...

This post is interesting on so many different levels -- from poetry that escapes from you unintentionally to the poem itself and then on to a discussion of Saudade!

I wonder if this feeling of Saudade isn't felt throughout the 'new world'. So many Americans feel the compulsion to discover their history in the 'old country' and to visit the place of their ancestors. When I first landed on English soil I will never forget the strange emotion I felt as I looked from the plane to the countryside of the land that would in a few years time become my home.

rosaria williams said...

Oh my!!! I've been in this mood for the last ten years.

The Bug said...

This year I've been sending my friends & relatives letters on their birthdays. I include a lined sheet of paper & a stamped, self-addressed envelope for them to send their replies back to me. I tell them that depending on my dad for all the dirt I need from their lives isn't working - dish! Sadly, out of the 10 letters I've sent so far this year I've only gotten three back.

Perhaps I should include your poem so they'd UNDERSTAND.

Mystic Meandering said...

I have found this true myself - even in my journaling - what I write gets written in some kind of prose poetry at times. Like you said, it's just how things want to come out. For me, it's about tapping into something internal and deeper than the mind/thought that wants to be expressed in this way - so I just go with it. Although sometimes some "editing" and "polishing" is needed :)

João said...

Portuguese people says that Fado is what can best describe saudade and that Amalia is Fado's greatest...

Shaista said...

Those of us in exile live inside saudade, but try to pretend otherwise - so we do not drown out the other sounds of delight in the here and now. Like the babies who bring us into the present with one unwavering look from fathomless eyes.

Some babies know saudade too - but not James and Rafael, I think...

hedgewitch said...

I love that your poetry comes from a place 'that loves you' I often feel so lightened by my own scribblings, perhaps that's a true assessment. That place there is home, and so we have a very profound saudade being separated so materially and permanently from it. thanks for this wonderful post Ruth, which I will come back to again to really savor.

erin said...

That’s what poems are.
We are migrants from
somewhere that loves us.
Poems come from there.

this is rather gorgeous and so tempting to use as the staff from which to guide the mind and heart.

i sit here for a moment and try to play devil's advocate and i find my sails without wind. it remains gorgeous and, i believe, true.


The Unknowngnome said...

A great love letter Ruth, a "Saudade desigual".

Ruth said...

Robert, I'm so glad you are putting your poems online too. For those who love poetry, both the reading of it and the writing, it is a connection. Blogging poet friends are what inspired me to start writing again. I thoroughly enjoy your poems, which bring out your senses of romance, earthiness and humor in ways your prose (which is lush and Fermor-esque) doesn't. I love them both. Thanks for your response to my poem very much.

Ruth said...

Dear George, I am not surprised this post resonates for you. I am deeply touched by the concept of saudade, and I can only begin to write about it. The concept resides in the heart, and can't always be spoken of, and that's fine. I really hope you will post your own poetry, when you are ready. As I said to Robert, poems reveal a person's soul differently than prose (of course), and having another peek into your beautiful soul (revealed so far through your prose, photographs, paintings and inspiring quotes) is very appealing.

Ruth said...

The Broad, yes there must be this sense of longing for the homeland in immigrant Americans. For myself, my family has been here so long that I simply long for more ethnic roots and awareness. I seem to be purely American, without elements of Swedish or British traditions (that I know of). But wow, you must truly feel this sense of saudade, and in fact I recognize it in certain of your posts. Don, the kids and I lived in Istanbul 3 years, and sometimes I have saudade for Turkey, which is now part of me. Same for Paris, same for other places. But these are wispy saudades compared to what must be felt by Brazilian Portuguese, and Galacians.

Ruth said...

rosaria, now I'm intrigued!

Ruth said...

Dana, you've done what you could, and what a cool thing to do! I can feel the tug of it, those unanswered letters sitting there, how it must feel for you, and also for them. How have we gotten so far from the slow pace of letter writing? Thank you for reading and responding this way.

Ruth said...

Christine, thanks for expressing perfectly how I feel writing, ". . . tapping into something internal and deeper than the mind/thought that wants to be expressed in this way." Yes, for me this work is soul work, and yes, tweaking is important! :-)

Ruth said...

João, muito obrigada. Yes, I remember reading about Fado now, and Amalia is gorgeous.

Ruth said...

