A longing to be in Wales
July 14, 2011 7:09 PM   Subscribe

A longing for something you already have, or a mourning for the transience of a moment when you are still in that moment. Lend me a word for this feeling.

I recently listened to this very touching episode of Jonathan Goldstein's Wiretap, where Scott Kravitz discusses his relationship with his dying dog. Kravitz mentions at one point that a friend told him about a Welsh word "Hiraeth" which his friend claimed meant a longing for something you already have (Kravitz later found out this was incorrect and the word was more analogous with "homesickness").

Personally, longing for something you already have, or a mourning for the transience of a moment is a feeling I very much identify with (and I suspect that others might too). So I thought that there must be a word somewhere (in any language) that describes this feeling. I speak some German and the best I could invent with this marvelously malleable language was Flüchtigkeitweh.

Any ideas?
posted by smithsmith to Religion & Philosophy (20 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
posted by stray at 7:16 PM on July 14, 2011

Response by poster: Ahh...apologies my search was clearly not thorough enough. You can close this thread mods.
posted by smithsmith at 7:20 PM on July 14, 2011

The Japanese poet Basho describes this feeling:
Even in Kyoto
Hearing the cuckoo's cry
I long for Kyoto

I don't know a single English word for this, but like your Flüchtigkeitweh.
posted by apparently at 7:22 PM on July 14, 2011 [9 favorites]

It was mentioned in the previous question, but you might look into mono no aware, translated by Ivan Morris in The World of the Shining Prince as "the pathos of things." It's a Japanese phrase used to describe the attitude of Heian-era (around 1000 AD) aristocrats towards the natural beauty and sadness of this world. He writes that the word "aware" is used "to suggest the pathos inherent of the beauty of the outer world, a beauty that is inexorably fated to disappear together with the observer. Buddhist doctrines about the evanescence of all living things naturally influenced this particular content of the word, but the stress in aware was always on direct emotional experience rather than on religious understanding. Aware never entirely lost its simple interjectional sense of 'Ah!'" (pg 196-197)
posted by shirobara at 7:23 PM on July 14, 2011 [8 favorites]

If you want to find it in fiction, read damn near any Guy Gavriel Kay novel. Particularly the Lions of Al-Rassan. Beautiful book, definitely captures this feeling and is the main driving force behind one of main character's actions throughout the book.
posted by slide at 7:26 PM on July 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

The movie Ikiru captures this idea, as does the work of Haruki Murakami (South of the Border, West of the Sun). I also think Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day is a particularly good example.
posted by sonic meat machine at 7:49 PM on July 14, 2011

Martha Beck describes this in her book, "Expecting Adam."

Natsukashii - a Japanese word for what this phenomenon
posted by luciddream928 at 8:14 PM on July 14, 2011

*what this phenomenon is called
posted by luciddream928 at 8:15 PM on July 14, 2011

posted by catatethebird at 8:58 PM on July 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

ubi sunt?
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 9:44 PM on July 14, 2011

Also previously.
posted by zanni at 1:16 AM on July 15, 2011

Ennui. Google came up with a definition that seems perfectly suited here: dissatisfaction with satiety.
posted by gjc at 4:38 AM on July 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Slavoj Zizek says this is Melancholy. It's a mourning for the loss of something that isn't gone yet.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 7:48 AM on July 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't delete! I didn't see anything in the previously link that answers your question (or that question).

Have thought of this often but I don't believe there is any one word--I would love to know. Should probably wear it as a sign around my neck, too.

I think a sense of "ennui" can get us there, in the form of a sort of romantic detachment or displacement from 'reality.' I also a sense of "melancholy" does it. So those are good approximations.

I'd never thought of it, but "nostalgia" can approach what we're looking for, since it doesn't necessarily have a temporal limitation. I believe "wistfulness" also contains some of this sentiment.

In the context of my family and I (we have a growing young daughter, and there are lots of old people around and my folks all get together a lot), I get this feeling all the time. I refer to it as a "wistful detachment"--I'm thoroughly enjoying and reveling in the moments, like watching my grandfather hold his great-granddaughter, or whatever, but knowing . . . knowing something. (Also, having become a Christian, I really understand and embrace this as an awareness that my soul is not ultimately where it belongs--which the last lines of this poem really drive home for me.)
posted by resurrexit at 11:55 AM on July 15, 2011

And actually, the concept of homesickness mentioned above ties in nicely with Aquinas's concept of patria in the poem. Thanks!
posted by resurrexit at 12:01 PM on July 15, 2011

This would be the feeling of sadness that washes over me when my child is snuggled close, but I know one day she won't be small anymore, yes? Pre-emptive mourning for losses not yet incurred sounds right, but to me, melancholy has the connotation of sadness with the present. It's missing the bittersweet part.

Thank you for this thread. It's a feeling I got a lot, but I would never have thought to try to put a word to it.
posted by Andrhia at 7:06 PM on July 15, 2011

posted by pimli at 1:20 AM on July 16, 2011

Seconding 'wistful.' As wonderfully precise as some German compounds are, sometimes the peculiar fuzzy poetry of extant English words (this one rooted in Germanic anyway) goes one better.
posted by taramosalata at 10:36 AM on July 16, 2011


There is a feeling, maybe it's a similar feeling, described by Alan Watts in The Book on the Taboo against Knowing Who you Are, where, in a footnote on the word yugen, he offers this quote from poet Zeami Motokiyo:

"To watch the sun sink behind a flower clad hill. To wander on in a huge forest without thought of return. To stand upon the shore and gaze after a boat that disappears behind distant islands. To contemplate the flight of wild geese seen and lost among the clouds. And, subtle shadows of bamboo on bamboo."

Wikipedia on japanese aesthetics describes yugen using Motokiyo's quote above as well, and goes on to state "Yugen is said to mean 'a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe… and the sad beauty of human suffering'".

I've always associated it with existential loneliness.
posted by Jezebella at 5:21 PM on July 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

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