Sunday, December 14, 2014

Hiraeth

A friend's Facebook post reminded me of this which I posted in 2012:

I have Welsh ancestors and I have been to Wales, twice. I've climbed into Snowdonia, toured Conwy Castle, heard the language spoken, traveled by rail from Cardiff, listened to the male choirs, and long felt an identification with that heritage, but not like Pamela Petro:
Hiraeth.

It’s pronounced “here-eyeth” (roll the “r”) and it’s a Welsh word. It has no exact cognate in English. The best we can do is “homesickness,” ....
Mae hiraeth arna amdanot ti. There’s a homesickness on me for you. Or, if we’re mincing words, I miss you. That’s fair, too. But the deeper, national hiraeth is something you don’t have to go away to experience. You can feel it at home in Wales. In fact, that’s where you feel it most.

I’m American, but I have a hiraeth on me for Wales. I went there first as a grad student in the 1980s. I learned to drink whiskey and do sheep impressions (I can differentiate between lambs and ewes). I learned what coal smoke smells like (nocturnal and oily). And I fell in love with the earth. It happened one late afternoon when I went for a walk in the Brecon Beacons. (The dictionary defines beacons as “conspicuous hills,” which is about as apt as you can get.) When I set off from sea level the air was already growing damp as the sun faded. Ahead of me the Beacons’ bald, grey-brown flanks were furrowed like elephant skin in ashes-of-roses light. It soon became chilly but the ground held onto its warmth, so that the hills began to smoke with eddying bands of mist. That dusk was unspeakably beautiful and not a little illicit. It seemed, for a millisecond, as if I were witnessing the earth drop its guard and exhale its love for the sky, for the pungent cattle, the rabbits whose bones lay underfoot, and for me, too. I felt as if my bodily fluids, my wet, physiological self, were being summoned to high tide. The hills tugged on my blood and it responded with a storm surge that made me ache—a simple sensation more urgent and less complicated than thought, like the love of one animal for another. Or the love of an animal for its home. .... [more]

Via Brandywine Books

Paris Review – Dreaming in Welsh, Pamela Petro