Shaista, you must be right, for there is a certain melancholy in your writing that is very beautiful. Babies do seem so close to the homeland (my poem "How to read a poem" gets at that). And yes, maybe James and Rafael don't have saudade, but something is up with James because he is pretty fussy these days. I hear him now waking up with his mommy. :( But soon I think he will be in my arms.

Ruth said...

Hedge, thanks for your generous comment. As wrenching as your poems sometimes are, powerful and full of angst, there is always a sense of beauty, love and tenderness that shines in them. I'm glad to hear that writing your scribblings lightens your spirit.

Ruth said...

erin, you make me smile. Yes, you play devil's advocate, and I'm better for it. We need to constantly ferret out our truth and lies and argue them with love and diligence. You do this so beautifully, and without judgment, which is truly a blessing.

Ruth said...

Unknowngnome, I would love to sit and talk with you about it, and what you know from living in Cantabria.

Miss Jane said...

Those of us in exile . . . .
What a wonderful concept of poetry being correspondence with our true home, that we are all a little lost and keening for our soul's homeland.

Glad that you are writing poetry, Ruth. It's great inspiration to see the world through your eyes from time to time.

GailO said...

Dear Ruth...your blog has definitely taken on a life of its own...I have been reading as it has changed and I will admit that I now find it harder to comment because even though I love your poems I often don't have the words to describe why. On the other hand I do enjoy reading the comments of others. I have always loved your blog because it engaged and challenged my thinking...something I need more of...and I still get this at every post. The only thing I may miss is more of your photos:)

In conclusion:) I love your poems and your blog!

Ginnie said...

The Portuguese "Saudade" sung by Maria Bethânia is haunting, Sister. I would add that word to the definition, perhaps? You have indeed described something...a feeling, a place within...that haunts me, and so comes and goes at will. There was a song in the Frida movie that had the same effect on me: la llorona, sung by Chavela Vargas (

I have watched you move from prose to poetry over the years. You started by studying it and then it became who you are. Others will now study it from you.

Peter Olson said...

Like Joao, for me saudade is defintely linked to Amalia Rodrigues; I'm a fan although I don't understand all the lyrics, the feeling is there!

musicwithinyou said...

I'm Saudade by this wonderful post

I am in love with this music

Marcie said...

Love how your poetry has evolved and changed and grown right along with you and your blog. This one - here - is wonderful!

rippleeffects said...

what does it matter what form they come out in as long as they've touched someone. I've tried to will myself to write poetry but couldn't... nothing poetic comes out from me. :( I say, Ruth, give us more of what's in your heart through words and images, however you produce them as long as they're true "... Things that have come to pass, and dreams held fast..."

blueoran said...

Howard Nemerov once distinguished prose from poetry as the difference between snowflakes falling and flying. The cadences of poetry are the oldest in the inner ear, so we're told -- we sang long before we spoke as a species -- so attunement to the medium I think affects a saudade where it's hard to write without ending up fast offshore in the wild blue freedom. Maybe it's just that heart-truths dry too fast in prose, when to sing them keeps them posted, like "letters from home," something to keep in an ornate drawer and read again and again. I too intended my blog for prose and haven't posted anything in prose for months ... Who says the song doesn't change the singer ... Fine poem Ruth, thanks for the meditation ... Brendan

Stratoz said...

Maybe I need to share a poem one day, maybe you are rubbing off on me

Montag said...


When a poem asserts itself, you know very well what to do: it is a higher power and you follow its lead.

Everybody experiences powers in their lives, so poetry actually is for everybody: if not a language type poem, them some other pattern of reality, like a necklace of iteration (like humming Coleridge's Kubla Khan over and over, or the repetition of certain behavioral patterns through the years...)

What is a poem but a map of much experience to one compact expression, and then this compact poem is read and is mapped back to many experiences of the readers again: many to one to many.

This works like a filter of reality: it shuffles the cards over and over again, and we see patterns appear by prestidigitation.

JeannetteLS said...

when a poem asserts itself, all else falls away, leaving us with that essence. I never thought of it as you have.

To me, your poetry seems a natural evolution from what I have read through the last couple of years. Natural, closer to the bone, aflame with its home in you.

To me, it is that way as I have read your posts.

Poetry is our souls' truths, stripped naked. And I guess I tend to think that stripped to our core, it is love. Thank you for ALL your words through the years. Blogs that have endured hold a richness of individual histories, I think, that ONLY long correspondences held in times long gone. We do not bundle them with ribblons, but they remain close by to relive, to savor. Does that make any sense at all?