I don’t speak Welsh, but I came across the word Hiraeth as I was doing my daily scan of Facebook. The posting gave a definition of this word:

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.

I have often dwelt on this theme through the German word Sehnsucht, and this is one of my most significant pieces – Nostalgia and Hope. I am intrigued to find the concept expressed in Welsh. Homesickness is one idea that comes through, nostalgia for childhood, the past, the misty memories of the big Victorian house in Kendal and the leafy garden so beautifully tended by my father. Grief from losing my mother six years ago not only represented the passing of a person but also a part of my own life – since I came from her. Sehnsucht refers to more than our past and what is familiar, a world beyond our own that is of God.

The feeling of grief has hit me quite hard over the past few days. I see what is happening to my country. I won’t go back into the old polemics – but the parallels between what the Prime Minister is doing and Hitler’s Enabling Act of 1933 are striking and terrifying. The behaviour of a number of MP’s as Parliament was prorogued this week was also truly shocking. I am being deprived of my country, my origins, the origin of my own life and culture. I see my Patrie descending into the darkness. Something might yet happen to restore my faith in my country as a nation of law and justice. Whatever, I will spend the rest of my life in France, since I weighed anchor from England many years ago and long before the word Brexit was ever uttered.

A Welsh poet by the name of Tim Davis wrote a fine poem on Hiraeth. I quote the poem from this source. If you go to the link, you will find a recording of the poem set to music and sung by a male voice choir. The tone is melancholic but very beautiful.

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 heartfelt cry 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!”

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1 Response to Hiraeth

  1. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    Hiraeth sounds familiar, but I can’t think of any contexts I’ve heard it in. Turning aside from searching for a scholarly Welsh dictionary in the Internet Archive, I suddenly wondered if it was used in the Welsh translation of the Bible… Choosing one, there – published in 1882 in New York (!), as it turns out – I searched for it. Three results: 2 Chronicles 21:20 where the KJV has “desired”; in a descriptive title on the top of the page over the column with Psalm 84 – which I take it to characterize; and Jeremiah 22:27, where KJV has “desire”.

    Thank you for the poem and the performance of the setting! It seems appropriate that it should be performed by the Men’s Glee Club of Wheaton College, given the great interest manifest there in Lewis and Tolkien and other Inklings (including Barfield) and related friends (like Dorothy L. Sayers) and what we might called ‘(late) Romantic’ antecedents, like Chesterton and MacDonald.

    The western references in Tim Davis’s poem make me think it would be worth mentioning Charles Huttar’s rich essay, ‘Houses of Healing: The Idea of Avalon in Inklings Fiction and Poetry’, with its wide and deep attention to imagery associated with ‘longing and the west’, in The Inklings and King Arthur: J. R. R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, and Owen Barfield on the Matter of Britain, ed. Sørina Higgins.

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