Hiraeth. I ran across the word on Facebook recently.
I’d never heard of it. Have you?
It’s a Welsh word pronounced HEER-eyeth (roll the r).
We English speakers don’t have a good word to describe hiraeth, but that has not stopped us from trying to pin it down.
I’m especially drawn to one aspect of the definition. According to Smith College, “It often translates as ‘homesickness,’ but the actual concept is far more complex. It incorporates an aspect of impossibility: the pining for a home, a person, [or] a figure.…”
Pamela Petro says this of hiraeth: “The best we can do is ‘homesickness,’ but that’s like the difference between hardwood and laminate. Homesickness is hiraeth-lite.… The Portuguese have a word, ‘saudade,’ which is the only true cognate for hiraeth. [One meaning is] ‘the love that stays’ after someone, or something…has gone away.”
The University of Wales says hiraeth can include “a mix of longing, yearning, nostalgia, wistfulness.…”
It has to do with a strong attachment to a home-like place and a hankering to return to it.
the vacuum that demands to be filled.
It is something bigger than ourselves.
It lives in our blood and pulses through our veins.
It calls our names: we recognize the voice,
and it tells us that place is where we belong,
that place, where our roots go down deeper than our own roots.
That is our home of homes.
Val Bethell writes of the sensations and the yearning: “I know the meaning of … ‘Hiraeth.’
Val lived in Wales, facing west, and observed, “I would happily travel west, but north, south or east was too difficult…. The mountains shouted hiraeth, hiraeth! Silently and patiently.
“One day … I was able to obey the call. Eureka! I now know, yes I know what it means. Hiraeth is in the mountains where the wind speaks in many tongues and the buzzards fly on silent wings. It’s the call of my spiritual home, it’s where ancient peoples made their home.…
“Hiraeth—the link with the long-forgotten past, the language of the soul, the call from the inner self. Half forgotten.… It speaks from the rocks, from the earth, from the trees and in the waves.…
“Yes, I hear it.
“Yes, I understand what hiraeth means.”
Do you know that feeling?
If you’ve moved from one place to another, you probably understand hiraeth.
If you’ve lived several decades, you probably know the longing to return to some special place or time in the past—hiraeth.
I know the feeling—the longing for the geographical place I belong. Oh, yes, I know hiraeth.
I’ve lived throughout most of Washington State, a few months in Washington, D.C., three years in South America, eight years in Africa, and six years in Missouri, but always, always, Puget Sound calls my name—north of Seattle, just barely south of the Edmonds ferry dock. Richmond Beach, to be exact—but definitely not the county park.
No, I’m talking about the old beach, the beach of my childhood, before the county discovered the place and paved a parking lot and walkways and put a bridge over railroad tracks and fences around boundaries and built fire pits and posted rules.
No, I’m not talking about that beach—I’m talking about the wild, fresh, free Richmond Beach of my youth. I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you.
That place mysteriously shaped me and defines me and still anchors me. It calls my name. Richmond Beach is where I belong. I am blessed beyond measure that my in-laws live on that very stretch of beach and I get to go home—home!—a couple of times a year. Decades later, the place still nurtures my soul and spirit.
What place (literal or figurative) mysteriously shaped you and now defines you and still anchors you and lives in you?
What place (literal or figurative) nurtured your soul and spirit?
“No matter where I went, my compass pointed west.
I would always know what time it was in California.”
(Janet Fitch, last line in White Oleander)
Fill in the blanks: “No matter where I went, my compass always pointed ____________. I would always know what time it was in ______________.”
Write your stories!