There is a Welsh word that that I’ve been in love with for years. I think I knew it in my heart before I ever read it on a page. The word is “hiraeth.” (It actually sounds in Welsh pretty much like it looks.) According to the University of Wales, it has no direct English translation.
Basically hiraeth means: a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past; hiraeth is a longing of the soul to come home, to be safe.
The minute I saw the word and read the definition in one of my Celtic books, my heart nearly burst because it’s a feeling I’ve known all my life. At first I thought it was strange that a word from another language could stir my heart so. But then I stumbled on the fact that the Welsh were not the only peoples who have a similar word.
“Sehnsucht” is a German noun translated as “longing”, “pining”, “yearning”, or “craving”, or in a wider sense a type of “intensely missing”. However, Sehnsucht is difficult to translate adequately and describes a deep emotional state.
“Saudade” is European Portuguese, Brazilian Portuguese, or Galician and describes a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never return. It is often described as “the love that remains.”
Hiraeth is the word I think of when I journal. It’s become obvious to me over the years that my journal entries are like letters home. I often find myself wondering if there’s someone looking over my shoulder reading as I write. And if so, to whom do they take the news of my usual confusion and unrest?
There are several synonyms for the word in English, but the one that comes closest to describing what I feel when I feel hiraeth is WISTFUL. I feel strangely WISTFUL when I journal. Perhaps that’s why I’m so attached to the picture in my header. Maybe the place of hiraeth for me is through those trees and down into the valley…
How about you? Have you ever experienced a moment of WISTFUL hiraeth? Below is a poem written by Tim Davis who has Welsh ancestors. It’s his attempt to describe what hiraeth means to him. And below that is a Welsh song called “Hiraeth” with the English translation of the lyrics. I hope you can relate.
(©Tim Davis, 2007)
Hiraeth beckons with wordless call,
Hear, my soul, with heart enthrall’d.
Hiraeth whispers while earth I roam;
Here I wait the call “come home.”
Like seagull cry, like sea borne wind,
That speak with words beyond my ken,
A longing deep with words unsaid,
Calls a wanderer home instead.
I heed your call, Hiraeth, I come
On westward path to hearth and home.
My path leads on to western shore,
My heart tells me there is yet more.
Within my ears the sea air sighs;
The sunset glow, it fills my eyes.
I stand at edge of sea and earth,
My bare feet washed in gentle surf.
Hiraeth’s longing to call me on,
Here, on shore, in setting sun.
Hiraeth calls past sunset fire,
“Look beyond, come far higher!”
Tell me oh wise ones
Of what stuff is hiraeth made?
And what substance is put into it
That it never fades from being worn
Gold fades and silver fades
Velvet fades silk fades
Every sort of clothing fades
And yet hiraeth doesn’t fade
Great Hiraeth cruel hiraeth
Hiraeth tears at my heart
When I’m sleeping deeply at night
Hiraeth comes and wakes me
(Hiraeth hiraeth away away
Don’t weigh so heavily on me
Go a little nearer to the edge
Let me have a little bit of sleep)
Photo Credits: hiraeth.squarespace.com